Candidates prepare for 1st debate in Mexico’s presidential race

The Palacio de Minería, or Mineral Palace, will be the site of the first debate of Mexico's presidential election. Photo: Twitter @JaimeRdezNL
The Palacio de Minería, or Mineral Palace, will be the site of the first debate of Mexico’s presidential election. Photo: Twitter @JaimeRdezNL

Mexico City — The first debate of Mexico’s race for president is today (Sunday), with Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the clear front-runner.

López Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, has pulled ahead of his nearest rival in one poll by as much as 22 points with just weeks left in the campaign. The newspaper Reforma reports an approval rating of 48 percent.

“The main takeaway from our poll is that we have a clear favorite,” said Lorena Becerra Mizuno, head pollster at Reforma, speaking to the Dallas Morning News. “And we have a clear second-place candidate, Ricardo Anaya. … But the advantage is AMLO. His lead is overwhelming, and he has great possibilities to win.”

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A record audience is expected to watch or listen to the debate, which will be broadcast from the Palacio de Minería in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico.

More than 80 percent of respondents in another poll said they believe Mexico is headed in the wrong direction.

There are implications north of the border. López Obrador, representing the National Regeneration Movement Party (Morena), is largely critical of Mexico’s foreign trade.

“He’s vowing to end Mexico’s co-dependency with its fickle neighbor, which lately, in the view of López Obrador and many others, is intent on treating Mexico like a piñata,” writes Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News.

“He’s worrying foreign investors, reminding some of 1938, when Mexico nationalized its oil industry,” continues Corchado, the newspaper’s border and Mexico correspondent. “But AMLO is also known for managing to say the right things at the right time. Recently, in Ciudad Juárez, he said he wants a relationship with the United States based on respect and said he wasn’t giving up on President Donald Trump and ‘his despicable attitude toward Mexicans.’ ”

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For the entire campaign, and even before he formally announced his candidacy, López Obrador has led his rivals comfortably.

AMLO’s supporters see him as Mexico’s last hope where violence, corruption and flat wages persist despite booming trade and economic development. If he wins, AMLO vows that he won’t live in Los Pinos, the presidential palace, because the place is “bewitched” and “haunted.”

His rivals are Ricardo Anaya, representing a PAN-PRD coalition; the PRI’s Jose Antonio Meade; and two independent candidates, Margarita Zavala and Jaime “el Bronco” Rodríguez Calderón.

“If ever they stand a chance to make a dent in López Obrador’s Teflon shield, it’s during the debate Sunday evening. This is López Obrador’s third attempt at winning the presidency, and in the past he’s been less than spectacular during debates. For one debate, he was a no-show,” says Corchado.

“Clearly, both Meade and Anaya are at an advantage at the debates; Meade substantively and Anaya in terms of his debating skills,” said Arturo Sarukhan, former Mexican ambassador to the United States. “It will be interesting to see whether López Obrador can keep his cool if cornered or if some of his proposals get challenged.”

But López Obrador is likely to continue his lead after the debate, says Sergio Silva Castañeda, a Harvard-educated historian at the Autonomous Institute of Mexico.

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“Usually debates aren’t game changers,” he said. “It is rare to see a debate that actually influences voting preferences in a substantial way. The important part of this process, however, is still to come.”

The general elections, which will also decide Mérida’s next mayor and Yucatán’s next governor, is July 1.

The debate audience will include Mexicans living in the United States. Nearly 700,000 eligible voters are registered, but so far only 130,000 have actually activated their electronic voting cards.

By lottery system, Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) announced the order of the five presidential candidates indicating who will speak first, where each will stand and who gets to arrive first at the venue.

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The lottery allows independent Jaime Rodriguez to answer the first moderator-provided question. Meade will answer last. The moderators are Televisa news anchor Denise Maerker and journalists Azucena Uresti and Sergio Sarmiento.

Televisa will broadcast the debate live at 8 p.m. on various platforms, including its Las Estrellas channel, its Televisa News Web Page, Facebook and YouTube. In the U.S., Noticias Telemundo will also broadcast the debate, dubbing it “México, La Gran Batalla” (“Mexico, the Great Battle”).

Sources: TelsSur, Dallas Morning News

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