PARIS Far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon on Friday rejected calls to drop out of France's presidential election in favour of a mainstream Socialist candidate, saying those urging him to do so could get lost.
Melenchon, running fourth in the polls, said he would stay in the race even if it meant splitting the vote and preventing any left-wing candidate from making it past the first round.
"What they would like is for me to step back .. and come like the burghers of Calais with a rope around my neck and give them the keys to the proletariat. Well they can get lost, this won't happen," Melenchon said in the colourful language he is known for.
He was referring to the 14th century surrender of the leaders of Calais in northern France to the King of England in the Hundred Years' War, wearing nooses around their necks.
Melenchon's stance matters because he is forecast, in the latest polls, to get 11.5 to 13 percent of the vote in the first round on April 23.
That would not be not enough for the 65-year old to make it to the May 7 run-off, but it would almost certainly prevent whoever becomes the Socialist Party (PS) candidate from advancing.
Melenchon, who was a PS member for over three decades before slamming the door to create his own, more left-wing party in 2008, said the Socialists were so discredited after nearly five years in power that it was pointless for them to field a candidate.
"The Socialist party can give up its own (candidacy) because it is useless," Melenchon said in an interview with Reuters and a small group of European journalists. "They have no unity, no headstart in opinion polls."
An Ifop-Fiducial poll last week showed Melenchon ahead of any of the candidates contesting this month's Socialist primaries, including ex-prime minister Manuel Valls.
Socialist President Francois Hollande, deeply unpopular because of his failure to turn around the economy and bring down unemployment, announced last month he would not seek a second term. His former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, a centrist who is taking votes from the left and the right, is seen having a small chance of making it to the run-off.
But most opinion polls show conservative Francois Fillon and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen going through to the run-off, with Fillon winning it.
On Sunday the PS will hold the second of three TV debates ahead of the Jan. 22 and 29 primaries. Both Melenchon and Macron have refused to take part in the contest, despite repeated calls from the Socialists for them to do so or step aside.
Melenchon said that, if elected, he would want to overhaul European Union rules, in particular to change the workings of the European Central Bank and address Germany's trade surplus with the rest of the bloc. If doesn't work "then we would leave," he said, referring to France's EU membership.
Melenchon gained 11.1 percent of the vote in the first round of the last presidential election in 2012, helped by Communist backing.
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)