Mexicans Vote With Drug War As Backdrop

Mexico is electing a new president Sunday, and voters appear ready to reject the ruling party led by outgoing President Felipe Calderon because many Mexicans believe his anti-drug campaign has done more harm than good. Guest host David Greene speaks with NPR's Carrie Kahn about the politics.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

Mexico, a country so scarred by drug violence, is electing a new president today. And voters appear ready to reject the ruling party led by outgoing President Felipe Calderon. In the eyes of many Mexicans, his anti-drug campaign has done more harm than good, claiming the lives of more than 50,000 people over the last six years. But the candidate who appears on the verge of victory is from a party that ruled Mexico with an iron fist for decades.

NPR's Carrie Kahn is covering the voting. She's at a polling station in the Colonia Moctezuma of Mexico City, right near the airport. So, I know it could be noisy as you're talking to us, Carrie. What's the scene there?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Well, I'm at a polling place and it got off to a not-so-great start, and people waited quite a long time in line. They - some were a little frustrated, but Mexicans have a lot of patience and are used to waiting in long lines. And everybody said it was their duty to come vote and that's what they were out here for today.

GREENE: Well, signs so far point to Enrique Pena Nieto of the P-R-I or PRI Party winning. Tell us a little bit about him and also the two other leading candidates who are competing.

KAHN: Sure. The polls do show that he has had a double-digit lead for months, and there's an inevitability of his win, but we'll have to see what happens today. And he is a young man; he's 45 years old. He's very telegenic. Many people here say he's very handsome and he's married to one of Mexico's most famous soap opera stars. A lot of people say he was groomed by the huge TV station Televisa here, and that he has gotten a very favorable and biased coverage by them. And he has insisted that he is the new PRI Party, he has change and he's committed to democracy and transparency, and that's his campaign.

Then, there is the candidate for the current administration, PAN Party, which the President Felipe Calderon. Their candidate is Josefina Vasquez Mota, and she is the first woman to every run for a major political party for president in Mexico, but her candidacy really hasn't caught fire here. There's a lot of repudiation, as you said, for the current administration. Her campaign had a lot of gaffs, missteps. And she is trailing in third right now.

And the last party is of the left, is PRD Party. Their candidate is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. This is his second run for the presidency. He lost by less than 1 percent in 2006 and he's trying again. It's very interesting because he was very combative after he lost that election, but he sort of changed his tune and says his is trying to build the republic of love. But it's unclear whether people believe that he's the new, friendlier, happier Lopez Obrador this time around.

GREENE: Well, Carrie, you said that the candidate from the party of the outgoing President Felipe Calderon is in third place. I mean, is this repudiation that we may be seeing because of the war on drug trafficking that's being seen as a failure? Is that the big issue?

KAHN: It's really interesting. When you ask people what is their main concern, they do say violence. But when you ask them a little bit more what is it about, it's not so much the drug trafficking; cartels and organized crime. It's street crime, it's just insecurity. And also, I must tell you, it depends where you are in country. I'm here in Mexico City, which is the center of the country, which has not been affected as much by the drug violence. But if you go up to the northern states and up by the border, that is a pretty big issue for people. Number one is violence.

And people are not happy with Calderon, the current president. He's campaigned, actually, his big campaign was he was going to create jobs. Job, jobs, jobs. He was going to be the employment president, and people say he got very distracted by this bloody drug war and has not given the opportunities and the economy the boost that it needed.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR's Carrie Kahn, who is covering a big day of voting in Mexico. She's at a polling station in the Colonia Moctezuma neighborhood of Mexico City. Carrie, thanks a lot.

KAHN: No, thanks for having me. You're welcome.

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