Meet the 60-year-old computer engineer and woman senator seeking Mexico presidency

Although she is now aligned with the conservative opposition, Xochitl Galvez's record is one of a liberal and defender of abortion, LGBTQ rights, and even the president's social welfare programs.

Published: 08th July 2023 02:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th July 2023 02:00 PM   |  A+A-

Xochitl Galvez-MexicanSenator

Former Mexican Senator Xochitl Galvez arrives by bicycle before registering as a presidential pre-candidate for the Frente Amplio por Mexico coalition in Mexico City on July 4, 2023. (AFP)

By AFP

MEXICO CITY: A businesswoman and opposition senator with Indigenous roots, Xochitl Galvez has jolted Mexican politics in a bid to replace President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a self-styled champion of the underprivileged.

Galvez's decision to run for the top job has raised the chances of a woman taking the reins of the Latin American country for the first time next year.

The 60-year-old computer engineer and technology company owner, who as a child sold candy to help her family, is seen by many as the opposition's best hope of defeating the ruling party.

Galvez's first name means "flower" in the Nahuatl Indigenous language, and her background sets her apart from the traditional conservative opposition, which Lopez Obrador frequently lambasts as out of touch with ordinary Mexicans.

Lopez Obrador "has been very successful in creating (the image of) an elitist, racist, white, oligarchic opposition," said political analyst Paula Sofia Vazquez.

"Xochitl's profile deprives them of that narrative," added Vazquez.

Although she is now aligned with the conservative opposition, Galvez's record is one of a liberal and defender of abortion, LGBTQ rights, and even the president's social welfare programs.

Lopez Obrador enjoys an average approval rating of 68 per cent, largely thanks to his measures aimed at helping disadvantaged Mexicans.

While the left-wing populist is required by the constitution to step down after a single six-year term, his enduring popularity means his Morena party is seen as likely to win the June 2024 election.

Galvez aims to throw the race wide open, though she must first be selected to represent the Broad Front for Mexico, made up of three opposition parties.

Her main rival within the coalition is veteran legislator Santiago Creel.

Mexican senator Xochitl Galvez (AP)

'Independent and intelligent'
Galvez has already crossed swords with Lopez Obrador, accusing him of machismo after he branded her the "candidate of the power mafia" -- a reference to the opposition.

"Machos like you are afraid of an independent and intelligent woman," Galvez said in a video message directed at Lopez Obrador.

"In my life no one has given me anything. And from you, I only want one thing, that you respect me," she added.

If selected by the opposition, the senator from the conservative National Action Party (PAN) could go head-to-head with outgoing Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, a 61-year-old scientist by training who is the favorite to represent the ruling party.

That would mean an unprecedented all-woman battle between the two main political camps in a country beset by gender violence and a long-standing culture of machismo.

"This Mexico does not want to talk about left or right," said Galvez, who arrived by bicycle to register as a pre-candidate to lead a country with Latin America's second-largest economy as well as widespread challenges such as cartel-related violence.

"Right now, Mexico wants us to solve the serious problems. And if you are looking for an engineer to solve problems, here I am," she said.

Breaking the mold
Born to an indigenous Otomi father and mixed-race mother in the central state of Hidalgo, Galvez wears indigenous clothing and speaks plainly with a sprinkling of combative humor.

That stands in contrast not only to most conservatives but also the main Morena candidates, who also include former foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, seen as part of the political and intellectual elite.

Galvez, who once went to Congress disguised as a dinosaur to criticize the government, formerly headed a foundation to support Indigenous children and women.

In 1999 she was named one of the 100 leaders of the future by the World Economic Forum.

She speaks openly of her family problems.

Her father was an alcoholic and one of her sisters has been in preventive detention in prison for 11 years for allegedly belonging to a gang of kidnappers.

Galvez's political career began in 2000 when the conservative president Vicente Fox entrusted her with policy for Indigenous peoples.

Between 2015 and 2018 she was mayor of one of the districts of Mexico City, before winning a seat in the upper house of Congress.

"I follow my own convictions... Nobody controls me -- not even my husband," she likes to repeat to underline her independence.

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