French far-left, far-right heads to run for 1 seat

May 12, 2012 - 8:26 AM

PARIS (AP) — The leaders of France's far-left and far-right parties will run for the same seat in parliamentary elections next month, pitting charismatic former presidential candidates who tapped into dissatisfaction with the country's mainstream leaders against each other.

The Left Front's Jean-Luc Melenchon announced Saturday that he would run for Parliament in the same northern district where Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, had already announced her candidacy.

Both politicians electrified crowds during the presidential race, tapping into anger over the poor state of the economy and how France's leaders have responded to it.

France's growth has stagnated and its unemployment rate is at 10 percent. The country has a high deficit and debt that economists say it must get under control, probably by reforming its generous social benefit system. But the poor economy has made such reforms and cuts especially unpopular, and the candidates on the extremes of the political spectrum used that to make significant inroads during the presidential election.

Le Pen confounded polls and shocked many observers by garnering 18 percent of the vote in the first round; Melenchon grabbed 11 percent of the vote. Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate, went on to win the second round.

Although they may have tapped into the same anger, the candidates proposed very different solutions.

Le Pen railed against immigration policies that she said were making it hard for French people to find jobs and encroached on French identity. Melenchon lashed out at the world of international finance and promised to redistribute wealth to struggling middle and lower class families.

"I came because here there is a battle with national significance and, I dare say, international (significance) because we are being watched by everyone," said Melenchon at a press conference to announce his campaign in Henin-Beaumont in northern France.

"What is the solution to the problem we face? What is the problem first of all? Is it immigrants or is it bankers?" Melenchon continued. "For us, it's the bankers. For others, it's immigrants. Is it immigrants who are closing factories?"

Le Pen, who held her own press conference on Saturday, dismissed Melenchon's candidacy as a stunt.

"It's love!" she joked. "I think he can't live without me anymore."