Mexico’s finance minister resigned on Friday to seek his party’s nomination for candidate in next year’s presidential elections.

The resignation of Ernesto Cordero, which marks the unofficial start of the 2012 electoral campaign, produced the third cabinet change so far this year. He was replaced immediately by José Antonio Meade, who previously occupied the post of energy minister.

Experts said that Mr Meade, 42, who holds a doctorate in economics from Yale, was a safe pair of hands whose vision joined seamlessly with that of his predecessor. Mr Meade was assistant-secretary of finance before going to energy. He is considered more of a technocrat than Mr Cordero.

Sergio Martín, Mexico economist at HSBC, said that Mr Cordero’s departure now could even be positive for the country given that any further delay to his long-awaited resignation could have interfered with negotiations over next year’s budget.

On Thursday, the government submitted a budget proposal to Congress that envisages growth next year of 3.5 per cent and a modest fiscal deficit equivalent to 0.2 per cent of gross domestic product.

“The discussions in congress certainly would have been more complicated had Cordero stayed on,” said Mr Martín.

Other changes on Friday included the appointment of Jordy Herrera as energy minister.

In his quest to become president, Mr Cordero, 43, faces a gargantuan task. His conservative National Action Party (PAN) to which President Felipe Calderón belongs, is trailing the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) by a huge distance.

Political analysts say that the PAN’s popularity has been hit hard by the government’s war on organised crime, in which more than 42,000 have died in the last five years. As a consequence, Mexicans now consider security to be a bigger priority than the economy, according to a recent poll.

Moreover, Mr Cordero, who is a close ally of Mr Calderón and played a central role in his 2006 election campaign, is only running third in his party’s internal nomination process, according to the latest polls.

By contrast, the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 uninterrupted years until finally losing power in 2000, already appears a shoo-in. Enrique Peña Nieto, the outgoing governor the state of Mexico, is currently leading national polls as the person most likely to become the country’s next president by a wide margin.

Mr Peña Nieto is expected to declare his intention to run for president in the coming days.

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