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Amid Violent Drug War, Mexicans to Choose New President

MEXICO CITY - Mexican voters go to the polls Sunday to choose a new president in the midst of a drug war that has cost more than 50,000 lives in the past six years. Opinion polls indicate voters hope to reduce crime and give the economy a boost by electing the candidate of the party that dominated the country for more than 70 years, often with a heavy hand. Critics say that would lead to more corruption and authoritarianism.

Campaigning around Mexico came to a close with lots of noise..

Ruling party candidate Josefina Vasquez Mota is upbeat, even though she trails in the polls.

Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is also behind in the polls, but claims they are wrong.

The polls favor Enrique Pena Nieto, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known here as the PRI, which ruled Mexico for decades.

Pena Nieto says the PRI has changed since losing power in 2000 and presents himself as the old party's new face.

But some young people do not buy that.

Members of the movement Yo Soy 132 or “I am 132,” which refers to 131 students at a private university posted a video on YouTube several weeks ago that has rallied support from students all over Mexico.

Their movement portrays the PRI as a criminal organization.

“The PRI is using everything it has: narcotics trafficking, organized crime, all the money it has gained from corruption, to win the elections,” said Sergio Sanchez Navarro, one of the leaders.

But widespread violent crime is one reason many voters favor Pena Nieto.

Just this week gunmen killed three federal police officers in a busy terminal of Mexico City's International airport.

Pena Nieto promises in a campaign add that appears on his web site to reduce the violence. “As president of Mexico, I will commit myself to restoring tranquility,” he said.

But security analyst Alejandro Hope, of the Mexican Competitiveness Institute, says a new president is likely to follow the current anti-crime strategy. “No candidate yet has offered a radically different vision of how to deal with the security situation in Mexico,” she said.

Although some Mexicans believe the PRI will be able to work a deal with drug cartels to reduce violence, Hope says that is not likely.

“There has been a multiplication of gangs, so it is a more unstable environment," he said. "It is not like you can strike a deal with one big kingpin somewhere, and that is it.”

Many Mexican voters have already scaled down their expectations.

“It is important to change the government because jobs are scarce,” stated laborer Roman, explaining why it is time for a change.

Business owner Maria says she favors the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. “I think we need a change, something different. We already tried the other two parties, let's try the third,” she said.

But surveys show as many as 20 percent of voters are undecided, and that includes Pedro, 18. “I am thinking of not voting because there is no party that has convinced me,” he said.

Many Mexican voters say that no matter who wins the election, they believe it will take a long time to resolve the nation's problems, especially that of violent crime.