Only ex-first lady meets rules to be independent candidate in Mexico election: authority

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Only former Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala has collected enough valid signatures of support to compete in the July 1 presidential election as an independent, the country’s National Electoral Institute (INE) said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Margarita Zavala greets to her supporters after registering as an independent presidential candidate at the National Electoral Institute (INE), for the upcoming July 1 federal elections in Mexico City, Mexico March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ginnette Riquelme

Zavala and two other contenders reached the final phase of qualification, which requires 866,593 signatures, or 1 percent of the electoral register, across at least 17 Mexican regions.

However, irregularities led to hundreds of thousands of signatures being dismissed by the INE.

“Only the contender Margarita Zavala Gomez del Campo meets the threshold of signatures required by law,” Benito Nacif, a member of the INE’s board, told a news conference.

If the findings by the INE are confirmed later this month, Zavala will be the only woman to compete in the race.

The 50-year-old Zavala, wife of former President Felipe Calderon, announced her intention to run in 2015. She had 870,168 signatures validated, the institute said.

Formerly a member of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), she opted to go it alone after arguing she had been denied a fair shot at the PAN ticket by the party leadership.

The other two independent hopefuls, Nuevo Leon state governor Jaime Rodriguez and senator Armando Rios Piter - both currently on leave from their posts - fell short by about 31,000 and 624,000 signatures respectively, the INE said.

Both submitted more than enough signatures to qualify, but a review determined that hundreds and thousands were based on invalid voter credentials or faulty documentation, the INE said. A large part of Zavala’s signatures were also thrown out.

The two men have five days to take up their case with the INE, and Rios Piter said on Twitter that his signatures were genuine.

The three contenders were well off the early pace in the election campaign, with Zavala polling 2.8 percent support, and the other two garnering 1.5 percent between them, according to an Ipsos voter survey conducted between Feb. 24 and March 3.

That poll and several others have shown leftist veteran Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador leading the contest to succeed President Enrique Pena Nieto, who by law cannot run again.

Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Joseph Radford