May 12, 2012 / 1:46 PM / 6 years ago

French leftist to defy Le Pen in bid for parliament seat

PARIS (Reuters) - French leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon confirmed on Saturday he would challenge his far-right rival Marine Le Pen for a parliament seat attached to her home district, promising a showdown in the small northern town of Henin-Beaumont.

Jean-Luc Melenchon (red tie), leader of France's Parti de Gauche political party, speaks as he attends a news conference to announce his candidature for the upcoming legislative, in Henin Beaumont May 12, 2012. Melenchon will challenge his far-right nemesis Marine Le Pen for a parliament seat on her home turf in elections next month, raising the prospect of an explosive clash of personalities and radical political agendas. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

For Melenchon, challenging Le Pen in the working class town, where her National Front won 35 percent in round one of the presidential election, is a chance to remain politically relevant after he came fourth in the April vote.

“I am coming here because there is a battle which has a national significance and, if I may say so, an international one too because all eyes are upon us in Europe,” Melenchon, leader of the Left Front, told supporters in Henin-Beaumont.

“In this battle two visions for solving the crisis will be confronted, so let’s compare,” he said. “Is the problem with the immigrants or is it with the bankers? For us, it’s the bankers.”

Le Pen dismissed Melenchon’s bid as a “secondary phenomenon”. “It’s not too glorious to go running after cameras,” she told Europe 1 radio.

Beating Le Pen in her political backyard would be tricky but not impossible for Melenchon, who scored under 12 percent there in the first round of the presidential race, versus 27 percent for Socialist president-elect Francois Hollande and 16 percent for outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Opinion polls show left-wing parties are set to gain a majority of the 577 seats in the National Assembly during the legislative election, which is held in two rounds on June 10 and 17.

Pollsters CSA found the Socialists would take 32 percent in the first round while allied Greens would get four percent and the Left Front 10 percent. The UMP would garner 33 percent versus 12 percent for the National Front.

Reporting By Pierre Savary; Additional reporting and writing by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Sophie Hares

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