French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday held the first public rally with the political movement he founded, shying away from formally announcing his presidential candidacy while exhorting supporters to carry the movement "to 2017, to victory!"
Rumours have swirled over a potential presidential bid for Macron, the 38-year-old protege of French President Francois Hollande and head of the Ministry for Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, since he launched his own political movement in April.
But he stopped just short of explicitly calling himself a candidate during a rousing political event that lasted more than two hours and had the trappings of a campaign. Instead, Macron said his movement would continue canvassing French people about their concerns.
He added that his En Marche! - or "forward" - movement would put together a "transformation plan" by the end of the year.
"We are a gathering that builds energy," Macron told approximately 3,000 supporters gathered in Paris. "Faced with digital, ecological and geopolitical transformations, with the immense challenges they pose, is there a response from the right or from the left?"
While acknowledging his own place on the left, in the cabinet of a Socialist government, Macron struck out on a new path saying that old political definitions were no longer adequate. He defined his platform in terms of liberalization, reform and creating equal opportunity.
"Four months ago we could never imagine we would be here now. Imagine where we will be in three months, six months, in one year," Macron said.
The minister previously declined to commit to a race against Hollande, the Socialist Party incumbent who brought Macron into his cabinet. Macron had said explicitly that the launch of his movement in April was not intended to put forward yet another presidential candidate.
Nevertheless, polls have showed him to be one of the favourites in a thick field of contenders. A poll published Tuesday in newspaper Le Parisien showed 36 per cent of French supporting a Macron candidacy, in contrast to only 14 per cent for Hollande.
The president's dismal approval ratings have lent themselves to speculation about Macron's plans, but the Le Parisien poll showed the economy minister performing better among right-leaning voters than among those on the left.
That leaves an absence of a clear strategy for the left, raising concerns that burgeoning support for the far-right National Front could force the Socialists to throw their support behind conservatives during the second round of the elections in 2017.