MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexicans cast their votes for a new president yesterday in an election tipped to hand power to an anti-establishment outsider who would inject a new dose of nationalism into government and could sharpen divisions with Donald Trump’s United States.
Former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has led opinion polls throughout the campaign and would be the first leftist to take the presidency in decades in Mexico if he ousts the ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Runner-up in the 2012 and 2006 elections, Mr Lopez Obrador pitches himself as the only man capable of cleaning up a political class whose credibility has been ground down by persistent graft, soaring crime levels and years of sub-par economic growth.
The law bars current President Enrique Pena Nieto from seeking re-election. But his popularity crumbled as his name became tainted by investigations into alleged conflicts-of-interest and embezzlement scandals engulfing top PRI officials.
Mr Lopez Obrador, 64, has been vague on policy details. Seeking to harness support from economic nationalists, leftist liberals and social conservatives, he vows to reduce inequality, improve pay and welfare spending, as well as run a tight budget.
His rivals Ricardo Anaya, an ex-leader of the center-right National Action Party (PAN) heading a right-left alliance, and PRI candidate Jose Antonio Meade, a former finance minister, differ only in nuance in their support of the energy reform.
Their efforts to catch Mr Lopez Obrador have been hampered by attacks on each other, allowing him to build a lead that some opinion polls have put in excess of 20 percentage points. They also represent the only two parties to have ruled modern Mexico.
If victorious, Lopez Obrador faces a tougher security situation than did Mr Pena Nieto. The election campaign has been the bloodiest in recent history and murders are at record highs.
The next president will also inherit a simmering dispute with Mr Trump over migration and trade, with talks to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) unresolved, pressuring Mexico’s peso currency.
Mr Trump has threatened to pitch North America into a costly trade war over NAFTA, and his insistence that Mexico pay for his planned border wall has deeply angered many Mexicans.