French leftists move to shore up alliance ahead of snap elections

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Leaders of France’s leftwing New Popular Front moved to shore up their new alliance for forthcoming snap elections after it was rocked by a far-left party purge of moderates.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon enraged colleagues and the leaders of other parties late on Friday when he removed several of his critics and proponents of the alliance from his party’s list of candidates.

He included in the list Adrien Quatennens, a protégé and controversial MP from Mélenchon’s France Insoumise — France Unbowed, or LFI — party, who has a conviction for domestic violence, prompting a furious reaction from other NPF leaders.

On Saturday, Mélenchon was defiant about his purge, telling news outlet that “political coherence and loyalty in the left’s largest parliamentary group are imperative for governing”.

But on Sunday, Quatennens withdrew his candidacy in what appeared to signal a partial retreat by Mélenchon.

Mélenchon, a deeply polarising politician, suggested he would not insist on becoming prime minister if the left emerged from the election with the most seats. A Mélenchon premiership would be a troubling prospect for the other left parties and many voters.

Adrien Quatennens
Adrien Quatennens has withdrawn from the election after his inclusion on France Insoumise’s list of candidates prompted a furious reaction © Adrien Quatennens Youtube Channel/AFP via Getty Images

“If you don’t think I should be prime minister, I won’t,” he told France TV, addressing his NPF comrades.

The creation of a united leftwing front is a crucial development in the run-up to the elections on June 30 and July 7. It could seriously harm the prospects of candidates for Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance by making it much harder for them to qualify for the second-round run-off.

The leftwing parties are deeply divided on the economy, EU policy and Ukraine, but have buried their differences to maximise their chances against Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National.

They have united behind a joint programme with a radical tax-and-spend agenda, adding to investors’ jitters ahead of the election. Mélenchon said the left’s programme envisaged tax rises worth €123bn a year.

In a sign of the commitment to the new alliance — which spans Eurosceptic far-left populists and pro-EU social democrats — former socialist president François Hollande said he would run for parliament as an NPF candidate.

However, Mélenchon’s purge of his party just hours after the New Popular Front’s campaign launch created serious strains within the alliance. Olivier Faure, the socialist chief, called it “scandalous”.

“It’s totally petty, small of him, settling scores when the challenge now is to prevent the far right from taking power,” Alexis Corbières, one of the MPs removed as a candidate, told France Info.

Another, Raquel Garrido, posted on X: “Shame on you, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. This is sabotage. But I can do better. We can do better.”

Political parties are scrambling to assemble their lists of candidates for the election before the deadline of 18.00 on Sunday.

Hollande’s candidacy in his home region of Corrèze took his colleagues by surprise. If elected, Hollande would become only the second former head of state to take a seat in the National Assembly since the start of France’s fifth republic. The other was Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

Hollande said it was “an exceptional decision for an exceptional situation”, given that the far right is closer to power than at any moment since France’s liberation from Nazi occupation in 1945.

To salvage as many seats as possible, Macron’s centrist alliance is trying to strike reciprocal local deals not to stand against each other with centre-right candidates that refuse to back RN.

The centre-right Les Républicains party is also in disarray after its leader Éric Ciotti unilaterally agreed an alliance with the far right

Furious colleagues on the party’s executive unanimously voted to expel Ciotti, but the decision was overturned by a Paris court on Friday night, leaving it unclear who was in charge of the list of candidates.

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