Speaking via hologram to multiple locations across France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the radical leftwing politician who aims to throw the presidential election off course, told supporters victory was within their grasp at his last campaign rally on Tuesday evening.
The veteran candidate, who has been edging his way up the polls and is in third place, described himself as a political tortoise, slow but with the potential to beat the hares to the finishing line.
“We have a few days and we can feel our destiny at our fingertips. We know we can push for the most incredible political change of direction imaginable,” he said in a 90-minute speech that touched on philosophy, literature and a 15th century feminist treatise. “We have to break with presidential monarchy and install the sovereignty of the people. Everyone has an individual, personal responsibility for the result on Sunday,” he told them.
Mélenchon, 70, used special technology to “appear” in 12 different places at the same time on Tuesday; the real Mélenchon was in the northern town of Lille, a traditional heartland for the French left while hologram incarnations appeared in 11 other cities spanning the length and breadth of France.
It is a hi-tech gimmick the leader of the radical La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), standing for the third time in a presidential election, first used in his 2017 campaign. The campaign team had boasted the aim was that Mélenchon – the real and the ephemeral – would be less than 250km from every French citizen in mainland France.
With the first round of the 2022 presidential election looming this Sunday, Mélenchon is now the left’s only hope of reaching second round runoff. Support for the mainstream left Parti Socialiste has collapse leaving its candidate, Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, facing an historically low score. The Ecology-Green candidate, Yannick Jadot, is languishing in sixth place. Emmanuel Macron is at 27%, Marine Le Pen at 23% and Mélenchon at 16.5%, according to the latest Ifop opinion poll.
Mélenchon entered the arena to techno music and a roar from the audience, before running through the highlights of his programme. He promised to make France non aligned (by withdrawing from Nato) while condemning Russian killings in Ukraine, to end France’s dependence on nuclear power; freeze the price of fuel and essential goods; lower the retirement age from 62 to 60; introduce a minimum wage of €1,400 a month and address noise, air and other pollution. He also promised feminist-friendly measures including an end to the rampant femicide that sees one woman killed by a partner or ex-partner in France every three days.
Power, Mélenchon insisted, had to be with the people and he would govern with the use of citizens’ referendums, one of the demands of the gilets jaunes movement.
Mélenchon said he would also end the spread of “malbouffe” (junk food) and bring about what he called “de-globalisation” or reindustrialising the country. “Don’t tell me we cannot make shoes or hats or jeans here that haven’t travelled halfway around the world. We can,” he said. The crowd roared.
“It’s not the unemployed who are responsible for unemployment, not the sick responsible for the health crisis, not the poor responsible for poverty,” he said.
“If we get to the second round we are determined to change the world. That is what we will do if we win this election,” he added.
There were digs at Macron and the far right’s Le Pen – both expected to be in the second round runoff. “We see Ms Le Pen with her cats, it bores me, I only have a cactus, which is not as good for Instagram,” Mélenchon said.
The thousands of people who queued outside the Grand Palais in Lille were a mixed crowd of all ages and backgrounds, some committed Mélenchon supporters, others seeking to be convinced, or not.
Marine Dhap, 32, a freelance marketing agent from Lille, said she had voted Mélenchon before but it was the first time she had seen him. “He’s in third place and this week will be decisive. It’s positive that he’s not very far behind in the polls so he has every chance of being in the second round. His vision is the best on the left and I like his programme that is for a more human system including a greater sharing of wealth. He also has some very good social and green ideas.”
Oliver Genty, 62, a former SNCF train driver from the outskirts of Lille, said he had supported Mélenchon in several elections. “I think he’s the only one who is for the workers and is more for ordinary people than Macron who comes from the world of finance,” he said. “I think he could end up in the second round.” Genty said he regretted there were “too many leftwing parties” splitting the vote. “I would have preferred him to have made an alliance with the Socialists and the Communist party.” Genty said in the event of a Le Pen v Macron second round runoff he would vote for Macron. “I will feel obliged to vote against the extreme right.”
Fabienne Courmont, 60, a cleaner, said she would have a problem voting for Macron. “I won’t vote for Marine Le Pen but the idea that she could win makes me afraid. If I do vote it won’t be for Macron, it will be against her.”
Antonio Messana, 51, an archivist, Christelle Goffard, 49, a sociologist and Julie Vanhoye, 44, unemployed, had travelled from Dunkirk, an hour’s drive away to see the charismatic radical left leader, known for his fiery oratory skills.
“I am already convinced by his ideas. He’s the only one who gives us hope; he is intelligent and positive, not like the other candidates. I am hopeful he will get into the second round. Optimistic,” Messana said.
“I am attracted to his social and ecological ideas particularly that there should be a more equal sharing of wealth,” Goffard added. “I would like him to talk about women’s equality.”
Vanhoye said she had yet to be convinced and was hesitating between the Communist candidate, Fabien Roussel, or Mélenchon. “I have come to listen,” she said.
Jean-Marc, 65, a teacher, said he had previously been a Socialist party voter but did not see the point of voting for a candidate with no chance. “I will vote for him in the first round in the hope that he gets through and we have a real left-right debate in the second. But if Mélenchon gets into the second round he will have to soften his (radical) stance to appeal to others on the Left.”
Marthe Bouganim, 27, who works for a human rights association in Lille, had turned up with three girl friends. “I voted for Mélenchon in 2017 and I have the impression there’s more of a team behind him this time. He is not such a one-man show; he is surrounded by interesting people.”
Mélenchon has been campaigning since the autumn of 2020, longer than any other presidential candidate, so it was perhaps tiredness that meant his speech was less inflammatory and incendiary than supporters have come to expect. The meeting ended with a rendition of the Marseillaise.
Manon Aubry, a Mélenchon campaigner and co-chair of the Left in the European Parliament parliamentary group, said Mélenchon was now within the opinion polls “margin of error” meaning he stood a real chance of getting into the second round. She said the challenge was to mobilise voters in working-class areas where Mélenchon support was strong. “Our objective is to show that going out to vote can make a difference,” she said.
Mona Rose, 24, a student at Sciences Po in Lille, added: “The majority of young people I know will either vote for Mélenchon or they won’t vote at all.” She said the idea of another Le Pen v Macron second round made her “very angry”.
“The more I hear of Mélenchon’s programme, the more strongly I feel about it. If everyone here convinces a few people around them he might get through. I’ll be trying to do that until Sunday.”