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Game Changer? Surprise Female Candidate Emerges In Mexico's Presidential Race

Op-Ed: The governing PAN made history last weekend by becoming the first major Mexican party to select a female presidential candidate. Although PAN trails in the polls, Josefina Vázquez Mota – a conservative deputy – could certainly shake things up ahead

Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota.
Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota.
Ricardo Alemán

With less than five months to go before Mexico's next presidential election, the governing PAN party has finally chosen a candidate: Josefina Vázquez Mota. The choice is as historic as it was surprising. Historic because the conservative deputy is the country's first major party female candidate, and surprising because most pundits expected PAN to choose Ernesto Cordero instead.

Cordero, a former finance minister, was widely hailed as President Felipe Calderón's personal preference. He also had the backing of numerous state governors. And yet when it came time for PAN members to cast their votes, a majority chose Vázquez Mota over Cordero and Santiago Creel, the party's third potential candidate.

Should this then be seen as a defeat for President Calderón? Not so fast – there's more here than meets the eye. It's true that Calderón threw his weight behind Cordero. What was less obvious, however, was that he also maneuvered on behalf of Vázquez Mota. In reality, he played both cards like a pro, so that no matter how things transpired, President Calderón could be seen as a winner.

Despite all the public support he offered Ernesto Cordero, Calderón didn't end up pushing things as far as he could have. It may have cost him politically, but the president could have used his considerable influence to insist PAN choose the finance minister. Indeed, he was also quietly pressuring the powers that be in PAN to back Vázquez Mota.

A mark of democracy

Things couldn't have worked out better for Vázquez Mota, who not only secured the nomination, but goes into the election as an unexpectedly legitimate candidate. Even though party leaders rallied behind Cordero, and even though there were widespread reports of election tampering (in favor of Cordero), Vázquez Mota still won.

The democratic process, in other words, worked – which looks great for PAN, since it was the only Mexican party to put its candidate selection process to a vote. PAN's rival parties – the centrist PRI and left-wing PRD – chose their candidates behind closed doors.

PAN's task now is to mend its internal divisions and present a unified front against the PRI's Enrique Peña Nieto, the favorite to win the July 1 election. Once Vázquez Mota is formally ratified as the PAN candidate, she has a real chance of shaking up the polls, of closing the gap with Peña Nieto and putting some distance between herself and the PRD candidate, former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

What Vázquez Mota offeres voters, above all else, is the chance to elect the country's first female president. Could she really win it? The race has really just begun and, as we've just seen, anything is possible.

Read the original article in Spanish

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