Mexico: Finance Minister Cordero Likely to Seek Presidential Candidacy – Prospects and Ramifications

On May 26th, Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero acknowledged he has intentions to seek the PAN’s presidential nomination, but stopped short of officially declaring his candidacy. Speculation about his candidacy had been building in recent weeks, with a number of leading members of his party urging him to join the race after he previously dismissed doing so. Cordero has been finance minister since December 2009 and is considered close to President Felipe Calderon.

Cordero’s announcement came after some 134 leading panistas, including governors, mayors, senators, federal deputies and other public officials, signed a public letter recently supporting Cordero’s candidacy in the name of ensuring continuity and consolidating the policies of PAN governments over the past ten years. The letter clearly seems to have been a calculated move by his team to put his name out as a serious contender and gauge reactions within the party and among the public at large.

Cordero: Calderon’s Last Best Hope?

The drive in support of Cordero, coming particularly from party members close to Calderon, reflects the increasing preoccupation among Calderon and his allies regarding the PAN’s upcoming presidential nomination. It occurs as perceptions within and without the party are beginning to coalesce, with already-declared PAN hopefuls such as Dep. Josefina Vazquez Mota and Sen. Santiago Creel (neither of whom are favored by the president) consistently leading the field of potential candidates in early polling. Conversely, the announcement comes at a time when other prospective candidates perceived as closed to Calderon have undergone politically-damaging setbacks. Labor Minister Javier Lozano, once considered a promising candidate, has been progressively weakened by Congress’ failure to pass a labor reform bill and mounting criticism of his performance from the PRI. Meanwhile, Education Minister Alonso Lujambio has not been able to consolidate significant backing within the party—a prerequisite to competing in the PAN’s internal process.

Finally, party chair Gustavo Madero, formerly considered a loyal follower of Calderon, has been steadily distancing himself from the president. As Calderon’s capacity to manipulate the internal selection process will consequently be weaker, Cordero has quickly to find a way to spark momentum behind his candidacy if he seriously intends to compete.

Reactions

Madero has criticized Cordero’s recent maneuvers, saying they create undue pressure on the party at this early stage of the process. Presidential hopefuls Creel and Vazquez Mota have since branded the letter of endorsement for Cordero as an attempt by Calderon to impose a candidate and called for the leadership to preserve a “level playing field” among aspirants. In any case, the events of recent weeks effectively mark Cordero’s emergence as a candidate with some prospects, and we can hence expect increased competition.

Replacement at the MoF?

Unlike Creel and Vazquez Mota—whose position as legislators allows them greater leeway to make their aspirations clear without quitting their posts—as a cabinet member, Cordero will be expected to resign to avoid conflicts of interest if he intends to compete for his party’s nomination. And while he still has a couple of months to contemplate this decision, a number of voices have already come forward demanding he either quit his cabinet position or renounce his presidential ambitions.

Clearly, the looming question is who would take Cordero’s place should he step down to begin his campaign. Assuming Cordero’s replacement would come from the Ministry of Finance, we believe Miguel Messmacher, chief economist at the MoF, would be the strongest candidate; the sources we consulted within the MoF pointed to recent developments supporting this view.

Future

Ahead of the PAN’s internal selection process, Cordero’s prospective candidacy faces daunting challenges. The finance minister has been ranking extremely low in comparison to Vazquez Mota and Creel in early polling. Moreover, he lacks popular appeal and the much-needed exposure that comes from having held prominent elected posts. Cordero built his career as a bureaucrat in the shadow of President Calderon and hasn’t had any impressive accomplishments that could earn him public esteem. Likewise, his being named finance minister over other better-qualified candidates was widely perceived as a political appointment and resented within the MoF. Finally, his early departure from such a critical cabinet position to pursue political aspirations would be castigated by the media and the political opposition.

Given the above, even with the strong backing of Calderon and other heavyweights within the PAN Cordero faces extremely long odds of winning the party’s nomination. And should he manage to do so, he would face even dimmer prospects in a general election against political stalwarts of the caliber of Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador or Marcelo Ebrard (PRD).