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Hard-Left Candidate Emerges As Serious Presidential Contender In France

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Jacob Bojesson Foreign Correspondent
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The French presidential race could turn into a battle between two candidates on different ends of the political spectrum as communist-backed Jean-Luc Mélenchon emerges as a serious contender.

Four candidates remain in the running to become France’s next president with less than a week to go before the first round of voting. Populist Marine Le Pen long seemed like the anti-establishment alternative until investors and the European Union got another headache in the possibility of a Mélenchon presidency. (RELATED: Four Candidates Fight For French Presidency With One Week To Go)

Mélenchon, who is just 3.5 percentage points from the lead, is the head of newly-formed “La France Insoumise” movement (Unsubmissive France) and a veteran of left-wing politics. He wants France to withdraw from the NATO alliance and, like Le Pen, renegotiate its relationship with the EU.

Other proposals include a 100 percent tax on all income over 400,000 euros ($425,000) and increase public spending by 173 billion euros ($184 billion) over five years. He wants to improve relations with Russia to “avoid war” and move from a presidential to a parliamentary system where citizens hold more power.

Mélenchon is currently tied with conservative candidate Francois Fillon in third place with 19.5 percent’s support, according to an Ifop poll released Monday. Emmanuel Macron hold a slight lead with 23 percent, ahead of Le Pen in second place with 22.5 percent’s support. The top two candidates will go up against each other in a run-off election May 7.

One-in-three eligible voters are undecided, which makes the last week crucial for all candidates. Mélenchon’s surge could shake up the race even he fails to finish in the top two. Some 42 percent of his backers say they won’t vote in the second round if he’s eliminated from the race, which could boost Le Pen’s chances.

“Abstention among Mélenchon voters can turn into a determining factor,” pollster Ifop’s Jérome Fourquet told Politico. “Many people in this group are going to find it impossible to vote for ‘Macron the banker’ — how many exactly it’s hard to say. What’s clear is that the tactical voting we saw in 2002 that kept Jean-Marie Le Pen out of power is not going to work as well this time.”

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