France's 2 left-wing presidential candidates refuse to unite

AP News
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Posted: Feb 27, 2017 6:30 AM
France's 2 left-wing presidential candidates refuse to unite

PARIS (AP) — The two main left-leaning candidates in France's presidential election won't join forces after all.

Socialist Benoit Hamon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, a former member of the Socialist Party who is supported by the Communists, both announced over the weekend that they are staying in the race, putting the Left at risk of disappearing after the first round of balloting.

In France's two-round presidential election, voters will be choosing among a host of candidates on April 23 — and the top two vote-getters go on to compete in a presidential runoff on May 7. The exact number of presidential candidates will be set by the end of March.

Despite opinion polls suggesting that neither left-wing candidate has a chance of reaching the second round, they have shown little appetite for joining forces since the 49-year-old Hamon won the Socialist primary last month.

"I would have preferred a union around my candidacy," Hamon said Monday, speaking on France Inter radio.

Less than two months before the election, Hamon has sealed an alliance with the environmental party's presidential candidate Yannick Jadot, who gave up his bid and joined the Socialist hopeful.

But Hamon, who pledges a universal income to all citizens and wants to reduce France's reliance on nuclear power, will face a major hurdle in the 65-year-old Melenchon. Both left-wing men are running neck-and-neck in opinion polls, well behind far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen or independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.

After they dined together in a Parisian restaurant, Melenchon issued a statement saying he and Hamon could not put aside their differences but agreed on a "mutual respect code" throughout their campaigns.

Both men have harshly criticized Socialist President Francois Hollande's austerity politics and found a common ground on criticizing an unpopular labor reform bill that has led to violence in the streets last year. Their disagreements on other major issues proved to be a major deterrent.

While Hamon wants to reform the European Union to pursue more social policies, Melenchon wants France to leave European treaties and NATO.

"With 50 days left before the first round, it's not possible to settle the difference that, for example, divides us on the essential question of Europe," Melenchon's statement said.

The last time the Left missed out on the second round of the presidential election was in 2002, when far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine, went through ahead of then-Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to face Jacques Chirac. That year, the French left-wing parties failed to unite ahead of the election and eight candidates close to the Left ran for the presidency.

"I'm telling left-wing voters and French citizens that the Left could be absent of the second round of the presidential election," Hamon said. "This would be extremely dangerous for the country because the Right we have is extremely brutal."