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Ruling party’s fresh female face to challenge for presidency

August 28, 2011

Could Mexico be about to follow Brazil and Argentina’s lead by electing a female president?

With few convincing male contenders for the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN) candidacy, 50-year-old Josefina Vazquez Mota has emerged as the most likely to resurrect the party’s ailing fortunes in the 2012 presidential elections.

Despite not having officially announced her candidacy, Vazquez held a thinly disguised campaign rally in Guadalajara’s Auditorio Telmex last week.

In a somewhat audacious move, Vazquez addressed the packed crowd of 9,000 supporters in the territory of Jalisco Governor Emilio Gonzalez, another possible contender for the party’s nomination.

On August 30 Vazquez will step down from her position as party leader in the federal Chamber of Deputies, to concentrate solely on her presidential bid.

“Mexico is ready for a female president, the time has come for women to make decisions in government,” Vazquez said this week, confident that she can win the PAN primary on February 18, 2012.

Now considered the party’s frontrunner, Vazquez has built up a commanding lead in the polls, with Senator Santiago Creel the closest of the pack behind her.

Vazquez has said if she were president she would prioritize education, providing wider access to secondary school and university, and promote better teacher-training.

“Facing organized crime, there will be neither negotiation nor surrender,” Vazquez has maintained. However, she has also said she would focus less on the drug war and more on fighting impunity and corruption.

Most polls suggest Vazquez still trails 30 to 40 points behind Enrique Peña Nieto, the most likely candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Despite initial optimism, many voters have tired of the PAN after seeing little substantial improvement during the party’s eleven-year rule, plus a dramatic increase in drug violence since President Felipe Calderon was elected in 2006.

The Mexican Constitution prohibits Calderon from seeking a second six-year term. With the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) having also declined in popularity since their controversial narrow defeat in the last election, the PRI are now the clear favorites to win in 2012.

But with a serious woman candidate running for the first time, the female vote could prove a unknown quantity. Should Vazquez be able to turn it around for the PAN she will join a growing list of female presidents in Latin America:

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil (2011-)
Ranked by Forbes as the third-most-powerful woman in the world, Rousseff was arrested, imprisoned and tortured by Brazil’s military dictatorship for her involvement in the left-wing resistance movement of the 1970s. Still in her first year in office, Rousseff has vowed to continue many policies of her predecessor Lula de Silva.

Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica (2010-)
A social conservative, Chinchilla maintained a tough stance during a prolonged territorial dispute with neighboring Nicaragua and was eventually vindicated when the International Court of Justice ruled that Nicaragua must withdraw its troops from the contested region. She has also adopted a strong anti-crime platform amid growing concerns over security in Central America.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina (2007-)
A former First Lady, Fernandez de Kirchner succeeded husband Nestor Kichner in 2007. The Peronist couple were dubbed the “Clintons of the South.” Evoking the spirit of Eva Peron, she has been an advocate for human rights, poverty awareness and health improvement.

Michelle Bachelet, Chile (2006-2010)
Bachelet led Chile’s Socialist Party to victory in 2006, marking the first time a leftist party had held power since Salvador Allende’s government was overthrown in the violent coup d’etat led by General Pinochet in 1973. Previously Chile’s Defence Minister, Bachelet was prohibited from pursuing a second term by the Chilean constitution, she stood down last year with an approval rating of over 80 percent.

Mireya Moscoso, Panama (1999-2004)
The widow of three-time president Arnulfo Arias, Moscoso oversaw the U.S. handover of the Panama Canal in 2000. Despite initial popularity, she left office with the lowest ever approval ratings for a Panamanian president.

Violeta Chamorro, Nicaragua (1990-1997)
An anti-Sandinista candidate, Chamorro was strongly backed by the United States, which lifted sanctions against Nicaragua after her election. Remarkably, having beaten Daniel Ortega, she remains the first and only woman in the world to defeat an incumbent president.

Isabel Peron, Argentina (1974-1976)
The first female president in Latin America, Isabel Peron succeeded her husband Juan Peron after he died during his third term in office. Never as popular as his previous wife Eva Peron, Isabel was removed from office in a military coup in 1976 and later fled to Spain.

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