Mexico presidential candidates prep for key debate

Agence France-Presse
The four candidates for Mexico's presidency clash Sunday, June 10, in the last of two debates -- a sparring match that could help decide the tight race with three weeks to go before the July 1 vote

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AFP) – The four candidates for Mexico’s presidency clash Sunday, June 10, in the last of two debates — a sparring match that could help decide the tight race with three weeks to go before the July 1 vote.

The top two rivals — Enrique Pena Nieto of the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who lost by a narrow margin in 2006 — could get the boost to take them over the top.

The telegenic 45-year-old Pena Nieto now has a commanding lead with 43.6 percent support to Lopez Obrador’s 29.2 percent, the latest Mitofsky poll showed, though the numbers have fluctuated in recent weeks.

For Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling center-right National Action Party (PAN) with 25.3 percent, it is her last chance to score big — she would be Mexico’s first woman president.

Gabriel Quadri of the tiny National Alliance Party trails with a minuscule 1.9 percent, the survey said.

This debate “is the pull-out-all-the-stops point, and they are all risking it all to win big,” said Jose Fernandez Santillan, a researcher at Monterrey’s Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores (ITES).

Unlike a May 6 debate with a traditional format that allowed for very brief answers, this one, to be held in Guadalajara, lets the candidates speak up to 8.5 minutes on several different subjects, the Federal Elections Board said.

The debate comes at a critical time in the race, with just 20 days left before voters cast their ballots, and after weeks of student protests.

Students under the Yosoy132 (“I am the 132”) youth movement have mobilized online and in the streets to slam favorable media coverage of Pena Nieto they say aims to make his win look inevitable, accusing the PRI candidate, who is married to an ex-soap opera star, of corruption.

The students cranked their campaign into gear again Sunday, using social media to call supporters out to city squares to watch the debate, said Carlos Brito, a movement spokesman.

Students were already massing in the Zocalo, the capital’s landmark main square, to start a march against Pena Nieto to the Angel of Independence monument.

After the demonstration, they will gather in the Zocalo to watch the debate, which starts at 0100 GMT Monday.

Most Mexicans — 68 percent — believe this debate will be more aggressive than the last one, the Mitofsky poll found.

Lopez Obrador, who was blamed for triggering a dramatic political stalemate when he contested his 2006 defeat, is now running as a moderate candidate.

With frustration growing against the PRI, some analysts think this middle-of-the-road approach could put him within reach of victory.

Nearly 80 million Mexicans are eligible to vote for a new president for a six-year term beginning in December, with the winner taking over from outgoing President Felipe Calderon, of the PAN.

The election will also renew the lower and upper houses of the Mexican Congress and select governors in six states, the Mexico City mayor and local legislative bodies. – Leticia Pineda, Agence France-Presse