In the midst of tens of thousands of protesters, the smiling face of the turtle appears. His shirt is designed in pink, orange and purple, the colors of the leftist “Union Popular” movement. Slow but steady, the animal advances this March 20, on the path between the Place de la Bastille and the Place de la République in Paris. But his real goal is the presidential elections.
Left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has made the tortoise the symbol of his electoral campaign. “Trust a smart tortoise of choice like me,” he shouted to the crowd at a big performance in January. “It’s no use applying, you have to start on time.” With three weeks to go before the first round of the presidential election, what has long been considered impossible seems possible: a second round between incumbent Emmanuel Macron, who is far ahead in the polls, and the left-leaning Mélenchon.
On Sunday, Mélenchon and his team hosted the biggest campaign event of the entire election campaign in the French capital. According to the organizers, around 100,000 attended. Paris police did not provide any information on the number of participants and did not respond to a request.
Under bright sunshine, people seem to have gathered not only to campaign for their candidate, but also to show that the French left is still alive. Until now, the electoral campaign has been dominated by the right-wing and far-right political camp.
Election as a “social referendum”
A brass band, a French rap duo, a Latin American combo: lots of music is played throughout the march, the atmosphere is exuberant. The procession is led by Mélenchon himself and several politicians from his “France Insoumise” party. Later, during his speech, the candidate will explain the election as a “social referendum.” “Another world is necessary, and because it is necessary, we will make it possible.”
Cedric Attias is also waiting for him, wearing a red hat, a red scarf and a shirt with the iconic image of the French Revolution, “Liberty Leading the People”. “This is not a demonstration today,” says the 49-year-old artist. “This is a meeting where the fate of the world is at stake.” Attias lives in Paris but is originally from Marseille.
He wants action to be taken against the climate emergency. “Otherwise we will soon have fires in the south of France.” For him, Mélenchon has the most compelling climate program. But he also supports sociopolitical plans. Macron has betrayed the people in this regard, he says.
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Mathilda A., 29, a psychoanalyst, also cites Mélenchon’s environmental plans as one of the reasons she will vote for him. It is also important to them that Mélenchon has promised not to privatize any other sectors, such as education.
He has already voted twice for Mélenchon: he is running for the third time in the presidential elections. “This time there is a realistic hope that he can make it to the second round,” says Mathilda. Even if Mélenchon were to lose to Macron in the second round, his entry into the second round would have a huge positive impact on left-wing politics inside and outside parliament, says Mathilda.
In the 2017 presidential election, Mélenchon won 19.58% of the vote in the first round, just 1.72 percentage points less than Marine Le Pen, who defeated Macron in the second round. In current polls, the right-wing Le Pen is still in second place behind Macron, who is far ahead with more than 30 percent. But Le Pen’s values have been stagnant for weeks. Éric Zemmour and the conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse even lost approval.
Currently, the only Macron competitor showing significant emerging momentum is Mélenchon. According to figures from the France Info television channel, which calculates various poll values, Mélenchon now ranks third in the polls with 12 percent, behind Le Pen with 18 percent.
40 years of experience
He is also the only candidate across the leftist spectrum who has a chance of winning the second round. This could lead to supporters of the other leftist candidates also voting for him: “helpful vote” is what it’s called in French, a tactical voting decision.
Mélenchon is a controversial figure in French politics who, in addition to his political views, is also known for his short temper. Of all the presidential candidates, he is the one with the most political experience: he has been involved in politics for 40 years, under President Jacques Chirac he was deputy minister for vocational training from 2000 to 2002. He was a member of the Senate, a member of the European Parliament and is currently member of the French Parliament.
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If elected, he would immediately raise the minimum wage to 1,400 euros by decree and limit the price of gasoline to 1.40 euros a litre, he announced in his speech on Sunday, which ended the demonstration. The crowd in front of him cheers when he says this. And she boos him when she repeatedly mentions Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age to 65. Mélenchon wants to reduce it to 60 years; Until now, the general retirement age in France is 62 years.
Mélenchon wants a new constitution for France
One of Mélenchon’s most important projects is the convening of a Constituent Assembly. The extreme concentration of power in France is dangerous, he says. Therefore, the left wants to create new foundations for the French Republic: it would be the sixth. “March for the Sixth Republic” is the official name of Sunday’s demonstration.
“Each one is personally responsible for the result,” Mélenchon appealed in his speech ahead of the upcoming elections. “Each one has the key to the second round.” He also wants to address the undecided and non-voters. Experts assume that in April more than ever he could stay away from the presidential election.
Mélenchon dedicated the campaign event to the “resistance of the Ukrainian people to the Russian invasion” and to the “brave Russians” who are protesting against the war and the dictatorship in their own country. Since the beginning of the war, Mélenchon has been criticized for having previously been pro-Russia and pro-Putin.
He himself denies it and defends his non-aligned line and his NATO withdrawal plan. His left-wing rivals, especially Anne Hidalgo of the partisan and the green Jadot, are harshly approaching Mélenchon and criticizing his attitude.
At the end of his speech, Mélenchon uses the beginning of spring as a metaphor and again addresses the crowd directly: on April 10, the day of the first vote, it is their turn to inaugurate the “people’s spring” with their ballot paper. vote. They still have three weeks left. Three weeks he has to employ the tortoise if he wants to reach his goal.