By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico’s ruling party named former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum its candidate for next year’s presidential election on Wednesday, putting her in pole position to win the June 2 vote and become the country’s first woman president.

Sheinbaum, 61, is a close ally of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and had been regarded as the strong favorite to win the national poll organized by the leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) to choose its candidate.

In a large hall inside the World Trade Center, a towering building in a wealthy neighborhood of Mexico City, party leaders said Sheinbaum beat out five other contenders in a polling process organized by the party.

Sheinbaum won each of the five polls organized to decide the result, averaging about two-fifths of the vote, the party said.

The process was roiled by controversy, however, with one of the leading contenders denouncing the process earlier on Wednesday and saying it must be redone.

Hours before the winner was announced, Sheinbaum’s closest rival, former foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, said the vote had been tainted by irregularities.

Ebrard was not present as Sheinbaum was declared the winner, telling a Mexican radio station earlier he and his team had been removed from the event. He said he would decide his next move on Monday.

His campaign had for weeks said there were problems in the national voter survey to choose the MORENA candidate, and in recent days stepped up complaints.

But party leaders were quick to defend the process. Alfonso Durazo, president of MORENA’s national board, backed the selection poll in a statement signed by all of MORENA’s state governors, of which he is one.

Selecting Sheinbaum likely sets the scene for Mexico to choose its first woman president.

The main opposition alliance last week selected as its presidential candidate Xochitl Galvez, a charismatic and unconventional female senator of Indigenous origin who overcame an impoverished background to become a successful entrepreneur.

A resource nationalist, Lopez Obrador has centered the state in the economy, prioritizing public companies over foreign investors, expanding the army’s responsibilities and increasing social welfare spending to curb rampant inequality.

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Adriana Barreraediting by Timothy Gardner, Cassandra Garrison and Josie Kao)

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