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Mexicans will elect a new president on Sunday. Polls show the candidate of the former ruling party is poised to win by a wide margin. The Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as PRI, ruled Mexico for more than 70 years before being unseated 12 years ago. Those who do not want to see a return of the PRI say their best hope is from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Mexico City.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been a central figure of the Mexican left for years. He protested the PRI's authoritarian rule in the 1980s and '90s and won Mexico City's mayoral race in 2000. This is his second run for the presidency. He lost in 2006 by less than a percentage point. This time around, polls show he's in second place.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish)
KAHN: This week, Obrador held his campaign's largest event with a march down Mexico City's Reforma Boulevard to the historic downtown Zocalo plaza, where more than 100,000 people crammed into the massive square and waited hours to see him. Dolores Juarez, a Mexico City dentist, says she's not interested in the PRI's candidate and current frontrunner, Enrique Pena Nieto, who's greatly admired for his youth and good looks.
DOLORES JUAREZ: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: I'd rather have someone with experience and honesty, she said.
Seventy-five-year-old Manuel Salinas held up a handmade sign deploring current President Felipe Calderon's six-year-long war on drug traffickers.
MANUEL SALINAS: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: Salinas said there has been too much bloodshed, too many innocent people killed. He says Obrador will do better.
But like the other candidates in the race, Lopez Obrador has been light on specifics for how he would end the drug war, which has claimed the lives of more than 50,000 people. He told the crowd the fix for Mexico's current ills is to create opportunity and stop corruption.
ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: We will do this, he said, by having incorruptible and honest public servants who will work more efficiently, intelligently and with perseverance.
Lopez Obrador says he will do the same housecleaning to repair Mexico's economy, and proposes balancing the budget by cutting politicians' salaries. Critics say his economic proposals are too radical and compare him to Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez. Political analyst Denise Dresser doesn't go that far, but says Lopez Obrador lacks viable solutions.
DENISE DRESSER: He's not a man who understands how an economy works. He is averse to dismantling monopolies because he's basically a statist at heart.
KAHN: Lopez Obrador has tried to tone down his usual combative rhetoric lately. He campaigns on building a republic of love and calls for abrazos no ballazos: hugs, not bullets. Unfortunately, says analyst Jose Antonio Crespo, it's too little, too late.
JOSE ANTONIO CRESPO: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: Crespo says the candidate started talking about peace, love and reconciliation just four months ago, and no one really believes Lopez Obrador could change so abruptly. Most people remember the weeks following his razor-thin presidential loss in 2006. Supporters clogged the streets of the capital for weeks while he proclaimed himself Mexico's legitimate president. Now the concern is over how he will accept this year's results.
In speeches, he's talked of potential voter fraud and urged supporters to be vigilant. However, last night, Lopez Obrador and the other major candidates signed a civility pact, pledging to respect this Sunday's election results.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.