Previewing the Mexico Presidential Race

Mexico's presidential election is less than two weeks away. There are five candidates, all from different parties. The latest polls indicate that the candidate from the right and the one from left are in a close race and that is highlighting new divisions in the country.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Mexico's elections are less than two weeks away. The latest polls indicate the presidential candidate from the right and the candidate from the left are in a tight race, highlighting new divisions in that country.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

Mr. RAUL RACINDES(ph) (Businessman, Mexico City): (Foreign language spoken)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

Raul Racindes is a big man in a white apron who sells artisanal cheese in a roving farmer's market that makes its way around the neighborhoods of Mexico City. On this busy market day, he says he's looking forward to an election for the first time ever.

Mr. RACINDES: (Through translator) I think that we are starting to become a democracy. We're starting to bring in ideas from different places. Now there are options which we didn't use to have. There used to be just one, and that's who we had to vote for.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For decades, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, ruled Mexico. President's picked their successors in a system that was called the Dedazo, or, The Big Finger. Ideological differences were subsumed under the party umbrella.

That monopoly was broken in 2000 with President Vicente Fox from the PAN party. He can't run for reelection under law. There are now five people running for president from different parties.

But Mexico's race is really a contest between two men who represent vastly different things. And polls show the two contenders in a close race that has laid bare divisions in this country of 100 million.

(Soundbite of women speaking foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A discussion develops at the cheese stall between the two shoppers, both middle class, blond, and well-coiffed. Fifty-nine-year-old Alica Ordallo(ph) is voting for the former Mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador from the left. He's promising increased government spending to help Mexico's poor.

Ms. ALICA ORDALLO (Obrador Supporter): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, my mother is 93 years old, and he helped her when he was mayor with subsidies for her medicine.

Cenia Ruiz(ph) is voting for the rightest candidate, Felipe Calderón, from Fox's PAN Party. He's promising to continue his predecessor's free market policies.

Ms. CENIA RUIZ (Calderon Supporter): (Foreign spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think he has the best proposal, she says. I'm from the middle class here, and I think that if he isn't going to help us, he isn't going to hurt us, either. We'll be the same.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This time it's a good-natured argument. But, says pollster Ulisis Belltran(ph), there are strong currents underlying this election.

Mr. ULISIS BELLTRAN (Mexican Election Pollster): We have an uncertain election in front of us. In 2000, the Mexican electorate had a very easy choice: change or no change. In 2006, things got a little bit more complex.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lopez Obrador is pushing the politics of the poor, highlighting the terrible economic divisions in a country where 45 percent of the country's wealth belongs to ten percent of the population.

Felipe Calderon, from the right, is pushing the politics of fear, warning that a leftist leader will ruin Mexico's economic progress and stability.

Mario Alberto Focil is a political scientist and economist who works in the public sector.

Dr. MARIO ALBERTO FOCIL (Political Scientist and Economist, Mexico): (Through translator) I think the discourse now is very dangerous socially. I think what is being generated is a social rancor that is very divisive, and once you open that Pandora's Box, I don't know if you can close it again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Soledad Loaeza is from the Colegio de Mexico.

Dr. SOLEDAD LOAEZA (Colegio de Mexico): While it's true that ideological differences are more present today than they were in the past, the campaign has somehow propitiated a polarization of public opinion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Loaeza says these divisions have always existed, and are now simply being given a voice: which is no bad thing.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.

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