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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zedillo: Mexico's Front-Runner

MEXICO CITY -- He was not the people's choice, because the people hardly know him. He was not the party's choice, because he was not an old politician. But he was the president's choice, and in Mexico, in the end, that's all that matters.

Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, 42, a career bureaucrat with a Yale PhD in economics and a practically nonexistent public profile, Tuesday became the candidate of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

He is an accidental candidate, picked after his predecessor, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was murdered at a rally in Tijuana last week. Zedillo was Colosio's campaign manager.

But accidental or not, Zedillo is the instant front-runner in the race for one of the most powerful elected offices in the world

Critics dismiss him as a colorless technocrat and indifferent speaker, but friends know him as a loyal soldier, an efficient bureaucrat and a valued member of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's economic brain trust.

Born in Mexico City on Dec. 27, 1951, the son of a construction foreman and a schoolteacher, Zedillo joined the PRI in 1971 and held various bureaucratic posts in PRI governments.

From 1988 he served Salinas as both budget and education secretary, gaining credit for opening the Mexican economy and bringing the nation from the brink of bankruptcy to a full partnership in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Zedillo's job will be to convert this mixed bag of qualifications into a winning candidacy. If he cannot, Salinas will have to decide whether to replace him, let him lose or ensure his win with the strong-arm tactics that have won international notoriety for his party, known by its Spanish initials PRI.