Last updateFri, 07 Dec 2018 11am

Race for president heats up as leftist favorite registers

In less than six months Mexico will go to the polls to elect a new president. And December is traditionally the month when parties roll out their candidates, setting the scene for a campaign that kicks into top gear in early February.

This week, frontrunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador formally registered as the candidate – his third attempt to win the presidency – for his Morena Party.


This was no surprise, but in an unusual opening gambit Thursday, the populist, leftist candidate announced the names of the collaborators who will make up his cabinet should he be elected.

There were, however, a few surprises on the list, including his tapping of Carlos Urzua, a U.S. educated economist, for Treasury secretary.

Urzua served as secretary of Finance for the Mexico City government when Lopez Obrador was the capital’s mayor. During this time, he managed a budget larger than those of most national governments in Central and South America.

A highly respected figure both domestically and internationally, Urzua could be perceived as a conciliatory move to assuage the fears of Mexico’s powerful business interests, who are concerned that a Lopez Obrador presidency would be catastrophic for the economy.

His detractors have consistently sought to compare Lopez Obrador with Venezuela’s ultra-nationalist, authoritarian, anti-U.S. leader Nicolas Maduro, or, even worse, Fidel Castro.  There is no doubt his opponents will use this analogy as a key strategy to play on voters’ fears during next year’s campaign.

Likely to be Lopez Obrador’s closest rival is Jose Antonio Meade, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s finance secretary who was recently unveiled by the hierarchy of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) as their preferred candidate.  Interestingly, the soft-spoken Meade has no known political affiliation – having also served in the cabinet of former president Felipe Calderon – and is seen as a candidate who offers an antidote to the typical PRI nominee, without the baggage that comes with a lifetime career in politics.  Although blessed with a bright intellect, he is, however, a technocrat with limited charismatic appeal.

The third candidate in next year’s election will probably be Ricardo Anaya of the conservative National Accion Party (PAN). But the youthful former president of the party is unlikely to get close to his rivals given the disillusionment with the PAN following the consecutive, underwhelming presidencies of Vicente Fox and Calderon.

A recent poll by SDPnoticias and México Elige put Lopez Obrador at 38.6 percent, Meade at 29.8 percent and Anaya at 14.1 percent.  Independent candidates Margarita Zavala (the wife of former President Calderon) polled 7.9 percent and Nuevo Leon Governor Jaime Rodriguez “El Bronco” 2.1 percent.

Other polls may provide  differing figures, but most give Lopez Obrador a clear lead. And given the widespread anger at Peña Nieto’s weak showing as president over the past five years, there seems to be a growing consensus that it is finally time to give him a chance at governing the country.

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