Mélenchon’s “march for the sixth republic” began on Saturday afternoon under grey skies as he led the thousands-strong group from Bastille in eastern Paris.
The candidate announced the march last August in the hopes it would be “the biggest public gathering of the presidential campaign, all candidates included,” according to campaign spokesman Alexis Corbière.
The event came the same day France’s Constitutional Council announced the 11 candidates who had received the 500 signatures from regional officials necessary to stand in the first round. Mélenchon received nearly 700.
“We now know who the candidates are, so we have a clear idea of the political landscape,” said Corbière, who added that the campaign has entered “its last step”.
“When you’ve reached the home stretch, you must accelerate, like in a race,” he said.
Mélenchon’s team hopes the event will boost the candidate’s campaign. With only five more weeks until the first round of France’s presidential elections, the candidate remains a distant fifth in the opinion polls.
Eric Coquerel, who acts as a political coordinator for Mélenchon, said the campaign is “counting on the people to be a propulsive force in the streets of Paris today.”
Overshadowed by Fillon
“Over the last few weeks, our campaign has been frozen by the Fillon scandal,” explained Coquerel.
Right-wing candidate François Fillon, once the presidential frontrunner, has been embroiled in a fake jobs scandal that saw him charged on Tuesday with diversion and misuse of public funds.
Coquerel added that the scandal has “given us all the more reason to call for a sixth republic.” France’s current system of government is the Fifth Republic, which was established by former president Charles de Gaulle in 1958.
According to Coquerel, the sixth republic would aim to “bring an end to the dominant reign of the politicians who mix politics, finance and private interests”.
Mélenchon’s presidential programme calls for transitioning to clean, renewable energy; renegotiating European Union (EU) treaties and trade deals that disadvantage France; fighting tax evasion and fraud; reducing working hours and the retirement age from 62 to 60; and promoting citizen participation in government, to name a few. The outline of his programme can be read in English here.
Jean-Baptiste Dressayre, 21, told French press agency AFP that he “doesn’t believe the polls” that have projected Mélenchon to come in fifth in the election’s first round.
“We must have hope, in spite of the polls,” another supporter, Souad Lopez, 17, told AFP.
“Right now we have an amazing chance to change things,” Nordine Jouira, 35, told AFP. “We’ve been having a lot of positive feedback, contrary to what the polls show.
“We hope to make it to the second round,” she said.
Current opinion polls predict Mélenchon will come in fifth with about 12 percent of the vote in the first round of the election, behind the Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon.
Far-right National Front leader Marin Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron are currently leading the opinion polls neck and neck, with 26 and 25 percent of the vote respectively. Fillon trails a few points behind them with about 19 percent.
Mélenchon ran for president in 2012. He came in fourth with 11 percent of the vote in the first round.