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Female candidate stirs up Mexican presidency battle

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2012-02-07

Josefina Vazquez Mota (pictured) will represent Mexico’s ruling PAN party in July's presidential elections, but she faces an uphill battle to become the country’s first female head of state.

Josefina Vasquez Mota won the presidential nomination of her ruling National Action Party (PAN) in Mexico on Sunday, securing enough votes in the first round of the group’s primaries to avoid a run-off against rivals. Her resounding victory injected new momentum into the presidential race in Mexico, which heads to the polls on July 1.

“I’m going to be the country’s first female president,” a confident Vazquez Mota told supporters late on Sunday, appearing alongside her two challengers in a sign of party unity. The conservative PAN has held onto the Mexican presidency since 2000, and President Felipe Calderon is barred from running for another six-year term under the constitution.

A trained economist and former journalist, Vazquez Mota, 51, became Calderon’s education minister in 2006 and then a congresswoman in Mexico’s lower-house. She was the favourite among grassroots PAN voters, defeating the incumbent’s favoured candidate Ernesto Cordero.

She is the first female from one of Mexico’s three main parties to run for the nation’s top job, even though five other women have run for president in previous elections.

Writing in the Mexican daily Excelsior, Cecilia Soto, a presidential candidate in 1994 and a political analyst, hailed Vazquez Mota’s victory as a milestone for Mexican women, adding that Sunday’s primary win was a result of the candidate’s tenacity and effective team building.

Economy, not violence

Under the leadership of President Calderon, the PAN has piled up criticism for the country’s economic stagnation and a wave of violence related to drug trafficking. The party’s image was also hurt from the primary itself, which saw fierce character attacks launched among candidates and accusations of vote-rigging.

While Mexico’s drug war, especially in the north of the country, has consistently grabbed international headlines in recent years, observers say the economy will likely take centre stage in the election.

As Vasquez Mota officially joins the race for Mexico’s presidency, the key to revamping her party’s ailing image and closing the gap with election frontrunner, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), may be targeting pocketbook issues.

“It seems obvious that the debate, in political terms, will focus on the economy, and perhaps only the economy,” Javier Esguevillas, a scholar at King Juan Carlos University in Madrid, recently wrote.

Esguevillas pointed to studies that show that Mexicans consistently said that the economy was the country’s most pressing issue ahead of security, with unemployment and poverty filling out the list of voters' top priorities.

A comeback for the PRI?

Vasquez Mota hopes to join Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff as a trio of woman leaders at the helm of Latin America’s most important economies, but she must still gain ground against other hopefuls vying for her country’s presidency.

Despite the new enthusiasm around her candidacy, she is trailing the PRI's Peña Nieto by as much as 20 percentage points in opinion polls.

In a January survey by the Mexican polling firm Mitofsky before her nomination, Vazquez Mota received 23% of vote intentions, compared to 41% support for Peña Nieto.

The PRI, which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000, could storm back into the presidency in 2012 with Peña Nieto –who was uncontested for the party’s nomination. The 45-year old former governor of the State of Mexico, enjoys both a favourable image among voters and a heavy war chest to fund his campaign.

Vazquez Mota was also jostling for votes with leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. The former Mexico City mayor who heads a left-wing coalition, lost a narrow and contested election in 2006 and currently counts around 18% voter support, opinion polls showed.

Main photo by Ads.gm used under the Creative Commons license

Date created : 2012-02-06

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