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France Faces Revival of Radical Left

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FT.Com (4/15/12) — A powerful revival of France’s radical left, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former socialist minister, and with a resurgent Communist party at its core, looks poised to be one of the most striking outcomes of next Sunday’s first round of voting in the country’s presidential election.

Mr Mélenchon, who has emerged from relative obscurity to become the most dynamic figure in the campaign, reinforced his dramatic rise at the weekend, drawing tens of thousands of red flag waving supporters from across the country to a rally at the Prado beach in the Mediterranean port of Marseilles on Saturday.

“We are writing a page in the history of the left. We are the renaissance of the left,” he declared to roars from the crowd, chanting “Resistance! Resistance!”

The question is what effect a strong showing by Mr Mélenchon could have, particularly on François Hollande, the mainstream Socialist party candidate who is favourite to win the Elysée in the decisive second round of the election on May 6.

At the heart of Mr Mélenchon’s campaign, which brings together his own Left party, the Communist party of France and other far left groups under the banner of the Left Front, is an outright rejection of the austerity policies pursued across the European Union, including France, in response to the sovereign debt crisis.

It is a message that has resonated widely: Mr Mélenchon’s outdoor rallies have easily rivalled those of Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, and Mr Hollande in numbers and intensity; his poll ratings have soared from 5 per cent two months ago to as high as 17 per cent in recent surveys, suggesting that he could even come in third behind Mr Sarkozy and Mr Hollande, who have pledged to stick to tough targets to reduce France’s budget deficit and high public debt.

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