With less than four months to go before Mexico elects a new president, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a comfortable 14-point lead over his closest rival, according to most polls.
The two-time candidate representing the Morena Party appears to be benefitting from an ongoing squabble between Jose Antonio Meade of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Ricardo Anaya of the National Action Party (PAN), who – for the time being – seem content to duke it out for second place.
With the full campaign set to start April 1, all three leading candidates this week came to Guadalajara to speak to the annual convention of the National Association of Autoservices and Department Stores (ANTAD). But while business leaders were keen to hear the proposals of the candidates, the furore surrounding accusations of graft against Anaya garnered most of the media headlines. The charges of illegal enrichment stem from a 2014 real estate deal and have been vigorously denied by Anaya, who sees the allegations as a maneuver by President Enrique Peña Nieto and his attorney general to sway the impetus back in Meade’s favor. In recent weeks, Anaya has surged ahead of the PRI candidate, who is languishing in third place.
During his visit to Guadalajara, Meade made light of his poor showing in the polls, noting that the race had scarcely begun and that Lopez Obrador had already outspent his campaign by almost three to one.
Meade and the PRI, however, will be acutely aware of the threat posed by both Lopez Obrador and Anaya, whose broad coalition also comprises the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Citizens Movement (MC). Many analysts believe Meade’s reluctance to break ranks with Peña Nieto – one of the most unpopular presidents of recent times – will cost him in the long run. His uninspiring message of continuity and economic stability is unlikely to connect with audiences in the same manner as Lopez Obrador’s fiery anti-corruption rants.
Crucially, the outcome of the election may depend on how Lopez Obrador reacts as the campaign progresses and the PRI pumps all its resources into the battle. Will he keep his cool when Mexico’s powerful media establishment shows its hand, as it has in all previous elections? Will he come across as presidential in the debates, the first one set for April 22?
Does he have the intellectual heft to go head to head with Meade and Anaya, and can he assure the middle class that the economy won’t tank under his watch.
All the signs suggest Lopez Obrador has learned from errors made in his previous presidential campaigns and that he is characterizing himself to the business sector, if not as a savior, at least as a friend and ally. With some international financial organizations starting to speculate that a Lopez Obrador victory will send the Mexican economy into tailspin, the candidate has been at pains to stress that he won’t seek to undertake any major infrastructure reforms – read nationalizations – until the second half of his presidency.
Once happy to be labelled a firebrand or a maverick, Lopez Obrador finally wants to be regarded as levelheaded and sensible.