Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon drew tens of thousands to a rally on Sunday, aiming to maintain momentum that has pushed the one-time outsider into contention in the French presidential election, with the first round of voting a week away.
Opinion polls show the top four candidates – centrist Emmanuel Macron, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, conservative Francois Fillon and Melenchon – within touching distance of each other before the April 23 first round after a surge by Melenchon in the last few weeks.
It is a race to see which candidate can isolate France the most: Marine LePen, the National Front far-right candidate, or Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far left candidate. Both promise to renegotiate France’s relationships with the EU and NATO, pillars of French economic and military security. Both are now seen as potential frontrunners in the second round of French presidential voting.
The outside possibility of a second-round showdown between Le Pen and Melenchon, both of whom propose a referendum on France’s membership of the European Union if their attempts to overhaul the bloc fail, has raised concern among some investors after last year’s shock British vote to leave the bloc.
Melenchon has pledged sharply higher government spending and would impose a 90 percent tax on top earners and take France out of NATO. Le Pen has promised a crackdown on illegal immigration and wants to scrap the euro.
“We represent a France of beauty and generosity, that starts each new day mindful of our motto – liberty, equality and fraternity,” Melenchon told the Toulouse rally. His team said 70,000 turned up while local police put the number at 40,000.
While Dutch voters rejected Trump-style populism in a vote in March, French voters, who have a larger rural component than the Netherlands, may well gamble on a new future with either LePen or Melenchon. To crack up the French pillar of the NATO/EU geopolitical system in Europe will mean both a return to history and an uncertain future. Time will soon tell whether French voters are prepared for that.