Sun, Jul 04, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Female candidate may make Mexican history

TRAILBLAZER In the days when the PRI had it how it wanted it, women had virtually no chance of winning major offices. Things are a little different these days


Amalia Garcia, a candidate for governor in the Mexican state of Zacatecas, hugs a supporter after a meeting with bean producers in Villa de Cos, last Monday.


A powerful member of Congress could make history today by becoming the first female governor elected in Mexico since the end of one-party rule in the country.

Amalia Garcia, a former communist who is running on the leftist Democratic Revolution Party ticket, has a strong lead in polls ahead of today's election for governor of northern Zacatecas state.

"Being elected in a democratic Mexico means a lot of responsibility, not only for being a woman, but also because I come from the left," Garcia said.

"I have always defended social causes, and my challenge would be to do things right and in a transparent way," she added.

Garcia's strongest contender is Senator Jose Bonilla, a successful businessman who owns three radio stations and is the candidate for an alliance led by the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Bonilla's alliance also includes several smaller, leftist parties.

In a poll published June 23 by the newspaper Reforma, Garcia had 48 percent of the vote compared to 39 percent for Bonilla. The poll's margin of error was a 3.1 percentage points.

Two other candidates were far behind: Francisco Lopez, a rancher with little political experience and a candidate for President Vicente Fox's conservative National Action Party, and Elias Barajas, of the tiny Convergence Party.

The PRI held the presidency for 71 years, and often rigged elections in its favor. No opposition party governor was allowed before 1989, and only a few won office before Fox's national victory in 2000.

Women have been serving a greater role in Mexican politics, holding a growing number of congressional and local posts, as well as cabinet positions.

There were four female governors during the PRI's rule, but two were appointed and the others were elected in races that weren't considered completely open. The first female governor was elected in 1979.

Garcia's father, Francisco Garcia, was governor of Zacatecas from 1956 to 1962 for the PRI. She is one of the founders of her party, also known as the PRD, which incorporated former members of Mexico's Communist Party. She also served as the PRD's president from 1999 to 2002.

But unlike most of the PRD's top elected officials, including Zacatecas Governor Ricardo Monreal, she was never a member of the former ruling PRI.

Zacatecas, a northern agricultural state with one of the largest and best organized migrant populations, changed its constitution last year to make it easier for migrant candidates to win.

It set aside two state congressional seats for migrant candidates only, and allowed part-time residents and US-born citizens with Zacatecan parents to run for office.

Several migrant candidates are running for office in Zacatecas state elections today, which is being closely watched as the rest of Mexico debates the role of migrants in national politics. Lawmakers are considering several proposals to allow absentee voting.

Another crucial governor's race is also taking place today in Chihuahua, a booming industrial and agricultural state, where in 1992 National Action defeated the PRI in one of its first electoral victories.

The PRI regained the governorship in 1998 with the victory of outgoing Governor Patricio Martinez. Martinez's inability to stop the slayings of hundreds of women in the border city of Juarez has already been an issue in the race.

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