Reports suggest that the Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande is set to win, but that the Front de Gauche may be on the brink of a breakthrough in the election. What have the last days of the campaign been like?
There is an incredible momentum behind our campaign. We have gone from being outsiders to challenging for third place in the presidential elections on Sunday.
In the last few days we have had massive meetings: there were 60,000 in Paris and an amazing 120,000 people showed up to our rally on the beach in Marseille. It was a really emotional event. Everyone is saying that we have run by far the most dynamic and creative campaign.
The other candidates have been copying us. But they can’t really pull it off because they have so little to say. All the journalists are writing that the main two parties' campaigns have been dull.
We have overtaken Marine Le Pen from the fascist National Front and we are third in most polls, although it is very close. We are in the incredibly exciting position of having a radical left campaign that could break the mould of French politics. But it is also nerve wracking now because the stakes have become so very high.
A lot of people want to get rid of the right wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, so the Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande is doing well - neck and neck with Sarkozy in the first round, well ahead in the second round. But the problem is he is not offering a real alternative. Hollande is expected to win the election, but at the same time he doesn’t create the kind of enthusiasm we have seen in our campaign.
Hollande is not proposing anything really different. We have pushed him into offering a few things including slightly increasing the minimum wage, but in general he is not very clear about what he is offering because he doesn’t want to scare the markets and the bosses.
There is a crisis in politics as well as economics – a sense of revolt – but the two main candidates don’t allow people to express this. The result is we are in competition with the far right, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, to be the alternative and to take third place.
If we get ahead of Le Pen it will have a big impact. Radical socialism will be the third political force in the country. It will be a force everyone will have to take into account.
If Hollande wins in the second round he will have to pay attention to us. It will put huge pressure on him. Also, it will have an effect on the legislative elections in June and open up the possibility for us to increase the number of MPs we have.
It will be a boost to working people. During the campaign we have organised the ‘Front de Lutte’ – the front of struggle. We have been down to the factories where there have been strikes. The strikers have told us that when they get in to arguments with the bosses, they say ‘we are going to call Melenchon’ and the bosses say ‘ok ok’! Melenchon said yesterday in his speech that we would bring strong support to workers’ struggle.
We often refer to 1936 when there was a Popular Front left wing government. When the government was elected it unleashed a wave of workers’ struggles including the biggest general strike up to that point and a wave of occupations.
Many, many trade unionists are coming to our rallies and getting involved on our campaign and they say that they feel massively strengthened by the campaign. So the election could profoundly change society on the social front.
We obviously feared that they would impact badly by increasing racism and Islamophobia. But actually the effect was limited. Sarkozy did get a boost - he acted like the action hero for a few days - but the police’s response backfired, they arrested some Islamic activists and then had to release them after a few days because there was no evidence.
Oddly, the events ended up exposing the far right. Previously the media had been complicit in presenting fascist leader Marine Le Pen as a fresh faced, feminist, repackaged racist. Soon after Mohamed Merah was arrested for the killings, she showed her real character. Viciously anti-Muslim, she attacked immigrants and said that every day there were thousands of immigrants like Merah pouring in to France.
Le Pen showed complete ignorance of the fact that Mohamed Merah was actually not an immigrant but was born in Toulouse and was a French citizen. So Le Pen was made to look bigoted.
We in fact launched an offensive on Le Pen and the National Front earlier in the year, openly saying they were fascist. We decided that the normal strategy of moral condemnation is not enough. We took every one of their arguments apart.
We asked whether their plans to deport immigrants would work and we showed they would take ten years and cost billions. We argued it would be better to spend the money on education and programmes for young people and so on, and we showed that immigration is good for the economy. We also proved the National Front is a pro-boss, pro-rich party.
This was very important because a lot of anti-racist activists had been paralysed by the ‘acceptable’ face that Marine Le Pen had managed to put on. People were worried about attacking her for fear of appearing ‘anti-democratic’.
But Melenchon called Marine Le Pen ‘crazy’ and ‘poisonous’ live on TV, and this completely changed the dynamic. Anti-racists everywhere felt relieved. This is the key to whatever success we have had. We have gone on to the offensive against the right, against the rich and against the feebleness of Hollande.
Danielle Obono is a leading member of the Front de Gauche (Left Front) which is shaking up French politics. Its Presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, Jean-Luc Melenchon, is currently polling near to 10% on a programme of attacking finance capital and calling a constituent assembly to take power back in to the hands of the people. Danielle was a student leader at the Sorbonne during the great French student revolts last decade and a key organiser in the French anticapitalist and anti war movements. She has written widely including on social movements in Nigeria.
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