MEXICO CITY -- The presidential candidate for Mexico's ruling conservative party has said she'd invite President Felipe Calderon to be attorney general if she won Sunday's vote, a surprise proposal made in the final hours of campaigning.
National Action Party candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota, the first female presidential hopeful from a major party in Mexico, made the pitch Wednesday at her closing campaign event in Jalisco state (link in Spanish).
"I want someone who will defend your children ... who is not afraid," Vazquez Mota told supporters at the Omnilife stadium in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara. "That is why I want to say here in Jalisco, with total conviction, that upon winning the presidency of Mexico I will invite President Calderon to head the attorney general's office."
In one video of the moment, some in the audience are heard gasping or laughing in reaction.
"He is a brave man. He is a resolute man. He is a man who has risked his own life and the lives of his family," Vazquez Mota said.
There was no immediate response from the Calderon administration, which has conducted a controversial military-led war against drug traffickers, nor elaboration from Vazquez Mota's team. Under Mexican law, campaigns were required to shut down Wednesday night in order to give "reflection time" to voters before Sunday's voting.
But the announcement sparked fireworks on social networks.
On Twitter, politically revved-up users described the idea as "political suicide" and suggested Vazquez Mota was throwing support to liberal candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (links in Spanish), even though Vazquez Mota directly attacked her leftist rival in the same speech.
Polls show Lopez Obrador in second place. He and Vazquez Mota appear to be splitting votes of residents who oppose the return to power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which lost in 2000 after 71 years in power.
PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto is leading most recent polls by at least 12 points over Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City and runner-up in Mexico's disputed 2006 presidential election. Vazquez Mota has slipped to third in most polls since the start of her campaign.
The announcement confounded observers. For one thing, Calderon and Vazquez Mota are not close.
Although she served as education secretary early in Calderon's administration and ran his 2006 campaign, Vazquez Mota has struggled to define her campaign's relationship with the president and his allies within the party, known as the PAN. Her campaign slogan is "Different," but she was forced to bring on Calderon insiders to steer her campaign after early missteps, gaffes, and a near-fainting incident.
Wednesday's unexpected move might have been a deliberate political calculation. A poll released June 20 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project said Calderon has a 58% approval rating, and that a majority of Mexicans still approve of his use of the military against drug lords.
In the same poll, however, Mexicans said they were unsure the drug war has been effective. A whopping 98% of major crimes go unpunished in Mexico, if they are reported at all, studies show.
In recent days, supporters of both non-PRI candidates have debated on social media whether PAN followers should cast their votes for Lopez Obrador in a so-called voto util against the PRI.
The 2012 campaign has also been marked by large-scale grass-roots protests against the PRI's possible return to power, led by students organized in the #YoSoy132 movement. The students announced they would hold a candlelight march Saturday, the day before voting, to "save Mexico" and push for "clean elections."
On the last day of her campaign, Vazquez Mota told supporters she was ahead of Lopez Obrador and called the PRD candidate "the face of chaos and economic crisis" (link in Spanish). On the same night, Lopez Obrador drew hundreds of thousands of supporters for his last campaign speech in Mexico City's Zocalo square and on surrounding streets.
"There is more crime, there is less employment, the country is in bad shape," said Isabel Pacheco, 46, a Lopez Obrador supporter in the front row. "But the time for change has come."
Photo: Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota of the National Action Party waves during a rally in the Mexican city of Monterrey on Tuesday. Credit: Miguel Sierra / European Pressphoto Agency