Mexico City mayor to step down to pursue historic bid for presidency

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said she will step down on Friday to pursue the ruling party's candidacy for the 2024 presidential election, bidding to become the country's first female leader.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) on Sunday agreed that on Sept. 6 it would announce the winner of its internal selection process. Sheinbaum is one of the two favorites.

MORENA is heavily favored to win the June 2024 presidential election, lifted by Lopez Obrador's personal popularity.

He cannot seek re-election because Mexican presidents are restricted by law to a single six-year term. Close aides to Lopez Obrador have told Reuters they believe he would like Sheinbaum to succeed him. He denies having any favorite.

Announcing her resignation plan at a press conference on Monday, the 60-year-old Sheinbaum underlined her credentials as a scientist and environmentalist, saying she would continue Lopez Obrador's "transformation" of Mexico with her "own stamp."

"I have made the decision to leave the post definitively on June 16, with the goal of becoming the first woman in the history of Mexico to lead the fate of the nation," she said.

MORENA's leadership at the weekend agreed that the contenders should step down this week to compete.

Most opinion polls have tended to give Sheinbaum a slight advantage in the race over her rival Marcelo Ebrard, who stood down as foreign minister earlier on Monday to compete.

Sheinbaum highlighted that past polling had put her ahead and said she was confident it would remain that way.

Five polls open to the general public are due to determine MORENA's presidential nominee.

Sheinbaum also cited a study published last month by the national statistics agency showing that over two-thirds of Mexicans strongly backed a woman holding the presidency.

"It's time for women," she said.

Ebrard had argued that prospective candidates should leave their posts to ensure a level playing field. Interior Minister Adan Augusto Lopez, another contender, is also expected to resign.

Ebrard, speaking to reporters after his resignation, said improving security was his first priority, and stressed the need to beef up public healthcare and education.

In an earlier radio interview, he argued that Mexico had a "golden opportunity" to double "or more" economic growth, spurred by companies' bringing manufacturing capacity to the country due to economic tensions between China and the United States.

(Reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City; Writing by Sarah Morland and Brendan O'Boyle; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)