Outsider Mélenchon in shock surge as French election race comes down the stretch

Unknown-2Communist-backed Jean-Luc Mélenchon has suddenly become a serious contender in the French presidential election.

The 65-year-old veteran politician is closing the gap as he moves into third place with François Fillon.

“I’m the candidate for peace,” said the far-left firebrand who has compared German Chancellor Angela Merkel to war-mongering Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck.

Mélenchon, quit the Socialist party in 2008 after 30 years and formed his own party, La France Insoumise, which variously translates as Unbridled, Unbowed or Unsubmissive France. He ran for president in 2012, winning a little over 11 percent of the vote.

A combative “showman” who’s quick with a quip and the sharp-tongued putdown — à la Donald Trump —  he has mellowed somewhat during this campaign. “I’m less of a hothead,” he said.

His current polling numbers arise from his performances in two televised debates in which he delivered some barbed zingers at far-right leader Marine Le Pen, shouting at her to “Leave us alone with your religion!”

His campaign has many of the same aspects as Trump’s winning ways, amassing huge numbers of supporters on Twitter and avoiding the mainstream media, which he accuses of being biased.

Supported by the French Communist Party, Mélenchon said he will tax the rich to pay for an increase in the minimum wage and in social security payments. People who make more than 33,000 euros a month would be taxed 100 percent. He wants to reduce the work week from 35 to 32 hours, and restore 60 as the retirement age.

As for the European Union and NATO, he would take France out of both.

Where the candidates stand in the latest polls:

  1. Marine Le Pen, 48, National Front (far-right), has changed the party’s extremist image after taking over from her father but strongly supports his anti-immigrant views. She is the only candidate who wants France to leave the European Union.
  2. Emmanuel Macron, 39, “On the Move!” (centre), former economy minister created his party a year ago and has never been elected to office.
  3. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 65, “France Unbowed” (far-left), quit the Socialists to form his own party and is making a second run for president.
  4. François Fillon, 63, The Republicans (centre-right), former front-runner has been hit by scandals over using public funds to pay family members for alleged phony jobs.
  5. Benoît Hamon, 49, Socialist Party (center-left), former education minister who beat Prime Minister Manuel Valls to win the party primary.