MEXICO CITY: Mexico's former first lady Margarita Zavala announced Friday she will stand as an independent in presidential elections next year, ditching the country's main opposition party and shaking up the race.
Zavala, 50, is the wife of former president Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) and a popular conservative in her own right, having served as a lawmaker for the National Action Party (PAN).
But she was unhappy with the party leadership over what she called an opaque candidate selection process that she concluded would hand the nomination to PAN president Ricardo Anaya.
"I would have liked to (run) for the PAN. I did everything in my power to make it happen," she said in a video posted online.
But when she insisted on a transparent candidate selection process, party leaders were "evasive," she said.
Polls indicate Zavala is more popular than Anaya, 38.
In fact, she is the second-most popular presidential prospect, after leftist radical Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Pundits were split over who would be the main beneficiary of her decision: Lopez Obrador or the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is struggling to cling to power amid dismal approval ratings for President Enrique Pena Nieto -- currently about 16 percent.
The president and his party have been battered by a series of corruption scandals and shocking rates of violent crime. That makes 2018 look like the opposition's race to win -- unless it is so divided the PRI squeaks through.
Anaya said Zavala's decision was "wrong" and would benefit the PRI.
Others saw Lopez Obrador as the chief beneficiary.
Zavala's resignation will "hurt the PAN's competitiveness by dividing it" and make Lopez Obrador "the main opposition figure," said consulting firm Eurasia Group.
Mexico has been governed by the PRI, a political juggernaut with no clear ideology, since 1929, except for two terms in power for the PAN from 2000 to 2012.
Now, fed up with politics as usual, many voters are tempted to give Lopez Obrador a shot.
But the former Mexico City mayor's abrasive style has split the left, as well. And his enemies say he would put Latin America's second-largest economy on the same path as crisis-torn, socialist-ruled Venezuela.
This will be the first time independent candidates have been allowed to run for president in Mexico.