MEXICO CITY, Nov 27 – Mexico’s finance minister
resigned on Monday to seek the 2018 presidential nomination of
the ruling party, anticipating a major break with tradition as
it seeks outside help to clean up its tarnished image and stay
in office for another six years.
Jose Antonio Meade had been widely expected to run for the
centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose
credibility has been seriously undermined by corruption
scandals, gang violence and accusations of electoral fraud.
Meade is not a PRI member, and his reputation for honesty
has persuaded many party grandees that he is the best bet to
take on the front-runner in the July 2018 presidential race, the
leftist former mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez
PRI hopefuls can register from Dec. 3, and early indications
suggested Meade would not face any major challengers. The PRI
will formally elect its candidate on Feb. 18.
He was warmly received by party members on a whistle-stop
tour of organizations affiliated to the PRI in Mexico City on
Monday. All the other early PRI favorites for the presidency
expressed their support for him on Twitter.
Soft-spoken and measured in tone, Meade, 48 first entered
the Cabinet under the previous center-right administration of
the National Action Party, or PAN. His ability to draw votes
from other parties is viewed as one of his principal assets.
“He’ll be an attractive candidate for those who don’t
necessarily support the PRI,” tweeted Daniel Karam, who headed
the Mexican Social Security Institute during Meade’s initial
Cabinet stint under the PAN.
Eager to mend its reputation, the PRI changed its statutes
in August to make it easier for outsiders to run for the job the
party has held for most of the past century.
At an event at his official residence, President Enrique
Pena Nieto said Harvard-educated former World Bank official Jose
Antonio Gonzalez Anaya would leave his job as chief executive of
state oil company Pemex to replace Meade in the Finance
In a brief address at the ministry afterward, Meade said he
would run for the presidency “after 20 years of serving my
country continuously with integrity and honesty.”
Lopez Obrador, twice runner-up for the presidency, has
railed relentlessly for years against government graft. He
quickly lashed out on Twitter against the PRI as “corrupt” and
“predictable” after Meade made his announcement.
Meade remains unknown to much of the Mexican public, and in
opinion polls he lags far behind the veteran Lopez Obrador, who
has sought to characterize all of the main opposition parties as
corrupt extensions of the PRI.
Serving as energy, then finance minister in 2011, Meade
became foreign minister when Pena Nieto took office in December
2012. He later switched to the Social Development Ministry
before returning to the Finance Ministry last year.
Seen by allies as a discreet and diplomatic official,
Meade’s grasp of finance and economics is matched by few in
Mexico, and his academic career includes degrees in law and
economics as well as an economics doctorate from Yale.
Crucially, argue his supporters, he has avoided the damaging
scandals that have engulfed the PRI under Pena Nieto, who cannot
constitutionally seek a second six-year term.
“I thank (Meade) for his dedication and commitment and I
wish him success in the project he has decided to undertake,”
Pena Nieto said at the event at his Los Pinos residence.
TV images showed Meade driving toward Los Pinos behind the
wheel of a modest compact car, a frequent prop among Mexican
politicians seeking to project the common touch.
Gonzalez Anaya, who is related by marriage to influential
former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, will be replaced at
Pemex by Carlos Trevino, a senior executive at the company.