French economy minister Emmanuel Macron resigned on Tuesday to work on proposals "to transform France", clearing the way for a presidential bid that will further unsettle an already wide-open race, repprts Reuters.
The 38-year-old former investment banker, one of France's most popular politicians, did not explicitly say he would run in the 2017 election but strongly hinted he would do so, a step he is now widely expected to take.
"I am determined to do everything so our values, ideas and actions can transform France starting next year," Macron, who created his own political party in April, said as he announced his resignation.
He said he was stepping down because he "needed to be free" to work on a plan to transform the country.
Macron's place in the government had become increasingly awkward after he repeatedly criticised left-wing totems like France's 35-hour work week and created his 'En Marche' (Forward) party in April, casting it as leaning neither left nor right.
A source in Macron's inner circle said the rapidly evolving political situation, in which former president Nicolas Sarkozy and two former Socialist ministers had declared their intention to run for president, had forced the hand of the minister, who the source said had initially planned to resign mid-September.
If confirmed, a Macron bid for the presidency would further harm President François Hollande's chances of re-election, with polls already suggesting he would be very unlikely to even make it into the run-off round.
Hollande also has challengers from the left, including former industry minister Arnaud Montebourg and ex-education minister Benoit Hamon.
A spokeswoman for Macron's 'En Marche' said the party would first conduct a door-to-door campaign to gauge opinion and collect voters' grievances on French politics by the end of September.
"After that we will make proposals, and after that candidacy questions will be dealt with," the spokeswoman said.
A Macron bid would also hurt the chances of the man leading the polls on the centre-right, former prime minister Alain Juppé, who would also target centrist voters.