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French far-left candidate holds ‘immersive and olfactory’ rally

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Far-left French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon sought Sunday to reinvigorate his flagging campaign for April’s election with an “immersive and olfactory” rally, using 360-degree videos, sounds, and smells diffused through an exhibition hall.

The unusual event in the western city of Nantes came as the once-powerful French left-wing is deeply fractured and struggling to make its voice heard in a campaign where far-right and conservative figures have grabbed most of the attention so far.

According to his campaign platform, Melenchon wants the French government to guarantee jobs for everyone, pull out of NATO, disobey EU rules, legalise cannabis, renationalise some businesses, block energy price rises, hike taxes on multinationals and rich households and spend more on fighting racial and other discrimination.

He promised that Sunday’s rally would be a “positive” event at a time marked by political hostility.

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But Melenchon — a political firebrand with a notorious temper — is also divisive, and refuses to form a united front with other left-wing candidates against centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who’s expected to seek re-election.

For Sunday’s event, the exhibition hall covered its walls and ceilings with screens to creative the “immersive” experience, which Melenchon’s France Unbowed party says is aimed at “uniting the spirit and the senses” and convincing left-wing voters that all is not lost.

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Melenchon has criticised the French government’s vaccine and virus rules as too restrictive, and his campaign didn’t require any pass to get into the event but distributed masks at the entrance.

The 70-year-old Melenchon drew attention in the 2017 presidential race for holding a campaign rally via hologram, with his image projected simultaneously at venues around France. A similar show is planned for early April.

He was the strongest-performing left-wing candidate in 2017, winning 19.6 per cent of the vote, but came in only fourth. This time there are six left-wing candidates vying for the 10 April first-round vote, and polls suggest none has a chance to make it to the likely runoff of the top two vote-getters on 24 April.

Many voters are undecided and the field of candidates is still shifting.

According to pollsters, Macron’s strongest challengers so far are far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who he beat in the 2017 runoff; conservative Republicans candidate Valerie Pecresse, who visited a migrant camp in Greece this weekend to push for stemming migration to Europe; and populist far-right pundit Eric Zemmour, who has been repeatedly convicted of hate speech.

Other contenders include socialist Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, Greens party candidate Yannick Jadot, and former justice minister Christine Taubira.

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