Mexicans Go To The Polls On Sunday To Elect A President

Jun 29, 2018
Originally published on June 29, 2018 12:20 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. If the polls are right, voters in Mexico are about to elect a veteran leftist to the presidency this Sunday. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has a sizable 20-point lead over his nearest rivals. His pledge to root out Mexico's corruption is really striking a chord with an electorate deeply angry with the current establishment. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Official campaigning has ended. So will alcohol sales tomorrow, supposedly give everyone time to concentrate on their civic duty, something current President Enrique Pena Nieto urged Mexicans to do in a national address.

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PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PENA NIETO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Let's make this 1 of July be a true fiesta of democracy," he says stiffly, looking straight into the camera. Mexicans aren't in much of a partying mood these days. During Pena Nieto's six-year term, corruption has worsened, violence has skyrocketed and the economy has sputtered. His PRI party's candidate is trailing in a distant third place, the conservative PAN party's pick is polling in second.

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KAHN: Those who are ready to celebrate are the loyal followers of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. They've supported him twice before, but unlike those last two presidential bids, this one looks like a winner. Supporters by the tens of thousands packed Mexico City's Azteca Stadium for his final campaign rally, like 72-year-old Nicolas Lopez. He improvised songs about the candidate's anti-corruption campaign.

NICOLAS LOPEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: He says he finally got a pension during Lopez Obrador's stint as mayor of Mexico City. And Lopez Obrador says he'll now extend the payments to the rest of the country's elderly, as well as scholarships for the young. Lopez Obrador's fundamental message hasn't changed much over the years. What has changed is that more Mexicans are willing to hear it now. Polls have him garnering more than 50 percent of the vote, at least 15 to 20 points higher than he won in his previous two bids. He tells the huge crowd at the stadium the rich just keep getting richer while the rest of the country remains poor.

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ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We will end this cancer that is destroying the country," says Lopez Obrador, in his distinctive slow cadence. Corruption has led to economic inequality, crime and violence, he says.

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LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: "And we will be an austere government without luxuries and without privileges," he insists. Lopez Obrador says he'll live in his modest townhouse, not the presidential residency, which he'll convert into a museum and public park. He's going to sell the presidential plane - jokingly, he likes to say - to Donald Trump. He'll pay for social programs from the savings he gets by ending corruption, details of which he doesn't get into much. Lopez Obrador promises fiscally conservative policies without major structural changes. Influential businessman Alfonso Romo is his designated chief of staff.

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ALFONSO ROMO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We are saying that we will review all aspects of the economy and the good productive parts will stay," Romo says. Lopez Obrador has walked back from earlier pledges to overturn reforms to the state-run oil industry as well as cancel construction of a new multibillion-dollar international airport. His more moderate stance appears to have calmed international markets and stabilized the peso, as well as win over many in Mexico's middle class, not his usual core base. Like Guadalupe Heredia, who lives in the state of Puebla. She sells cars in this glass-encased showroom filled with the latest-model Dodge trucks and Jeeps. She's always voted for the ruling PRI party but says the last six years have been disastrous.

GUADALUPE HEREDIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Crime has exploded," she says, "I now live in one of the most dangerous areas which used to be so safe." She says the other main parties had their chance and didn't do anything, so the only alternative she can see is voting for Lopez Obrador. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF DO MAKE SAY THINK'S "SAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.