By Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico's ruling party on Wednesday named former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum its candidate for next year's presidential election, putting her in pole position to become the country's first female leader.
Sheinbaum, 61, is a close ally of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and had been regarded as the strong favorite to be selected in the national poll organized by the leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA).
"Today the Mexican people decided," a smiling Sheinbaum told supporters to shouts of "president, president, president," at a press conference where she was declared MORENA candidate.
"We will win in 2024," she said, dressed in the purple color of her party.
Sheinbaum beat out five other contenders and won each of five nationwide polls organized to decide the result, averaging about 39% of the vote, the party said.
However, hours before the winner was announced, Sheinbaum's closest rival, former foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, said the vote had been tainted by irregularities and must be redone.
Ebrard was not present as Sheinbaum was hailed as the winner, telling a Mexican radio station he and his team had been removed from the event in Mexico City's World Trade Center, a towering building in an upscale neighborhood of the capital.
He said he would decide his next move on Monday and, when asked, did not rule out throwing in his lot with the center-left Citizens' Movement (MC), the only significant opposition party yet to select a presidential candidate.
Ebrard captured just over a quarter of the vote in the MORENA polling, the party said.
His campaign has argued for weeks that there were problems in the selection process and had stepped up complaints in recent days. Many political insiders had forecast a bust-up.
MORENA's leaders were quick to defend the vote.
"There is no incident that has affected the final result in a definitive manner," said Alfonso Durazo, president of MORENA's national board. "The result of this process is definitive."
All of MORENA's state governors, including Durazo, signed a statement backing the integrity of the selection process.
Opinion polls show MORENA is heavily favored to win the June 2 presidential election, though Lopez Obrador has urged the party to remain united heading into next year.
In an apparent nod to Ebrard's allegations and the risk of him splitting, Sheinbaum did the same in her victory address.
"We need everybody. Unity is fundamental. The doors are always open, they will never close," she said.
The main opposition alliance has already chosen a female candidate - Xochitl Galvez, a charismatic and unconventional senator of Indigenous origin who overcame an impoverished background to become a successful entrepreneur.
Sheinbaum, a noted physicist and environmentalist before her entry into frontline politics, has vowed to consolidate Lopez Obrador's legacy, aligning herself with his political base and the bedrock of support that underpins his approval ratings of around 60%.
Viewed as more of a consensus-builder than the combative Lopez Obrador, Sheinbaum has indicated she would ramp up renewable energy usage, which has taken a back seat to the president's efforts to revive state oil company Pemex.
(Reporting by Dave Graham and Adriana Barrera; additional reporting by Brendan O'Boyle; editing by Stephen Eisenhammer, Josie Kao, Edwina Gibbs and Michael Perry)