MEXICO CITY With virtually all polls showing that soap opera star-looking candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, 45, is likely to win the July 1 elections, the big question is whether his victory would mean a return to Mexicos corruption-ridden, authoritarian ways of the past. Although times have changed, that may very well happen.
Peña Nietos candidacy for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) the party that ruled this country for seven decades until it was voted out of office in a 2000 election that was heralded as Latin Americas equivalent to the fall of the Berlin Wall is leading by about 15 percentage points over its closest rival in most polls.
According to the latest Mitofsky poll released last week, Peña Nieto has 44.4 percent of voter support, followed by leftist candidate Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador with 28.7 percent, and center-right candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota with 24.6 percent. The poll doesnt count non-responses.
Granted, there could be last-minute surprises. A growing everybody-against-Peña Nieto student movement known as Yo soy 132 has emerged in recent weeks, accusing Mexicos two major television networks of promoting Peña Nietos candidacy. The student protest movement has spread like wildfire in social media, and has helped Lopez Obrador climb in the polls.
But while there are 14 million Mexicans under 23 who will be eligible to vote for the first time in a presidential election, and many of them may back Lopez Obrador, most political insiders doubt that the student movement will have any major impact on election day because about 75 percent of Mexicos youth dont vote.
In addition, there is the fear factor. Lopez Obrador scared many Mexicans in 2006, when he lost that years election by less than one percentage point and led massive marches to protest what he still today says was a fraudulent result. His critics, including former President Vicente Fox, describe him as a radical populist who would be Mexicos version of Venezuelas Hugo Chavez.
Lopez Obrador has gone out of his way to distance himself from Chavez, and despite campaigning on the same vague anti-corruption theme that helped Chavez win his first election has repeatedly assured Mexicans that he would not lead a revolution that would polarize society, scare away investments, and trigger capital flight.
But unlike President Ollanta Humala of Perú, a former anti-establishment leftist candidate who won the 2011 election thanks to the crucial support of Perus Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, Mexicos Lopez Obrador doesnt have a similar public figure to help him alleviate voters anxieties.
Lopez Obrador badly needs his Vargas Llosa, but barring big surprises such as if Mexicos billionaire Carlos Slim, the richest man on earth, were to give him his seal of approval he wont get one in time to win the election. Mexicans have an innate fear of instability and political violence, which goes back to the 1910-1917 Mexican Revolution that left more than1 million dead.
The PRI candidate, a former Mexico state governor who is better known for his much-publicized 2010 wedding to a popular actress than for being a deep thinker, promises responsible change. His top economic advisers are mostly orthodox economists.