Mexico's ruling party picks first woman presidential candidate

Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota celebrates her victory with her counterparts Santiago Creel, left, and Ernesto Cordero from the National Action Party during a press conference in Mexico City Feb. 5, 2012. AFP/Getty Images

Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota celebrates her victory with her counterparts Santiago Creel, left, and Ernesto Cordero from the National Action Party during a press conference in Mexico City Feb. 5, 2012.
Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota celebrates her victory with her counterparts Santiago Creel, left, and Ernesto Cordero from the National Action Party during a press conference in Mexico City Feb. 5, 2012.
AFP/Getty Images

"It's Josefina!" read the headlines in Mexico today, after the ruling National Action Party chose Josefina Vazquez Mota as the party's first female presidential candidate ahead of elections on July 1.

Vazquez Mota, 51 -- a mother of three, avid Twitter user, and a former radio anchor, congresswoman and education secretary -- faces an uphill battle for the presidency. Her contenders are the photogenic Enrique Pena Nieto, 45, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the party that ruled Mexico for most of the 20th century and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, from the left-of-center Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) who narrowly lost to President Felipe Calderon in 2006.

"I will be the first woman presidenta of Mexico in history," a smiling Vazquez Mota told supporters Sunday after winning her party's primary over former finance secretary Ernesto Cordero and former senator Santiago Creel

Pena Nieto -- who leads Vazquez Mota by 20 points in the polls -- and Lopez Obrador were picked by their parties last year.

"With nearly 55 percent of the vote in the PAN's primary, Vazquez Mota's victory is important as it signifies a shift of women's role in Mexico," said Maureen Meyer, a senior associate for Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America told CBS News. "The question is whether she will be able to distance herself from President Calderon's legacy and his drug war."

Nearly 48,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Calderon deployed the army and federal forces to fight Mexico's powerful drug cartels. Some analysts say the death toll may be much higher.

Last night, Vazquez Mota urged her supporters to believe in a "Mexico that is possible," and thanked Pres. Calderon who she said, "with valor and decisiveness confronted organized crime and has worked tirelessly for the security of our families."

Vazquez Mota was quick to lash out at the PRI, the party that's been out of power for nearly 12 years since President Vicente Fox of the PAN ended PRI's 71-year rule in 2000.

"We begin a new road, a road to defeat the real adversary of Mexico, who embodies authoritarianism and the worst antidemocratic practices, who represents the way back to corruption and offers impunity as a conviction," she said. "The adversary is Pena Nieto and his party."

"It's impossible to say today if Josefina will be the first woman president," Sergio Aguayo, a political analyst, told CBS News. "She would have to overcome 12 years of blunders by the PAN, which looks difficult."

Aguayo said the battle for the presidency is rooted in a desire for change: "For better or for worse, the majority of the population associate the PRI with change. Having said this, Josefina will be a strong candidate because she has a pleasant smile and because she comes riding the bandwagon of one of the biggest transformations in Mexico's cultural, social and political life: Women's emancipation."

The elegant and energetic Vazquez Mota, flanked by her parents, six siblings, husband and three daughters, vowed Sunday to take care of Mexican families as she has taken care of her own -- a sentiment that will likely resonate in a culture that values family.

  • Susana Seijas

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