Mexico presidential front-runner unveils planned cabinet

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The leftist front-runner for Mexico’s 2018 presidential election on Thursday proposed a moderate U.S.-trained economist for finance minister, unveiling a planned cabinet made up of men and women in equal measure.

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Former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had a 12-point lead in one recent poll. He wants to overhaul Mexico’s approach to the economy, security and education, vowing more support for the poorest but without new taxes or higher debt.

For the finance portfolio, Lopez Obrador tapped Carlos Manuel Urzua, an academic who served as finance minister of the Mexico City government from 2000 to 2003 when the candidate, 64, was mayor of the capital.

A veteran campaigner, Lopez Obrador was runner-up in the last two presidential contests. A self-declared nationalist, he hopes Mexico will elect him next July, reversing a Latin American trend towards right-leaning governments. If he wins, it could increase friction with U.S. President Donald Trump over his anti-migrant language and policies.

Lopez Obrador, or AMLO as he is often known, proposed a cabinet of eight men and eight women, including a onetime interior minister for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and a respected former supreme court judge.

The naming of Urzua encouraged the view that AMLO would be a more pragmatic manager of Latin America’s second biggest economy than critics have warned he would be.

“We see an AMLO administration as increasingly moderate from a macroeconomic perspective and the signaling of Mr. Urzua, who is not an extremist economist by any means, corroborates this view,” Marcos Casarin, head of Latin America macro services Oxford Economics, said in emailed comments.

An author, researcher and university professor, Urzua earned a PhD and Master in Economics from the University of Wisconsin and a degree in Mathematics from Mexico’s Tecnologico de Monterrey. He is also a poet who writes about inequality.

For interior minister, Lopez Obrador selected Olga Sanchez, a former Supreme Court justice who helped move the country’s top tribunal in a more liberal direction during two decades in the job.

For education, Lopez Obrador picked Esteban Moctezuma, who served as interior minister under former President Ernesto Zedillo. For energy, he named Rocio Nahle, a chemical engineer and lower house leader of his MORENA party.

In the July 1 election, AMLO looks likely to face former finance minister Jose Antonio Meade for the PRI, and Ricardo Anaya at the head of a right-left opposition coalition.

Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Dave Graham, Andrew Hay and David Gregorio