Mexican presidential race kicks off with nominations

It is still a wide-open race to succeed President Enrique Pena Nieto, who is deeply unpopular heading into the final stretch of his six-year term

MEXICO CITY: The top three contenders to be Mexico’s next President start the race in earnest Sunday when their parties and coalitions officially nominate them as their candidates for the July 1 election.


It is still a wide-open race to succeed President Enrique Pena Nieto, who is deeply unpopular heading into the final stretch of his six-year term in a Mexico beset by endless corruption scandals and record levels of violent crime.

The leader of the pack is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, a fiery leftist who has tried to present a mellower image this time around.

In second place is Ricardo Anaya of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), a youthful ex-lawmaker whose bid to campaign as a fresh face has been blotched by allegations of corruption and strongarming his way to his party’s nomination.

Rounding out the top three is respected former finance minister Jose Antonio Meade, standing for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — a long-dominant force in Mexican politics whose popularity is now so low it tapped a non-party member to be its presidential candidate for the first time in its history.

Officially, the campaign does not open until March 30, but in practice Sunday’s nominations will put the seal on what has already been a months-long “pre-campaign” setting up a three-way race.

Already, the contest has laid bare Mexico’s divisions.

“This election is about those people who are desperate for change in Mexico … and are willing to try anything different, and those people who are genuinely worried about what change will bring,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute Wilson Center in Washington.

The man to beat

The clear choice for change is Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor famous for railing against the country’s “mafia of power.”

A two-time presidential runner-up whose critics hate him as fervently as his supporters love him, he has emerged as the man to beat.

Recent polls give him just over 30 per cent of the vote, with Anaya in the 20s and Meade in the teens — enough for Lopez Obrador to win in Mexico’s first-past-the-post system.

Encouraged by his strong numbers, Lopez Obrador, 64, has been trying to appear presidential and build bridges with traditional enemies, such as the business sector.

Where the Lopez Obrador of old answered critics with vitriolic diatribes, this time he has taken it all in stride.

When the hashtag “AMLOvich” started trending on Twitter — a reference to his supposed ties to Russia — he slyly turned the insult to irony, donning a Russian ushanka hat emblazoned with the nickname and jokingly referring to himself as “Andres Manuelovich.”

He has continued to play to his base with rhetoric on radical change, but sought to sooth elites with policy proposals that are not all that radical.

For example, when he sparked controversy by proposing an amnesty for drug cartels, he soon softened the idea, saying he was only talking about low-level marijuana farmers and the like — not kingpins.

Anaya, 38, and Meade, 48, are meanwhile fighting tooth and nail for second place, in the hopes that an anti-AMLO vote will propel whoever is in that spot to the eventual win.

Both have struck sometimes awkward alliances with smaller parties, creating coalitions that span the political spectrum.

Short on substance

The next president will inherit a lacklustre economy, a political system rotting with corruption and a messy war on Mexico’s powerful drug cartels that has left a trail of dead and missing in its wake.

Not to mention difficult ties with the administration of US President Donald Trump, whose attacks on Mexico have put the future of the country’s most crucial trade relationship in doubt.

With all their jockeying for position, the candidates have presented few serious proposals so far to deal with any of the above, said Mexican political analyst Fernando Dworak.

“There is still no clear message about what these candidates will actually stand for,” he said.

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