Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an insurgent left-wing candidate for France’s presidency, is surging. His candidacy, organized under the newly-established party La France Insoumise (“Unsubmissive France”) has gone from a quixotic bid to a viable challenge in just a few months.
Railing against growing economic inequality, participation in foreign wars, and political corruption, Mélenchon has skyrocketed in the polls from distant fourth to within a hair’s breadth of the frontrunners. (This rise has been accompanied by the release of a web-based video game called “Fiscal Kombat” where Mélenchon fights corrupt politicians and bankers.)
The Financial Times demonstrated his surge through an aggregation of French national opinion polls:
The national election on April 23 is an elimination round. The top two vote-getters will then compete in a run-off on May 7. So in order to win the presidency, Mélenchon has to oust either centrist Emmanuel Macron or far-right Marine Le Pen, both of whom are running slightly ahead of him and conservative François Fillon.
Many have drawn comparisons between Mélenchon and Bernie Sanders. Raquel Garrido, a spokesperson for Mélenchon’s campaign, told Jacobin Magazine in early April that, like Sanders, Mélenchon is embracing a populist platform that seeks to speak to every portion of society, not just the traditional left.
“I think we are similar to Bernie Sanders in that way, who rarely spoke about ‘the Left,’ but about the people against the 1 percent or the billionaire class,” she said.
Mélenchon’s supporters have circulated a meme on social media comparing Le Pen to Trump and Macron to Clinton. “To beat Trump it would have been necessary to support Sanders,” it reads. “Let’s not make the same mistake!”
But there is a major difference between Sanders and Mélenchon. The American chose to run within an existing political party, while the Frenchman seeks to compete against them. That’s why, unlike Sanders,Mélenchon is still in the running at this late stage, as the voters are souring on the candidates of the far-right and co-opted center.