Forget the presidency, I can lead France as its PM, insists Mélenchon | France

Whoever wins the presidential election in France, one man is determined to sideline them and restrict their powers.

Even before the result is known tomorrow, the radical left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has emerged as a surprise kingmaker, has called on voters to make him prime minister in the legislative elections in June.

Mélenchon, a fervent opponent of both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, pledged that if successful he would force whoever wins the keys to the Élysée tomorrow into an uncomfortable parliamentary “cohabitation” that would hamstring efforts by them to pass reforms the left opposes.

The 70-year-old leader of La France Insoumise (LFI – Unbowed France), who had promised to retire after his third presidential bid, said giving his party a majority in the Assemblée Nationale would make the election a “third round”. It would also resolve the dilemma for those voters – especially on the left – who felt politically orphaned by the first round result a fortnight ago. Many of the 7.7 million people who voted for Mélenchon have said they will abstain tomorrow.

Last week, as Macron, 44, and Le Pen, 53, crossed France attempting to attract the almost 50% of the electorate who did not vote for either, LFI was engaged in frantic negotiations with ecologists and communists to form a united bloc to oppose the eventual winner. Polls released on Friday suggest Macron is still favourite, but the legitimacy of his second term will be questioned if he does not secure a convincing victory.

The legislative vote is traditionally fought on party lines, but Mélenchon is determined to make it personal. “I ask the French to elect me prime minister. I ask them to elect a majority of MPs from La France Insoumise. And I call on all those who want to join the Popular Union [of the left] to join us in this beautiful combat.”

He reminded voters it was the PM not the president who signed off government decrees. “I would be prime minister not by the grace and favour of M Macron or Mme Le Pen, but because the French wanted it,” he said, adding it would make the president “secondary”. He ruled out any negotiation with the new president.

“If it does not suit the president then they can go, because I will not,” he said in an interview with BFMTV.

Mélenchon’s ambitions were boosted after he polled just 421,308 votes behind Le Pen in the first round on 10 April, which saw the collapse of the traditional left- and rightwing parties. The three other leftwing candidates – from the Ecology party, the Communist party and Socialist party (PS) – polled a total of just over 3m votes. That would have ensured his second-round place had they supported his campaign.

The result angered many Mélenchon supporters, particularly the young and those in working-class areas, leading to protests at Paris universities including the Sorbonne and Sciences Po, even though 41% of 18-25s – more than 4 million voters – abstained in the first round.

The campaign for the 577 seats in the French lower house will begin on 10 May. Macron’s centrist La Republique en Marche (LREM) currently has 263 seats, the conservative opposition Les Républicains, 93; the centrist Moden, 52; the PS, 25 and La France Insoumise just 17.

Campaign posters displayed in Henin-Beaumont, in the Pas-de-Calais.
Campaign posters displayed in Henin-Beaumont, in the Pas-de-Calais. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Mélenchon insisted his Union Populaire was leading in 105 constituencies, and that a majority of 290 was “possible”. “If I don’t fight for this victory, what do I do: say ‘go ahead give them all the power’?. I don’t want Mme Le Pen to win the country and I don’t want M Macron to keep power. I say there is a third round. It’s for the French to decide who is the head of government,” he said in an interview last week.

Mélenchon would need the support of all France’s leftwing electorate, around 11.8 million of whom voted in the first round, if he stands any chance of a majority in parliament after the elections on 12 and 19 June. Mélenchon has rebuffed suggestions of any alliance with the PS.

Manon Aubry, an LFI MEP, spent last week in negotiations with leftwing parties to form an alliance for the legislative elections. “There are obstacles, but there’s a common desire to create a union around a programme,” Aubry told the Observer.

Asked about the PS, she added the party would have to drop its “neo-liberal stance”. “We have put a certain number of conditions on the table and the ball is in their court. The question is, are they ready to come towards us?”.

Antoine Bristielle, a political analyst and director of the Opinion Observatory at the left-leaning Jean Jaurès Foundation, said Mélenchon had pulled a political masterstroke, learning the lesson of 2017 when he failed to unite the left after the presidential vote.

“After 2017, he didn’t succeed in maintaining high-level support for the subsequent elections, and he wants to do it differently this time,” Bristielle said.

“He’s trying to consolidate his base support and has realised the way to do this is from a position of force.

“It’s not a question of how many MPs he gets but whether he can get the ecologists and communists behind him before the legislative elections, thus creating a political force. I honestly think he doesn’t want the PS to join him; he considers the party doesn’t represent much now and will die on its own, so joining it would be more negative than positive.”

Laurent Joffrin, former director of the newspaper Libération, said LFI partners would be expected to “submit” rather than be allies, and have to sign up to Mélenchon’s policies including pulling out of Europe.

“These positions are not those of the voters of the non-Mélenchonist left and even less of a more centrist electorate.

“This is the eternal problem of the radical left: it has a chance at power but in no way does it want to pull together to achieve it,” Joffrin wrote.

2022-04-23 16:58:00