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Mexicans at polls talk of jobs, drug violence

Mexico's presidential election today is a choice between four candidates – and not voting at all. 

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But the left’s uphill battle this year is not just about the controversial candidate it has fielded or internal divisions in the party. The left is also hampered by Mexico’s unique history of one-party leadership under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is leading the race today.  Founded in the wake of the Mexican Revolution, the PRI wielded socialist rhetoric and a vigorous nationalism that eclipsed and co-opted the message of the left. Put simply, many voters who tilt left in Mexico are drawn to the PRI instead of the PRD.

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Sara Miller Llana moved to Paris in April 2013 to become the Monitor's Europe Bureau Chief. Previously she was the paper's Latin America Bureau Chief, based in Mexico City, from 2006 to 2013.

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“[The PRD] is probably too close to the old regime, and that has been a very difficult problem for the left,” says sociologist Roger Barta, a professor emeritus at Mexico's National Autonomous University.

Josefina Vazquez Mota

Mexico's National Action Party (PAN) was targeting the “modern” Mexican woman when it nominated Josefina Vazquez Mota for president.

But the PAN’s strategic move – becoming the first major party to nominate a female candidate for president – hasn’t worked out as planned.

Mexico has hit a milestone with Ms. Vazquez Mota’s nomination, but she has been unable to disassociate herself from the public’s discontent with her party’s 12 years in power, especially on security. And even if some women are drawn to her, for many others, she hasn’t come off as modern enough.

Vazquez Mota chose one simple word as her campaign slogan: “Different.” She is presenting herself as a leader in machista Mexico who intimately understands how to navigate work and mothering, and a woman who would be more honest and sensitive to the needs of working families. In a country where fertility rates have dropped precipitously, the education gap between sexes has narrowed, and women are increasingly entering the workforce, many say it’s time Mexico had a female in the top office.

"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, boxed in by party ideology and her own beliefs, she has been unable to capture a significant “female” vote to tip the race in the PAN’s favor. “She [has] tried to promote herself as different because she is a woman but she does not embody any of the feminist discourses,” says Fernando Dworak, a political analyst in Mexico City. “She says she is different, but she can't say how she is different.”

Vazquez Mota was considered the winner in the second round of presidential debates in July, going on the attack and trying to paint her rivals as part of the old corrupt machinery of the past. But catch-up will have to be meteoric if she is to prevail.

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