Who is Jean-Luc Melenchon, the hard left-leader dubbed ‘France’s Jeremy Corbyn’? | World News

Jean-Luc Melenchon has been labelled a firebrand, the most divisive figure in French politics and France’s Jeremy Corbyn.

The 72-year-old is the leader of France Unbowed, the largest party in the left-wing New Popular Front alliance, which was hastily mustered when President Emmanuel Macron called a snap election.

The bloc was formed to keep out the far right – and the strategy was a shock success, with NFP securing the biggest number of seats in the second round of voting after the first put the right-wing National Rally (RN) in front.

Shock result in French election – follow latest

NFP fell short of the 289 seats needed to secure an outright majority, with the election likely to produce a hung parliament.

Mr Melenchon is the alliance’s most prominent figure. But who is he, what does he stand for – and will he be the country’s next prime minister?

Who is Jean-Luc Melenchon?

Mr Melenchon has been a fixture in French left-wing politics for decades.

He spent 30 years in the Socialist Party and held ministerial posts before breaking with the party in 2008.

He was behind a string of left-wing coalitions, culminating with France Unbowed (La France Insoumise, or LFI), which he launched in 2016.

Mr Melenchon ran for president in 2012, 2017 and 2022, improving his score each time.

In 2022 he came third, just behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Macron won that election.

Born in Tangier, Morocco, in 1951 to a post office worker and teacher of Spanish and Italian descent, his family moved to France when he was 11.

He studied philosophy at university and became a leader of the student movement during the protests of May 1968.

He was a member of the French Trotskyist movement and worked as a teacher and journalist before entering politics.

Image:
Pic: AP

A divisive figure

A fiery orator, Mr Melenchon is one of the most divisive figures in French politics, enthusing some voters while horrifying others.

In 2017, he ran on a platform of taxing the rich 100% on income above €400,000 (£338,000), reducing the working week to 32 hours, and scrapping nuclear power.

He is known for unbridled tax-and-spend proposals, class war rhetoric and controversial foreign policy positions, particularly on Gaza.

France Unbowed has been a vocal critic of Israel and refused to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Critics accuse him of antisemitism, which he denies.

Mr Macron has long been contemptuous of Mr Melenchon.

Mr Melenchon is famed for his fiery temper, and in 2018 was filmed yelling at a police officer who came to search his office as part of a campaign funding investigation.

He was shown prodding his finger in the officer’s face and screaming: “Get out of my way and let me open the door. I am the republic, it’s me who’s the member of parliament.”

He was later given a three-month suspended prison term and an €8,000 (£6,700) fine for intimidating officials.

There were some clashes in Paris after the results. Pic: Reuters
Image:
There were clashes in Paris after the results. Pic: Reuters

What is France Unbowed and the New Popular Front alliance?

France Unbowed is the largest party in the NPF, alongside the Socialists, Ecologists, Communists, Generations, Place Publique, and several other left-leaning parties and groups.

France Unbowed is a force seen by many French centrists as just as extremist as the far-right RN.

The parties that formed an alliance to keep the far right out of government have previously criticised each other and have a number of key differences in ideology and approach.

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France’s left-wing coalition explained

The NFP has promised to scrap the pension reform that saw the retirement age increased from 62 to 64.

It also pledged to roll back immigration reforms, to set up a rescue agency for undocumented migrants and to facilitate visa applications.

It also wants to raise the minimum wage and freeze prices of essential food products and energy.

But it’s not clear, even among the left, who could lead the government without alienating crucial allies.

Read more:
France is now in a state of flux
What the result means and how a new govt can be formed

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Will Jean-Luc Melenchon be France’s next prime minister?

President Macron rejected the resignation of Prime Minister Gabriel Attal on Monday morning, asking him to stay in office for the time being “in order to ensure the country’s stability”.

Mr Melenchon said the new prime minister should hail from NFP – and while the bloc has no official leader, Mr Melenchon is widely thought to be the closest person to it.

But its parties are strongly divided over who they could select as prime minister.

Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure said the NFP should chose a candidate for prime minister within the week.

Asked if the left’s candidate for the prime minister role could come from France Unbowed, Mr Faure said: “On principle, I don’t want to exclude anyone, though I think we need a profile that will enable us to talk to the outside world and bring civil society together.”

Green leader Marine Tondelier, one of a number of NFP figures seen as potential candidates for the post, said on France Inter radio it could be someone from France Unbowed, the Greens or the Socialists, the three largest parties in the alliance.

What has Jean-Luc Melenchon said about the election result?

He said the surprise results of the legislative elections were an “immense relief for a majority of people in our country”.

“We are allowed to love our country,” he said, noting that was not assured before the results.

He thanked the French people for their “obstinate patience”.

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