Jean-Luc Melenchon: Star of France's hard-left poses problem for election victors

France's left has a Jean-Luc Mélenchon problem.

The towering firebrand of France's hard-left, Melenchon's France Unbowed (LFI) party won the most seats of the leftist alliance that scored a shock victory over the far right in Sunday's snap legislative election.

His party's top position gives him a credible claim to be France's next prime minister. But his hopes of dragging France sharply leftward appear dead after mainstream party chiefs quickly ruled out forming a coalition with a tax-and-spend, pro-Gaza figure who many in France view as an antisemitic radical.

The New Popular Front (NFP) leftist alliance could seek to cobble together an unwieldy coalition without him, or try to form a minority government by reaching individual deals on legislation with rivals, but neither would be easy.

Melenchon, who denies accusations of antisemitism, "is the most divisive figure within the NFP," said Socialist leader Olivier Faure, referring to the New Popular Front (NFP) leftist alliance.

Other members of the NFP, speaking on condition of anonymity, were even more frank.

"Melenchon is a problem," a Green party lawmaker told Reuters.

Melenchon, 72, has been a fixture of the French left for decades, holding ministerial posts in past governments when he was a Socialist party member. He ran for president in 2012, 2017 and 2022, coming third that year behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Although not a lawmaker himself, he holds a tight grip on the LFI. An admirer of Latin American revolutionary leaders, he advocates price controls, a huge increase in the minimum wage, and a reinstatement of the wealth tax.

His reputation took a beating in 2018 when he was caught on camera shouting "I am the Republic!" to anti-graft investigators searching his party headquarters

The question of how to deal with Melenchon is just one of the headaches facing France's new lawmakers as they seek to chart a path forward for a country unaccustomed to the chaotic coalition governments often seen in Germany and the Netherlands.

COMPLEX TALKS

Leaders of the component parties of the NFP have been meeting to discuss who should replace Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who tendered his resignation to Macron on Monday but is expected to stay on in a caretaker capacity.

A source at the Communist Party, one of the NFP's smaller members, said discussions were also centered on what strategy the alliance should adopt. The strong showing of the Socialists within the NFP alliance has given them more leverage than before.

Melenchon was the first political leader to react to Sunday's legislative results, in what appeared an early pitch for the prime ministership. He said the result was a damning indictment of Macron and the far right.

"The president must invite the New Popular Front to govern," he said.

Melenchon's mainstream opponents were quick to say they wouldn't do business with him.

Former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who is seen as a possible Macron successor in 2027, said any potential coalition government "cannot be the work of a single man."

"The credibility of our country could be damaged by this and the centrist political forces must without compromise make an agreement to stabilize politics but without France Unbowed and the RN," he said.

Macron's second-placed bloc, as well as representatives of the center-right Republicans, have also appeared to rule out a coalition with Melenchon.

Green party leader Marine Tondelier, a breakout star of the campaign who is herself a potential prime ministerial contender, was more circumspect. She told France Inter radio the post could be filled by someone from LFI, the Greens or the Socialists.

Socialist party lawmaker Arthur Delaporte was less concerned about Melenchon's role in the upcoming dealmaking.

"There is a Melenchon problem in the sense that he is divisive," Delaporte told Reuters. "But it is a non-problem because ... he will not be prime minister."

Source: Reuters

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