Woman to head major party ticket in Mexico

Josefina Vazquez Mota was selected as Mexico's ruling National Action Party (PAN) candidate for the upcoming presidential election. She is Mexico's first female presidential candidate from a major political party.

Edgard Garrido/Reuters
Josefina Vazquez Mota waves the National Action Party (PAN) flag after winning the primary election to be the National Action Party’s candidate for president, in Mexico city Sunday. Voters from Mexico's ruling conservative party selected Vazquez Mota as their first woman presidential candidate on Sunday, choosing a former education minister to battle the opposition's nominee, who has a big lead in the polls, ahead of the July 1 general election.

“I am going to be the first female Mexican president.”

Those are the words of Josefina Vazquez Mota, who was just selected by Mexico’s ruling National Action Party (PAN) to be their candidate in the upcoming July 1 race. This is the first time a woman in Mexico is heading a major party ticket as a presidential candidate.

In many ways she is tapping into the fervor that has seen the Latin American electorate choose women to head Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Chile, and beyond.

But beyond changing gender roles in the region, the former education minister is hoping to appeal to women – young university students, working mothers, the poor – where her male counterparts have sometimes seemed aloof and out of touch with the realities faced by families in Mexico.

Within the PAN, Ms. Vazquez Mota challenged former finance minister Ernesto Cordero, who came in second during the weekend vote, and former senator Santiago Creel, who came in distant third. Mr. Cordero was unable to shake off criticism from his time as finance minister, when he said that 6,000 pesos a month, or about $475, was a salary that offered the accoutrements of middle class life, including a car and private school for kids. The comment spread across Twitter.

PAN was the last of three major parties to select their candidate, and Vazquez Mota will now face former Mexico State Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held onto power for 71 years before being defeated by the PAN in 2000; and leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from the Democratic Revolution Party (PDR). Mr. Lopez Obrador narrowly lost to President Felipe Calderon in 2006, declared fraud, and shut down central Mexico City for six weeks in protest.  

Mr. Peña Nieto has been the clear frontrunner of the race thus far. According to a poll carried out by Consulta Mitofsky in Mexico City late last year, Peña Nieto was ahead with 42 percent support, compared to 21 percent for Vazquez Mota, and 17 percent for Lopez Obrador.

But Peña Nieto has stumbled in recent months. Most notable was his gaffe at a book fair in Guadalajara, in which he could not name three books that most inspired him, earning him ridicule across newspaper columns and social media.

But it was another of his stumbles that Vazquez Mota, a working mother with three daughters, was specifically able to use to her advantage: in an interview, he was unable to name the price for a kilo of tortillas, a staple in Mexico, and defended himself by quipping, “I am not the lady of the house."

On a radio program afterwards, Vazquez Mota was asked if she was the “lady of the house."  She responded, "I am a woman, and as a woman I am a housewife, I am a government official, I've been twice a government secretary, I've been leader of a parliamentary group, I am an economist," reports the LA Times. "And indeed, all of that along with being a housewife, a housewife who knows what happens every day at the dining table and in the kitchen … And although we may not be there for many hours, as is my case, and I'm sure your case and many others of us, every night we return to that space of the kitchen, return to check the refrigerator and see if everything is ready or what needs to be bought the next day," she said.

While PAN is saddled with overseeing a violent crackdown against organized crime that has taken some 50,000 lives in nearly six years, and has been criticized for not doing enough to buoy the poor, Vazquez Mota can tout herself as the candidate with the capacity to care.

“Today I’m committed to take care of your families like I’ve taken care of mine,” she said Sunday. “I want to make Mexico the best country to live in.”

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