Mexican presidential candidates trade blows in first TV debate

Leftwing populist López Obradror, who is well ahead in polls, holds off attacks by rivals

The leftist frontrunner in Mexico’s presidential race, Andrés Manuel López Obrador  of the National Regeneration Movement,  leaving the Palacio de Mineria after the first debate in Mexico City. Photograph:  Henry Romero/Reuters

The leftist frontrunner in Mexico’s presidential race, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement, leaving the Palacio de Mineria after the first debate in Mexico City. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters

 

Mexico’s presidential hopefuls trained their artillery on frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the country’s first televised debate ahead of the July election.

But the leftwing populist, who holds a commanding lead in opinion polls, emerged largely unscathed despite a strong performance by second-placed challenger Ricardo Anaya who leads a right-left alliance.

Mr Anaya failed to deliver a knockout blow but was expected to have gained some ground among voters, while José Antonio Mede, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary party’s candidate, was seen as not having done enough to bolster his campaign.

Mr Anaya, a sharp debater, had done his homework: he attacked Mr López Obrador for having, in one of his own books, criticised as corrupt the man he was now touting as his cabinet chief, Alfonso Romo.

Mr López Obrador came close to winning the presidency in 2006 and was runner-up again six years later.

“López Obrador is playing catenaccio,” said Leo Zuckerman, a political analyst, referring to the cautious soccer tactic of focusing on defence.

The most memorable lines of the evening came from Jaime Rodríguez, an independent who just squeaked on to the ballot. True to his nickname “El Bronco” or “The Wild One”, he vowed to chop off thieves’ hands. He is trailing at the back of the five-strong pack in opinion polls.

Polling

A poll of polls on election site Oraculus.mx puts Mr López Obrador in front on 42.7 per cent, with Mr Anaya on 28.8 per cent and Mr Meade on 21 per cent. The two independent candidates are well behind: former first lady Margarita Zavala has 4.9 per cent and Mr Rodríguez, 2.6 per cent, according to Oraculus.

“Meade’s campaign is over. Anaya survives. Margarita’s is floating and Bronco is starting to exist,” tweeted Andrés Lajous, a sociologist and political commentator who is now an adviser to the Mexico City mayoral campaign of Mr López Obrador’s party. “Amlo continues being who he is.”

Mr López Obrador stuck to his pledge to have a recall vote every two years – a concept Mr Anaya said he would be open to, if enshrined in law. Mr Meade, however, said he was against it “for the love of God” because it would spark uncertainty and overshadow investment.

The candidates also clashed over Mr López Obrador’s call last year to consider an amnesty to help fight drug crime – something he now said would be put to a panel of experts which he invited Pope Francis to join. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018