The left-wing protest vote looked likely, before last night, to go to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, candidate for the assembled Communist coalition that makes up the Front de Gauche. Mélenchon’s fiery rhetoric attracted considerable media attention prior to the first-round poll, but his promise to seize earnings over 300,000 Euros failed to convince enough voters to enable the one-time Parti Socialiste member to finish higher than Le Pen. With 11.11% according to Le Figaro, Mélenchon came a respectable fourth, but the far left vote was, as ever in presidential and legislative elections in France, divided amongst several candidates. The overall score for the extreme left, including Philippe Poutou for the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA–1.15%) and Nathalie Arnaud for Lutte Ouvrière (0.56%), amounted to 13.5%, still some four percentage points lower than Marine Le Pen. Mélenchon did, nevertheless, obtain far more votes than the Communist candidate in the 2007 elections, Marie-Georges Buffet, who failed to qualify for the 5% mark which guarantees reimbursement ofcampaign materials with just 1.2% of the vote.
Where Le Pen’s manifesto is aimed squarely at tackling the immediate issues in the lives of working-class voters, including immigration, law and order and youth unemployment, Mélenchon’s programme dealt in particular with the French economy and improving the economic lot of the ordinary French voter. Le Pen, in fact, promised to ensure that unnecessary spending will be cut while Mélenchon aimed to increase public spending to stimulate growth. Although Le Pen appears to have targeted her programme at blue-collar voters in regions of high immigration–like Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur–it is worth noting that her support is consistently between 13 and 17 per cent across the French nation; a considerable feat for the French extreme right.
Mélenchon failed to obtain this level of support. Yesterday did, therefore, mark a disappointing day for the Front de Gauche, who may struggle to repeat the Mélenchon phenomenon at the next presidential election in 2017. Like Poutou and Arnaud, Mélenchon has ultimately failed to capitalise on the window of opportunity presented by the Eurozone crisis and the economic recession. While Le Pen’s policies are by no means all realistic (including her target of a cap on immigration of 10,000 entries per year), Poutou’s aim of simply refusing to pay off France’s budget deficit was pure fantasy.
Where the extreme left has failed in this election is to propose realistic measures aimed at the concerns of ordinary people. Instead, the 13 per cent total for the combined extreme left represents a form of rejection on the part of the French people for an alternative to capitalism and confirms the poor standing of the far left in areas where it once thrived, notably Marine Le Pen’s stronghold of the Nord-pas-de Calais. Of the extremes, then, it is the FN and Marine Le Pen who emerge in the role of the kingmakers. Mélenchon’s backing for Hollande will be nullified if Sarkozy succeeds in persuading a majority of Le Pen voters to back him in the second round. It will now be for Mélenchon and the Front de Gauche to adapt their approach ahead of the legislative elections in June, where the battle with the FN will be fiercer still.