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Leftist makes gains in polls in second bid for Mexico’s presidency

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Left-leaning candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is climbing back into the limelight in Mexico, where a late bump in the polls has boosted his stature before the nation's July 1 presidential election.

The former Mexico City mayor and staunch advocate of greater government transparency nearly brought Mexico to its knees with protests six years ago after he lost a hotly contested presidential election to Felipe Calderon.

Mr. Calderon is barred by the Mexican Constitution from seeking a second term. Should a standoff be looming this time around, it would most likely result be between Mr. Lopez Obrador and centrist front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto.

Analysts say a stalemate is unlikely because Mr. Pena Nieto, 45, still enjoys a large lead over Mr. Lopez Obrador, 59, and Mexican leftists are unlikely to enter the streets for a candidate who's efforts fell short in 2006.

"It's unlikely that Lopez Obrador is going to find the same support that he did the last time, and there are two reasons why," said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

"One is that the electoral institute overseeing the voting is more credible this time around," Mr. Selee said. "The other is that if he loses, many people on the left will see him as the past and not the future of their movement."

The most recent polls posted by Mexican newspapers have Mr. Pena Nieto carrying 42 percent of the vote - a double-digit lead over Mr. Lopez Obrador, who, at 28 percent, is tied with Josefina Vazquez Mota, the first major female presidential candidate in Mexico.

Mr. Selee acknowledged Mr. Lopez Obrador "could conceivably have hidden supporters out there that we don't know about," a possibility some on the left are pinning their hopes on.

Cristina Sada Salinas, a Lopez Obrador supporter and a candidate for the Mexican Senate from the northern state of Nuevo Leon, said, "He's the only one rising."

"Everybody else is, how do you say, free falling," said Mrs. Salinas, who added that a close vote will lead to the same kind of "civil resistance" from Lopez Obrador supporters that gripped the country six years ago.

"I'll be a part of it," she said.

Mexico City has long been a stamping ground for his Democratic Revolution Party. Large student demonstrations there last month triggered a fresh wave of media attention for the Lopez Obrador camp.

The rallies began with a YouTube video that went viral in early May, accusing the nation's media of excessive and unfairly positive treatment to Mr. Pena Nieto. The video featured 131 former university students voicing frustration at coverage of the front-runner.

Young protesters haven taken to the streets bearing signs that read, "Yo Soy 132," meaning "I am number 132," a reference to the solidarity with those who posted the video.

Mr. Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI by its Spanish initials, meanwhile, has long been accused of engaging in crony capitalism and corruption during a reign over the Mexican presidency throughout much of the 20th century.

The PRI was ousted in 2000 after 71 years in power. Protesters argue that a July 1 victory by Mr. Pena Nieto will signal a return to the party's once opaque politics. Some have gone so far as to accuse the PRI of cutting back-door deals with drug cartels to keep violence down.

Mr. Pena Nieto has pushed a contrary message during the campaign, presenting himself as the jewel of a 12-year regrouping by a PRI bent on increasing Mexico's economic growth and combating the nation's rampant organized crime.

The Calderon administration has been plagued by years of relatively slow growth, and Mexican voters may be weary of soaring crime and murder rates that have coincided his hard-knuckle crackdown on drug cartels.

As a result, Mr. Pena Nieto's message appears to have resonated.

"The real question now is whether Lopez Obrador could beat out Pena at the very end," said Federico Estevez, a political scientist at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. "That's possible, but not probable right now."

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