Who is Xochitl Galvez, the maverick opposition candidate seeking Mexico's presidency?

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's opposition presidential candidate Xochitl Galvez visits her hometown to close her campaign activities, in Tepatepec

By Adriana Barrera

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -A rags to riches story and a penchant for publicity propelled businesswoman Xochitl Galvez into the limelight as the main opposition candidate for Mexico's presidency, campaigning on a promise to confront drug cartels and improve the economy.

Galvez, 61, who trails ruling party candidate Claudia Sheinbaum in the polls ahead of Sunday's vote, represents a coalition of opposition parties and vows to restore security to Mexico, where around 30,000 people are murdered every year and criminal groups wield far-reaching influence.

Born in Tepatepec, in the central state of Hidalgo, Galvez has described how the poverty and violence that she and her mother suffered at the hands of her father, an alcoholic rural teacher, motivated her to push forward. She is proud of her Otomi indigenous origin.

Galvez calls herself a rebel. She left home at the age of 17 for Mexico City to study and escape the social expectation in her home town that she marry young.

In Mexico City she studied computer engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and specialized in robotics before founding technology companies.

In 1999, the World Economic Forum named her one of the 100 global leaders of the future.

Galvez is known for her casual and irreverent way of speaking, using colloquial slang in the face of a Mexican political tradition that remains largely formal.

She usually dresses in colorful huipils, a handmade embroidered garment characteristic of the country's indigenous peoples, and she is a strong proponent of bicycles, riding one when she went to register her candidacy.

"This is not the time for men," she said in an interview. She has assured that if she comes to power, she will combat the scourge of femicides and widespread violence against women.

Galvez has criticized the historic level of missing persons in Mexico and promised to end President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's policy of avoiding confrontations with organized crime and to combat the growing extortion of businesses and highway robberies.

"This government has normalized violence and wants us to get used to barbarism," she said in March at the start of her campaign in Fresnillo, a city in northern Mexico, where more than 95% of residents feel unsafe, according to official data.

In Tepatepec, the candidate's hometown of about 11,000 people where many still embrace the Indigenous Otomi culture, Galvez' success is a source of pride.

Maria de los Angeles Diaz, 73, who owns a small convenience store a few steps from the house where Galvez grew up, said she planned to vote for her even though she voted for MORENA in the last election.

“Nobody from here has made it this far,” she said.

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera; additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; editing by Ana Isabel Martínez; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Leslie Adler)