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Monday, May 14, 2012

Far Left and Far Right Leaders Directly Confront Each Other in French Parliamentary Elections

The Candidates

In his France24 article, ''Homeric battle' as leftist firebrand takes on Le Pen', Mehdi Chebil reports that Jean-Luc Mélenchon (on the far left) will oppose Marine Le Pen (on the far right) for the parliamentary seat of Henin-Beaumont, "the birthplace of France’s labour movement".  It promises to be a highly entertaining, and possibly volatile race.

What's Mélenchon up to ?  Read excerpts below for Chebil's analysis.

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While Marine Le Pen’s legitimacy at the head of the anti-immigration National Front party is uncontested, Mélenchon has built his success on an alliance of notoriously rebellious leftist movements coalesced around the French Communist Party. François Hollande’s presidential victory threatens to deepen cracks inside Mélenchon’s Left Front Party, as the former senator made clear he would not join the incoming government - unlike several Communist officials, who said they were “ready” to accept ministerial positions.

A head-to-head duel with Marine Le Pen would spectacularly confirm Mélenchon as the leader of the France’s far left.

It would also prolong his campaign claim of being the far right's “sole” opponent. During the presidential campaign, mainstream party leaders tried to seduce the nearly 18 percent of the electorate who voted for Le Pen in the first round of the election. Mélenchon, who garnered just under 12 percent of the vote, hopes to broaden his appeal by portraying himself as an uncompromising bulwark against the National Front.

Marine Le Pen is expected to visit Henin-Beaumont on Monday to take up the gauntlet. She has already dismissed Mélenchon’s candidacy on her turf, telling Europe 1 radio with more than a hint of irony: “He’s looking for a district where he can win… I thought it was anger [that motivated him], but I’m realising that in fact it was love”.

Despite trading venomous barbs during the presidential campaign, the two leaders have met only once in a TV debate. After Mélenchon asked her a question about abortion, Le Pen refused to answer, claiming that she couldn’t debate with a man who called her “half insane”. Mélenchon promptly hit back, saying that he was still keen to debate with the remaining “sane half" of Le Pen.
This time, the far-right heiress will not be able to dodge Mélenchon’s challenge without losing face. The showdown promises to be explosive, with both leaders ready to use fierce rhetoric to conquer Henin-Beaumont’s working-class electorate.

Le Pen took home 31 percent of the Henin-Beaumont vote compared with Mélenchon's 14.85 percent in the presidential election's first round. Still, the far-left leader is hoping that a right-wing electorate split between Le Pen’s Front National and the outgoing ruling UMP party will bring him victory there on June 10.

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