France presidential elections: the candidates challenging Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is fighting for reelection in the April 22 presidential poll. Here are the top 5 presidential candidates.

4. Jean-Luc Mélenchon

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    Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of France's Parti de Gauche political party and the Front de Gauche political party's candidate for the 2012 French presidential election, attends a political rally in Lille March 27, 2012.
    Pascal Rossignol/Reuters
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Mr. Mélenchon is a rising populist on the far left whose support (13 percent and rising) in recent polls has surprised politicos. He is a Free Mason born in Morocco in 1951, a former Trotskyite who defended Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China a few years ago and has sided with Beijing on its opposition to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence. 

Mélenchon cuts a dashing figure in Paris: A good debater and a lively, intellectual “man of the people” who rides the subway and has no driver’s license. He is constantly on television bashing the French elite and the media itself. Like Socialist Francois Hollande, he’s a veteran of the epochal 1968 student movement in Paris. A former journalist and former vocational education minister, Mélenchon left the Socialist party after 34 years to form his Left Party.

In 2009, he was elected to the European Parliament.  He is endorsed by the communists, who don’t have a presidential candidate, but has also shown broader appeal than the far left. He has promised to cap all salaries at $500,000, among many other proposals. Mélenchon's rally in Paris two weeks ago was 70,000 to 80,000 strong – larger than Sarkozy's.

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