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Wife of Conservative Ex-Leader of Mexico Says She’s Running for President in 2018

Margarita Zavala's unexpected announcement came one week after a midterm election in which the National Action Party suffered its worst showing at Mexico's polls since 1991.

by Daniel Hernandez
Jun 15 2015, 6:30pm

Cáptura de pantalla vía YouTube

The ex-first lady of Mexico Margarita Zavala announced on Sunday that she will seek the presidency vacated by her husband, former President Felipe Calderon, in the next national elections.

Zavala's announcement in a plain 2-minute YouTube video came unexpectedly one week after midterm elections on June 7, in which her political camp the center-right National Action Party, or PAN, suffered its worst showing at Mexico's polls since 1991.

It also came three years before voters will cast ballots for president, which led a rival PAN leader on Monday to criticize Zavala's timing. The former first lady during Calderon's term of 2006 to 2012 said the moment was right to declare.

"I basically made this decision personally," she told an interviewer on Monday. "In the end it's a personal decision. You put in what you've received, what you know, and what you want to do."

Margarita Zavala's announcement.

The June 7 vote left an uncertain landscape for Mexico's three mainstream political parties.

An independent candidate for governor walloped traditional opponents in Mexico's wealthy Nuevo Leon state, while the PAN and the currently ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, suffered significant losses and declines in voter support in several key states and regions.

"It was an unmitigated disaster for the PAN," Federico Estevez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, told VICE News.

At least two other figures are considered candidates for president in the 2018 election: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, leader of the insurgent leftist party Morena, and Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, member of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD.

Another possible candidates is the Green party governor of Chiapas state, Manuel Velasco.

In 2012, the PAN presidential candidate was Josefina Vazquez Mota, the first woman presidential candidate for a major political party in Mexico. Vazquez Mota finished a distant third, due partly to discontent with Calderon's drug war and his government's handling of the economy.

Calderon, the conservative former PAN president whose government initiated the military-led campaign against drug cartels in Mexico, is notably absent in Zavala's video.

Analysts said it made sense for a PAN figure to declare this early, as successful candidacies for the Mexican presidency usually require years of pre-campaigning to become viable.

Fernando Dworak, an independent political analyst, said Zavala's candidacy is a sign that the PAN is not reacting radically enough to its current electoral slump. Zavala — like Calderon — is a familiar figure.

"Where is the generational change? Where are the new leaders?" Dworak told VICE News. "That's the sad part of Margarita Zavala's candidacy; that lack of leadership."

Related: Mexico Elections Update: 'El Bronco' Rides Wave of Discontent to Big Win in Nuevo Leon

Reporters Gabriela Gorbea and David Agren contributed to this report.