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Oct 6, 9:41 PM EDT

Mexican ex-first lady leaves party, hints at independent run


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MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexico's former first lady Margarita Zavala announced Friday that she is resigning from the conservative National Action Party and left open the possibility of running for the presidency as an independent.

Zavala is the wife of ex-President Felipe Calderon, who governed from 2006 to 2012. She had announced her intention to run for the presidential nomination of the party, known by its Spanish initials PAN, but found herself in open conflict with party leader Ricardo Anaya, who also wants the nomination.

In a video Friday, Zavala accused the party's current leadership of cancelling internal elections and said they had "handed the party's most important decision to others."

That was an apparent reference to last month's announcement of an alliance between the PAN and center-left Democratic Revolution Party for the July 2018 presidential elections.

Zavala did not mention Anaya by name, but the two have had public, heated exchanges recently. In the video, she said PAN leaders "have imposed anti-democratic conditions that we criticized for so long in the PRI," referring to the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Zavala hinted she might run for the presidency outside her party but was not clear, saying only "I resign from the PAN, but not from my duty to participate in politics."

However, she did say the timing of her decision was influenced by Mexico's complex electoral laws, which set out strict time tables for declaring nominees and independent candidacies.

"I am resigning from the PAN for the reasons I have enumerated, but also because the law obliges me to do so," said Zavala, "even before we know what the nomination procedure will be for National Action or the so-called alliance.'

"If I did not do this," she said, "I would be prevented from participating in the elections."

The country's electoral agency had announced earlier in the day it was extending the deadline for registering potential independent candidates by a week, because the Sept. 19 earthquake had forced the closure of offices.

In an interview later with local media, Zavala appeared to be seriously considering an independent candidacy, something that would require her to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures to get on the ballot.

Anaya, a young technocrat who has been criticized for sending his family to live in the United States, said later Friday that "Margarita's exit from the PAN only benefits the PRI, which doesn't deserve another chance."

The PRI has been battered in the polls by high inflation, corruption and low growth. But it could now face a less-united opposition alliance, which would play into the PRI's recent strategy of winning elections with just over a third of votes in the face of divided opponents.

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is seen as the front-runner in the presidential race, has said Zavala is the PAN's strongest candidate, and encouraged her to run as an independent.

Lopez Obrador, who lost two previous bids for the presidency, has promoted himself as the only real alternative to the largely discredited PRI, and so may also benefit from a highly fragmented field.

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