A few months ago, Josefina Vázquez Mota, an economist and Mexico’s former secretary of public education under current President Felipe Calderón, won the nomination of Mexico’s ruling party, the National Action Party (PAN), thus becoming the first female presidential candidate of any of Mexico’s three major parties. Vázquez Mota won the PAN’s primary obtaining 55% of the vote, compared to 38% obtained by former finance minister Ernesto Cordero, Calderón’s preferred candidate.
During her victory speech, Vázquez Mota told a crowd of supporters, “I will be the first female Mexican president in the history of the country.”
As a woman supporting greater female participation in politics, I was delighted to read this news, but I can’t help but wonder if Mexico — a country in which machismo is still rather prevalent (women were not allowed to vote in Mexico until 1953, and the first time a woman was elected to public office was barely 20 years ago) — is ready for a presidenta. Gender may play to Vázquez Mota’s disadvantage — or her advantage, some argue — but I think what will ultimately drive the decision is whether her fellow Mexicans feel that the PAN can take on a new course under her leadership and effectively address the country’s many problems. In the words of a political analyst, “It’s impossible to say today if Josefina will be the first woman president. She would have to overcome 12 years of blunders by the PAN, which looks difficult.”
Mexicans will go to the polls on July 1. Vázquez Mota will be running against Enrique Peña Nieto, the current front runner and candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the left wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
In her campaign promises Vázquez Mota has pledged to fight corruption (she intends to seek life sentences for politicians who collaborate with organized crime), to increase the number of scholarships for students, and to carry out a labor reform that would see the annual inclusion of 400,000 people into the formal economy. She has further stressed that if elected she’ll continue Calderón’s war on drug cartels. Vázquez Mota has also promised that if she becomes elected, she’ll fight against women’s discrimination. During her pre-campaign, the mother of three also repeated messages of support aimed at Mexico’s working class and families in particular. In a country that places great value on family ties, such missives should not to be easily dismissed.
Meanwhile, former governor of the State of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, has pledged to tackle Mexico’s poverty. According to recent opinion polls, the young former governor is the current favorite with a lead of close to 20 percentage points over Vázquez Mota. In a survey conducted in mid-January by Mexican polling company Mitofsky, Peña Nieto received 41% of vote intentions, compared to 23% support for the PAN’s candidate. However, these results were obtained before Vázquez Mota’s victory, and with her nomination the campaign is only now starting for real.
In the nearly five months remaining until election day, much can still happen that could potentially turn these numbers around. Peña Nieto for once has been prone to recurring gaffes in the past months that have hurt his image (i.e. when asked in an interview about the price of a kilo of tortillas, he responded “I don’t know, because I’m not the woman of the house.”). And though López Obrador is currently trailing third, we should keep a close eye on him. Considering he lost the 2006 election against Calderón only by a narrow margin, his appeal to the Mexican electorate should surely not be underestimated.
On July 1 Mexican voters will let the rest of the world know if they are ready for a female president, so long as — I think — Vázquez Mota is capable to convey to them that she is the best candidate for Mexico’s future, regardless of her gender. I, for once, am very curious as to whether she will join the club of the “Latin American Presidentas,” and will follow the election and its outcome closely.