Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexicans Go to the Polls in Tight Race ; Sunday's Election Pits Leftist Leader Andres Manual Lopez Obrador against Conservative Felipe Calderon

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexicans Go to the Polls in Tight Race ; Sunday's Election Pits Leftist Leader Andres Manual Lopez Obrador against Conservative Felipe Calderon

Article excerpt

Mexicans headed to the polls Sunday in a hotly-contested presidential election pitting a leftist former mayor of Mexico City, who appeals to the poor, against a refined lawyer, who has rallied the country's business set.

It is the first presidential race since Vicente Fox's 2000 victory ended seven decades of one-party rule in Mexico.

Andres Manual Lopez Obrador of the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) has garnered widespread support by promising to tackle corruption and devising a "New Deal" of sorts for Mexico. Felipe Calderon of Fox's National Action Party (PAN) is neck and neck, promising to bring Mexico new jobs by pushing for more free-trade and foreign investment.

Their different principles have polarized voters. On a quiet, tree-lined street in the upper- middle-class Mexico City neighborhood of Condesa, Maria de Lourdes Olmedo cast her vote with her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter - all of them Obrador supporters. "There is no one better than he," says Ms. Olmedo. "He will work for the whole country, not just one class."

Around the corner, Jaime Arellano expressed the opposite view. "He will take the country into chaos," says Mr. Arellano, who owns a small construction business. He says Obrador's so-called "New Deal" programs will create jobs just for the sake of it - without providing a boost to the economy.

But Calderon's economic priorities are the same as those espoused under Fox, Arellano says. "This is what the country needs." And while he calls Calderon "bland" and "colorless," he says he, unlike Fox, has "the fangs to get the job done."

Trailing in third in the race, according to polls here, is Roberto Madrazo, who is the candidate of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

An Obrador win could dampen US-Mexican relations. "It's really clear that ... he is not going to be a US proxy," says Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning think tank in Washington. Obrador has pledged to renegotiate provisions under NAFTA that would end tariffs on American corn and beans by 2008, and at his final rally in Mexico City Wednesday said he would not be a puppet of any foreign government. …

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