He won the elections but he will not govern: who is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader who splits the left

He won the elections but he will not govern: who is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader who splits the left

They call him the “rebel” leader, but he embodies a contemporary left-wing leadership cadre, albeit anchored to the registry office of the last century. Jean Luc Mélenchon, founder of La France Insoumise, became the unexpected protagonist of the legislative elections in France on the night of July 7, ousting the much more accredited far-right leader Marine Le Pen. The second round rewarded the New Popular Front (NFP), the radical left-wing coalition created to stem the tide of the Rassemblement National, the party that seemed destined to take power after obtaining over 30% of the votes in the first round.

The NFP’s mission was only partially successful. It achieved a historic result of 182 seats, but it is far from the absolute majority needed to govern (289). On the morning of July 8, the leaders of the New Popular Front, which unites LFI, socialists, ecologists and communists, promised that within a week they will indicate the shared name of the prime minister to propose to President Emmanuel Macron. The head of the Elysée, having averted (for now) the Le Ben-Bardella danger, will try in every way to prevent Jean Luc Mélenchon from becoming prime minister, the man who for almost ten years has fought his neoliberal policies and who promises to overturn some of his main reforms.

How the radical left grew under Mélenchon

Mélenchon is the leader capable of growing his radical left-wing formation founded in 2008 from around 10% to almost 22% in the last presidential elections dated 2022. The founder of France Insoumise is considered a “divisive” figure, too dirigiste in economics and intent on tearing away from the rich, through very high taxes, the resources needed to “eradicate poverty”. Openly opposed to Israel’s policies and the war in Palestine, he considers Hamas a resistance organization and not a terrorist one, hence the accusations of anti-Semitism leveled at him. Faced with the black danger of Le Pen, Mélenchon slightly withdrew during the electoral campaign of these legislative elections. In his place on TV in the verbal clashes with Jordan Bardella and the (recently resigned) Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, Manuel Bompard appeared, in a tacit agreement with the other components of the New Popular Front. His presence could not be ignored, however.

Le Pen Defeated, the Left Wins in France and Macron Resurrects. But the Government Is a Puzzle

When the projections of July 7 gave the New Popular Front the lead, Mélenchon returned to the scene with force, to be the first to claim an unexpected victory. La France Insoumise is the first party within the NFP, with between 82 and 86 seats. “A result impossible to predict,” he declared in front of supporters, gathered in Paris. He surrounded himself with some more or less well-known faces of his party, but the real protagonist was him, the former socialist who in 2012 decided to break with the then leader of the French Socialist Party Ségolène Royale and to found a radical left-wing political alternative, which first took the name of the Left Front, then La France Insoumise (Indomitable France).

Mélenchon’s speech and the “new France”

“The people have managed to prevent the Rassemblement National from obtaining an absolute majority,” Mélenchon recalled in his speech on July 7. “This is a huge relief for a vast majority of people in our country, those who constitute the new France and those who have always loved it with republican passion,” he added in front of cameras and supporters. “These people felt threatened, terribly. Now that they are reassured, they have won. With these ballots, a majority has made a different choice for our country,” the French politician born in Tangier emphasized.

I’ll explain to you why France suddenly resembles us

The “new France” is the expression that Mélenchon has used on many occasions during this rapid and ever-heated electoral campaign, to indicate all the people present on French soil, including those of foreign origin, born or raised in other parts of the globe, but who feel they adhere to republican values, regardless of the color of their skin, religion or mother tongue. He himself embodies this concept, having been born in Morocco and having both Spanish and Italian blood flowing through his veins. A profile ultimately not dissimilar to that of Jordan Bardella, the far-right leader honored by Marine Le Pen, who however prefers to remain silent about his Algerian and Italian origins, preferring to identify with a nostalgic and anti-historical model of French, stuck to the profile of the Gauls.

The reforms requested by the radical left

On the night of his victory, Mélenchon reiterated his objectives: the abolition of retirement at age 64, the most controversial reform launched by the government under Macron; the price freeze, the increase in the SMIC (the legal minimum hourly wage), the convening of wage conferences, the water resources management plan and the moratorium on major non-essential works. The truth is that the New Popular Front does not have the seats to implement this program, but insisting serves to clarify the position and reassure the voters who elected its deputies that they will commit to what they were voted for.

In Search of a Prime Minister

The leader of the radical left has explicitly said that he refuses to enter into negotiations with the Macronist party Ensemble!, “especially after having fought tirelessly for the past seven years against its policy of social abuse and ecological inaction”. These are words without honey, which will not facilitate the compromises necessary to obtain the mandate from Macron. After the vote, the voices of the New Popular Front are multiplying. Some defend Mélenchon, like Mathilde Panot (president of Lfi in the National Assembly), arguing that he is not “disqualified” to lead the country. And some advance proposals from civil society, like Marine Tondelier, national secretary of the Ecologists.

No one on the left wants to miss the chance to govern and Mélenchon will almost certainly be sacrificed on the altar of compromise and “adult politics”, invoked by Raphaël Glucksmann, the founder of the Place publique party that embodies a more moderate center-left than La France insoumise and that could be more welcome to the Elysée. The transalpine rope remains very tight. Left-wing voters hope it does not break before having obtained the reforms and the socio-economic change in the name of which they rushed to the polls. Otherwise Le Pen will return to the attack more forcefully and the energies to fight her could at that point be exhausted.