June 28, 2012 1:17 pm

Mexican left woos crowds ahead of vote

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador©AP

People power: the former mayor of Mexico City casts his spell over a central plaza as his supporters throng the streets

The streets are awash with the red and yellow colours of Mexico’s political left, small white puffs of smoke from homemade fireworks dot the sky and the Zócalo, the monumental square in the heart of the capital, is full to capacity.

“Presidente . . . presidente . . . presidente,” chants the 150,000-strong crowd as it awaits Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the silver-haired veteran candidate in Sunday’s presidential election.

To judge by the throng in the square and the thousands more spilling on to the surrounding streets, it is difficult to imagine that most opinion polls put Amlo, as Mr López Obrador is commonly known, far behind the frontrunner.

Three polls published on Wednesday place Enrique Peña Nieto, the slick candidate for the centrist Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI), between 10 and 17 percentage points ahead of Amlo. Josefina Vázquez Mota of the ruling conservative National Action party (PAN) is in third place.

But this is Mexico City, the metropolis that Mr López Obrador governed as mayor for six years until 2006, creating pensions for the elderly and constructing elevated highways for the city’s new middle classes. Pollsters calculate that Mexico’s left-leaning capital accounts for as much as 38 per cent of his support.

Nowhere is Amlo more at home than before a crowd in a public plaza. And just as the light began to fade, the swarthy 58-year-old hit all the right notes.

“You have two options,” he told his supporters, casting a spell of silence over those present. “More of the same or a true change . . . we are going to lift 15m Mexicans from extreme poverty . . . no young person wanting to go to university will be turned away.”

Mr López Obrador, candidate for the Democratic Revolution party, told his followers how austerity measures, coupled with an anti-corruption drive, would provide enough savings to fund programmes for 7m jobs over the next six years. He told them how he would save the countryside and how he would keep Pemex, the state oil monopoly, in state hands while building five refineries to avoid importing gasoline.

“Instead of privatising Pemex, we are going to use it as a lever of development,” he said, to the delight of his listeners. “We’re going to reduce the price of gasoline, gas and electricity.”

One woman waved her fist in the air while clutching her baby tight with the other arm. “That’s it,” she shouted in triumph. “The people are behind you.”

A couple of hours before, tens of thousands of supporters marched along Reforma, Mexico City’s wealthiest avenue and the venue of Amlo’s 2006 protests over the presidential election result. That was when, having narrowly lost to centre-right Felipe Calderón, he declared the election “fraudulent” and ordered his followers to occupy the streets. The camp-out, which lasted three months, created havoc as it cut the city in two.

This week, after an early-morning press conference, Mr López Obrador told the Financial Times that things had changed for the better since those days. “The IFE [the country’s election authority] is much more transparent than it used to be,” he conceded.

But with Mr Peña Nieto far ahead in the polls, many political analysts say Mr López Obrador could try something similar this time round if he fails to win the election on Sunday.

Julio César Ernesto Prieto, head of a primary school, doubts it will be necessary. “We have people watching every voting booth in the country,” says the 28-year-old, who travelled from the central state of Guanajuato with his girlfriend to hear Amlo speak. “They can’t catch us now – even with all the money in the world.”

In the past three months of campaigning, Amlo has reminded his followers how different his style is from that of 45-year-old Mr Peña Nieto. Where the PRI candidate uses private jets and helicopters, Amlo uses commercial flights and cars; where his rival leverages his reportedly cosy relationship with Televisa, the country’s largest broadcaster, Amlo uses social networks and word-of-mouth.

Few political analysts say that it will be enough. But for now, and with just two days to go before Mexicans cast their votes, the veteran campaigner from the hot and muggy coastal state of Tabasco appears to have all the confidence in the world.

“We can lift Mexico with production, work and wellbeing,” he says triumphantly. “We are going to win.”

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