Mexico campaign closes with leftist ‘AMLO’ looking unstoppable

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, waving to supporters during a campaign rally, is the frontrunner in Mexico's July 1 presidential election

Mexico City (AFP) – Mexico’s presidential campaign drew to a close with a fiesta of rallies Wednesday, as establishment candidates made last-ditch pleas to reject the radical break with the past promised by leftist front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

All four candidates were holding a series of huge rallies around the country — none more festive than Lopez Obrador’s in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, where an A-list of Mexican musicians was lined up to perform in the evening before his speech.

The fiery former Mexico City mayor, widely known as “AMLO,” looks virtually unstoppable heading into Sunday’s vote. The final opinion polls once again gave him the double-digit lead over his opponents that he has held for months.

Sick of endemic corruption and horrific violence fueled by the country’s powerful drug cartels, many Mexicans are keen for any alternative to the two parties that have governed for nearly a century: the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

“The policies we’ve been applying for the past 30 years haven’t worked. We haven’t even had economic growth,” Lopez Obrador told thousands of cheering supporters at a midday rally in the southern state of Chiapas.

“What’s grown is corruption, poverty, crime and violence. That’s why we’re going to send their policies to the dustbin of history.”

Such attacks have left Lopez Obrador’s top rivals — former speaker of Congress Ricardo Anaya of the PAN and ex-finance minister Jose Antonio Meade of the PRI — scrambling to distance themselves from their parties’ legacies while also warning that Lopez Obrador’s ideas are dangerous for the country.

Judging by the opinion polls, they are having a hard time selling their message.

In its final poll average, the respected poll aggregator Oraculus gave Lopez Obrador 48.1 percent of the vote, Anaya 26.1 percent, Meade 20.8 percent and independent candidate Jaime Rodriguez five percent.

“Almost everyone (in my family) is voting for AMLO. We want a change. We’re fed up with the PRI and PAN,” Wendy Rodriguez, a 24-year-old fruit vendor, told AFP.

Lopez Obrador’s party, Morena, is also within striking distance of a Congressional majority and several governorships.

That would be a massive realignment in Mexican politics and a coup for a party only launched six years ago, originally as a grassroots movement to support the three-time presidential candidate’s 2012 campaign.

– Man of mystery –

Lopez Obrador, 64, has clashed with Mexico’s business community, with some warning he would pursue Venezuela-style socialist policies that could wreck Latin America’s second-largest economy.

Seeking to soothe the markets, he has backpedalled on some of his most controversial proposals.

Instead of reversing outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto’s landmark energy reform, he now proposes simply reviewing the existing contracts privatizing the oil sector; he softened his stance on a new Mexico City airport he initially wanted to scrap; and he has remained vague on a proposed amnesty for criminals, his idea to deal with violence that left a record 25,000 murders last year.

Many of Mexico’s 88 million voters are not quite sure what Lopez Obrador represents, other than something new.

“The problem is nobody knows much of anything” about how he would actually govern, said Gabriel Villa Acevedo, 41, a taxi driver.

“He says he wants to fight poverty, create more jobs, but he doesn’t say how. We’ll have to see.”

– Mexican Trump? –

Mexico’s next president faces a laundry list of challenges, including crime, corruption, a lackluster economy and a complicated relationship with the United States under President Donald Trump, whose anti-immigration policies and planned border wall have turned diplomacy with Mexico’s largest trading partner into a minefield.

Lopez Obrador has vowed to “put (Trump) in his place.”

Ironically, some commentators have drawn parallels between the two: both are free-trade skeptics with populist tendencies who have fired up a disgruntled base with anti-establishment campaigns.

But unlike the American billionaire, Lopez Obrador has built an image as an ascetic everyman.

“I’m going to govern by example, with austerity,” he said in a widely circulated campaign video.

“I’ll accept half the current presidential salary and continue living in my own house.”