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Mexico's first female presidential candidate: not 'different' enough

Josefina Vazquez Mota is presenting herself as a female presidential candidate in machista Mexico, but she hasn't gained significant female backing ahead of July vote.

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Today, however, winning the presidency is an uphill battle. The business-friendly candidate is currently in last place among the top three parties, and she has suffered a series of campaign gaffes, including logistical errors that meant her opening campaign speech was given to a nearly empty auditorium.

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Probably her biggest handicap is the party itself. The PAN won the presidency with Mr. Fox in 2000, taking the top spot from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for the first time in 71 years and ushering in a new democratic chapter. But after 12 years, Mexicans are disillusioned with policies that have not generated enough jobs and are profoundly wearied by the country's deadly drug war, which has left 50,000 dead under the current administration.

First presidenta

"I will be Mexico's first presidenta," Vazquez Mota said after winning the party's primary in February.

The words capture a sense of optimism about the rise of women in leadership across the region, where females have held presidencies from Chile to Argentina to Brazil.

But unlike Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff or former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, who have stood for women's equality, Vazquez Mota has cast herself as a traditional woman who happens to be a politician, and so far, analysts say the message has not resonated. This isn’t the only reason Vazquez Mota is lagging in the race, but it has cost her potential votes among women who crave a female head of state in Mexico as in other Latin America countries.

“A woman candidate who talked about women's rights would have my vote just for being a woman,” says Ontiberos. “She is not offering anything different than the policies of her party.”

Vazquez Mota hails from the nation's most conservative party, and shares its stances and conservatism, says Magda Hinojosa, an expert on women in politics in Latin America at Arizona State University. “It's a difficult line to toe, drawing attention to yourself because you are a woman without taking a stance for women.”

Vazquez Mota has certainly underlined the machista culture that still runs through politics here. In one of PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto's gaffes early on in the campaign, he was unable to say how much a kilo of corn tortillas, a staple in Mexico, cost. When called out, he retorted that he was not the “lady of the house,” which the Vazquez Mota campaign immediately denounced.


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