Analysis | NUPES: How Melenchon orchestrated a Left resurgence 

Leader of left-wing coalition NUPES Jean-Luc Melenchon. File.

Leader of left-wing coalition NUPES Jean-Luc Melenchon. File. | Photo Credit: AFP

After a long interregnum, the French Left seems to have finally got its act together. The left-wing coalition NUPES (New Social and Ecological People’s Union) has won 131 seats in the 577-member National Assembly, second only to President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling centrist coalition, which got 245 seats, way short of the 289-mark needed for an outright majority. This makes the Left the main Opposition force confronting Mr. Macron, ahead of the far-right National Rally, which finished with 89 seats.

Also read:French Parliament | A marooned Macron

Much of the credit for the Left’s improved performance goes go to 70-year-old veteran leftist leader Jean Luc Melenchon. In 2016, the former Trotskyist founded La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), a political party grounded in left-wing populism. The timing couldn’t have been better. With the centre-left socialists in terminal decline, and a neo-liberal regime coming to power under Mr. Macron, France’s traditional base of left-leaning voters desperately needed a credible alternative. Mr. Melenchon filled that gap. In the 2017 Presidential race, he finished fourth with 18% of the vote, and improved on it further to finish third with 22% of the vote in the 2022 presidential polls, just a whisker behind the 23% polled by Marine Le Pen, who would go on to lose the run-off to Mr. Macron.

His strong showing in the 2022 presidential polls, along with Mr. Macron’s shaky performance, galvanised Mr. Melenchon to try and forge a united left front and make a pitch for Prime Ministership. He did not waste time once the presidential poll results were out. He immediately set about negotiating with the communists, socialists and the Greens to back him as Prime Minister. He got them to agree to a common political programme — consisting of 650 policies — based on shared ideological commitments and by appealing to their sense of political opportunism. Some degree of compromise was involved as well. While France Unbowed dialled down its hostility to the EU, the pro-EU Greens and Socialists agreed that EU rules that interfered with welfare spending may be disregarded. Together, they managed to put together a coherent programme revolving around wealth redistribution, climate justice, and immigrant rights that was a distinct alternative to the pro-business agenda of Mr. Macron and the anti-immigrant politics of the far-right Ms. Le Pen.

The urban working classes and the immigrant population consolidated behind NUPES, so much so that, in the first round of the legislative polls, it polled a quarter of the votes — almost the same as Mr. Macron’s Ensemble alliance. This prompted speculation that NUPES might even secure a majority, in which case Mr. Macron could even be forced into a ‘cohabitation’ — appoint a candidate from an Opposition party as the Prime Minister.

Main objective of NUPES

Indeed, Mr. Melenchon kept reiterating during his campaign that the main objective behind the formation of NUPES was to prevent Mr. Macron from retaining his majority and force him to appoint a leftist (Mr. Melenchon) as Prime Minister to stop him from pushing through neoliberal ‘reforms’ such as raising the retirement age. However, far from getting a majority, NUPES actually did somewhat worse than expected — its tally of 131 was lower than the 140-150 projected by pollsters.

Two factors worked against it: Left-leaning voters were concentrated in a few geographical pockets, preventing a straightforward translation of a surge in vote share into a corresponding spike in seat share; also, in the second round, a significant chunk of right-wing and far-right voters opted to go with Mr. Macron’s coalition rather than vote for a leftist candidate. Eventually, the overall vote share garnered by NUPES was only fractionally higher than the sum total of the vote shares of its constituents in previous elections.

Nonetheless, functioning as a singular Parliamentary bloc does offer political advantages and opportunities to put the Macron government on the defensive. But Leftists are a notoriously argumentative lot, and Mr. Melenchon will have his hands full keeping his NUPES flock together for a full term.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2022 5:36:10 pm |