A Rising Feminist Voice in Mexican Politics

Mexican presidential candidate and feminist Patricia Mercado is winning over many Mexicans who don't trust the nation's main political parties. She's unlikely to win the presidential race in July, but Mercado may win enough votes to guarantee her party seats in Congress. Michael O'Boyle reports from Mexico City about Mercado's political impact.

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And more from the region. In a month, Mexico will elect a new president. The race is hotly contested between a leftist and a conservative candidate. But there is another person on the ballot, a woman, Patricia Mercado. She's not expected to win but as Michael O'Boyle reports from Mexico City, she's having an effect on the campaign.

MICHAEL O'BOYLE reporting:

In a café in Mexico City's Sona Rosa neighborhood, the center of the capital gay social life, a group of youths are split over who deserves their vote. Eighteen- year-old Sonia Mancia(ph) says only Patricia Mercado of the new Social Democratic and Farmers Alternative Party offers a real change.

Ms. SONIA MANCIA (Social Democratic and Farmers Alternative Party): (Through Translator) The other parties are all corrupt. They have had many years in power, and the only people they benefit are themselves and the people linked to them.

O'BOYLE: Forty-nine-year-old Mercado has spent two decades working as an activist for women's and workers rights. She advocates legalizing abortion and allowing gay marriage, not popular positions in Catholic Mexico. But though Jaime Vargas likes her positions, he says he fears voting for her could damage the prospects of the leading leftist candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Mr. JAIME VARGAS (Mexican Voter) (Speaking in Foreign Language) (Through Translator): Lopez Obrador isn't the best option, but he is an option that supposedly represents the left. Even if it's not that radical of a left, it's still a new option for the country.

O'BOYLE: Lopez Obrador is running on the ticket of the leftist party of the Democratic Revolution. He represents the best chance the left has ever had of winning an election in Mexico. But instead of backing his bid, Patricia Mercado is potentially drawing votes away from Lopez Obrador. In an interview, Mercado says Lopez Obrador doesn't represent a truly modern left. She says none of the main parties are representing political minorities.

Ms. PATRICIA MERCADO (Mexican Presidential Candidate): (Through Translator) The established political parties are completely deaf to new social movements, the environmental movement, women's rights, sexual diversity, groups that are offering new visions of how to organize society.

O'BOYLE: In her view, the establishment stands in the way of democracy.

Ms. MERCADO: (Through Translator) The other political parties remain stuck in the old electoral practices of Mexico. They make people dependent upon the parties. How? When they enter government, they create social programs for the poor, not by guaranteeing their rights, but through handouts from the government.

O'BOYLE: So far, Mercado has only garnered around two to four percent of the national vote. She won't win the presidency but political analyst Ana Maria Salazar says Mercado could be a force for change.

Ms. ANA MARIA SALAZAR (Political Analyst): At the end of the day, the impact of creating a new and different and a more modern left in Mexico under the auspices of a woman like Patricia Mercado could have potentially a long term effect on this country.

O'BOYLE: More immediately, she could affect the outcome of the presidential election. Two months ago, Lopez Obrador had a solid 10 point lead. His populous programs as mayor of Mexico City won him a lot of support. But since then, his lead has been slipping. Conservative Felipe Calderon, from President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, has bridged the gap and is now tied with Lopez Obrador in the polls. Political science Professor Federico Estevez from Mexico City's ITAM(ph) University says Lopez Obrador is losing support among urban independents. This is the same group that has been registering increasing support for Mercado. Estevez says to reclaim that support Lopez Obrador will have to do well in the final round of debates on June 6th.

Professor FEDERICO ESTEVEZ (ITAM University, Mexico): For it to tighten, you basically need Lopez Obrador to win the next debate. Should he do so, then you would think that he'd have enough punch or enough momentum to claim back votes from Patricia Mercado and the Social Democrats would be out of it again. It's all about whether or not Lopez Obrador is able to counter the trends that are against him today.

O'BOYLE: For her part, Patricia Mercado isn't worried at all about undercutting Lopez Obrador.

Ms. MERCADO: (Through Translator) We are planting a very radical difference with this left. The PRD is founded in the old rules of creating electoral clients and not free citizens. We can't support this. If the PRD wins, it'll be just like past governments.

O'BOYLE: In a race as tight as this one, the small percent of the vote held by Mercado could be enough to sway the outcome. For NPR News, I'm Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City.

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