Left-wing candidate rallies thousands for Bastille march

Thousands of people rallied Sunday in Paris in a show of support for left-wing presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. France 24 talks to the people who came from across the country to join the march.


Left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon led thousands of supporters in a festive campaign march to Bastille square in Paris on Sunday. With five weeks left before the first round of France’s presidential election, Mélenchon has been gaining increasing support from voters and threatening incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy's most serious challenger, Socialist Party candidate François Hollande.

While the Socialist candidate has slowly been shedding his once significant lead in voter intention surveys, from as high as 39% in October to around 27% in the latest surveys, Mélenchon increased his support from around 5% to 11% support during the same period. Mélenchon is leading the Left Front coalition that is farther to the left ideologically than France’s main opposition Socialist party.

Grey skies and light rain did little to curb the marchers' enthusiasm. Members of the French Communist Party, who are allied with Mélenchon for the election, were out en masse for Sunday's march, but the gathering had also attracted many other leftist sympathisers. The parade-like march that featured flat-bed trucks blasting music, bright red balloons and flags column slowly advanced from Paris' 11th arrondissement to Place de la Bastille - a busy square steeped in the symbolism of the French Revolution.

Alizée Minkur, 23, a recent university graduate who studied political science and is looking for work, said she was still unsure if she would vote for Hollande or Mélenchon. “I was curious to hear Mélenchon’s speech at the Bastille and find out what changes he will propose. I am also here to march against the dictatorship imposed by the financial markets,” Minkur said. As a university student she was a member of the Socialist Party’s youth movement, but quit. “They were not far enough to the left for me,” Minkur explained.

Jacques Ambroise, 48, wore the familiar red of the CGT union and French Communist Party, both of which he belongs to. “I am sceptical of the Socialist Party, who was already in power,” Ambroise, a railroad worker from the region of Normandy, said. “I hope the Left Front will continue to bring together more and more voters and that Mélenchon will get a good score in the first round. I think it’s possible,” he said.

Pierre Butheil, 53, and Elina Angles, 64 came by train all the way from the southern city of Montpellier for Sunday’s march. They didn’t belong to any political party but joked that they belonged to the “Left Front” coalition. “We want a real change to the left, and Francois Hollande is incapable of making that change,” Angles said. She dismissed Hollande’s call to cast a “useful vote” in his favour in order to beat incumbent Sarkozy. “For me the useful vote is for Mélenchon,” Angles said.

Eric Tempir, 37, and Pierricq Berleux, 29, had travelled to Paris from Brittany. They said they were there to support Mélenchon, but also in support of the peoples of Greece, Spain and Italy who were suffering from EU imposed austerity measures. “We are here for a new Europe,” Tempir said. “We were inspired by [Mélenchon’s] call to take back the Bastille, because we have to take the fight to the street. Our march is peaceful, we are not fascists, but we will have to fight to keep the rights our parents won.”

Xavier, 20, and Sylvain, 18 –both science students about to start university– said they were curious to see how this rally would unfold. “We share the ideas expressed by Mélenchon and we wanted to add our small contribution to this day,” Sylvain said. “Other left-wing candidates also have good ideas, but only Mélenchon has the ability to bring people together,” Xavier added.

Maelle Sopena, 40, was carrying a sign reading “out of work artist”. She said her dream was to see a constitutional assembly in France before she died. “For the time being, Mélenchon is the only credible candidate, he is the only one with the necessary charisma to mobilize people,” Sopena said.

Samuel Durand, 70, is a retired bee keeper from the south-central Ardeche region. He described himself as “very much an environmentalist” but said he did not have confidence in France’s Green party. He said he was particularly interested in preventing shale drilling in France. “Mélenchon has strongly come out against shale gas drilling,” Durand explained. “He has the clearest position on the issue.”

Mariam Barry, 34, (pictured right) is a nurse in the suburbs of Paris. A native of Ivory Coast she has lived in France for nearly 10 years and cannot vote in the election. “I am here because Mélenchon stands up for what’s important to me,” Barry said. “He will defend public nursery schools, raise the minimum wage, protect abortion rights, and help undocumented workers.” Barry was part of Femmes-Egalité group that was taking part in the march to the Bastille.

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