One of French President Emmanuel Macron’s closest political allies caused a stir on Monday by backing changes to the constitution that would allow the head of state to seek re-election.
Richard Ferrand, a former MP and speaker of parliament, told the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper on Monday that he opposed the constitutional two-term limit that Macron must step down by 2027.
“In my personal opinion, I’m against anything that restricts the expression of public opinion,” he said, prompting a barrage of headlines and criticism from political opponents.
Ferrand criticized presidential term limits and new rules introduced in 2014 that prevent congressmen and senators from serving as mayors or district chiefs.
“All of this puts a straitjacket on our public life, with rules that limit citizens’ free choices,” he added.
“Let’s change all that while preserving the bicameral system and the Constitutional Council, guardians of our republican principles and public liberties.”
Critics on both the left and right have accused Ferrand, one of Macron’s earliest political supporters, of copying the authoritarian leader’s tactics and language.
“Amending the constitution to keep power … the last two are Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin,” said right-wing Senator Alan Hupert, referring to the Chinese and Russian leaders.
Mathilde Panot, parliamentary president of the hard-left Independence party, said Ferrand was “the face of authoritarian drift under Macron”.
In recent years, France has routinely urged African leaders to respect term limits, and attempts to govern have led to crises in countries ranging from Burundi to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ferrand issued a new statement on Monday, saying he was “concerned to see social networks and lazy media outraged by my stupid proposal that I did not make in my interview with Le Figaro”.
He added in an interview with Sud Radio that he was not proposing changes before the next presidential election in 2027.
“You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. There’s no point in that,” he said.
Ferrand was the shock victim of anti-Macron voting patterns during parliamentary elections last June, when the pro-business, centrist head of state lost his majority in the National Assembly.
The former Socialist lawmaker has since disappeared from the public eye but remains a close confidant and adviser to the president.