MEXICO CITY – Left-leaning populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador easily won Mexico’s presidential election Sunday, according to exit polls, a victory portending change and potentially upending of the country’s political order.
All of his major rivals conceded quickly after polls closed at 9 p.m. Eastern.
An exit poll from news outlet El Financiero put López Obrador’s support at 49 percent – 22 points ahead of this closest rival, Ricardo Anaya of a left-right coalition.
José Antonio Meade of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) received just 18 percent of the vote, according to El Financiero. Meade — a former finance minister who ran as a clean candidate, but became bogged down by graft scandals engulfing others in the PRI — quickly conceded the race.
Anaya and independent candidate Jaime Rodreiguez, who is also known as “El Bronco,” also conceded quickly.
López Obrador had cast his ballot early in the day, saying, “More than an election, it’s going to be a referendum. People will decide between more of the same or real change.”
López Obrador beckoned supporters to the massive Zócalo square in central Mexico City – where leaders have projected power to the people since Azteca times – for a statement soon after the official results are announced.
López Obrador, 64 cast his ballot early in the day, saying, “More than an election, it’s going to be a referendum. People will decide between more of the same or real change.”
Commonly known as AMLO and making his third bid for the presidency, López Obrador, held a commanding lead in the polls ahead of the vote. The former mayor of Mexico City has promised to “uproot corruption,” increase social spending and pursue a different approach to crack down on drug cartels – even floating the idea of amnesty for those involved in the drug business if not accused of serious offences.
The silver-haired López Obrador condemned the two parties that traditionally have held the presidency as “the mafia in power” and promised to “abolish corruption in Mexico” and bring organized crime to heel – with an approach of “hugs not bullets.” And he will address what he considers the root cause of crime and violence: poverty.
While his surge in the polls spooked many politicians and businessmen because of his leftist rhetoric, López Obrador said he supports NAFTA and promised to pursue cordial relations with President Donald Trump, who also had campaigned as an outsider, although leaning to the right.
López Obrador said he will defend undocumented Mexican migrants living in the United States. He also said Mexico will not be “doing the dirty work” of the USA in stopping Central Americans who try to reach the United States.
While campaigning this year, AMLO moderated his positions to appeal to the middle class and to people in northern border regions who would be uneasy voting for a candidate on the left.
He also capitalized on discontent. Mexico experienced its most murderous year in memory in 2017, perceptions of corruption have climbed and the outgoing administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto included a spate of scandals.
“There’s a fair bit of luck that finally favored him (AMLO),” said Federico Estévez, a political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “He was also very capable of shifting, of moderating, of using this peculiar rhetoric of his to attack the same demons, but to do so nicely.”
Also helping were missteps by his opponents, especially as they attacked each other to position themselves as the option of anybody but AMLO. “He had a four goal lead and all he had to to was sit back and play smart defense,” Estévez said.
Pre-election polls put AMLO 20 points ahead of rivals Ricardo Anaya of a left-right coalition; José Antonio Meade, a former finance minister on the ballot for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); and Jaíme Calderón, a cowboy-turned-governor running as an independent whose campaign included such outlandish proposals as chopping off the hands of corrupt public servants.
Voters favoring López Obrador expressed fatigue with the status quo.
“I’m tired of so much looting, so many corrupt politicians,” said Beatriz Coulder, a research scientist after she voted for AMLO. She pointed to her home town in Oaxaca state, which was flattened by an earthquake. She said government relief arrived late and suspected some it was squirreled away by politicians.
“They get rich and do nothing for the country,” Patricia García, a publishing industry employee, said about politicians after voting for AMLO. “It’s going to be difficult to fix the country because it’s in such bad shape. But I think (AMLO) can put it on the right path.
Even those not voting for López Obrador seemed hungry for change.
López Obrador “hasn’t explained how he is going to achieve all these wonderful things he’s promised,” said Édgar Romero, a small business owner who voted for Anaya. “People are voting out of frustration and fatigue. It’s a punishment vote against past governments. But we’re punishing ourselves.”
“People are tired of PRI excesses and corruption and the violence in the times the PAN (Anaya’s National Action Party) governed” from 2000-2012, said Gerardo Priego, a politician with the PAN supporting Anaya. “People feel like they’ve tried the other two (parties) and should try the other that’s left.”
But he described voting for López Obrador’s party in hopes of change “is like divorcing your wife to marry your mother-in-law.”
Voters are not just picking a new president to serve a single, six-year term, but also both houses of congress, governors in eight states and hundreds of local-level offices. Mexico City also elects a new mayor. More than 130 politicians and candidates were murdered over the past nine months, according to Etellekt, a risk consultancy.
In the heroin-producing heartland of Guerrero state, some races were left without candidates as parties couldn’t find people to run amid the killings.
“They’re doing it to send messages and leave clear who controls a certain territory,” Priego said of the slayings, which he attributed to organized crime trying to influence elections. “It’s also a warning that whoever wins office will have to deal with them.”
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