Mexico: Leftist gains ground in presidential polls

Analysts said student protests might be eroding front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto`s aura of invincibility.

Mexico City: Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador appears to be gaining ground going into the final month of Mexico`s presidential race, polls have indicated, and analysts said student protests might be eroding front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto`s aura of invincibility.

The protests have dogged Pena Nieto`s campaign over the past two weeks, with demonstrators claiming that a win by his Institutional Revolution Party, which held the presidency for 71 years, would mark a return to Mexico`s authoritarian past.

"Pena Nieto is deflating," said Lopez Obrador yesterday, who had long run third in the polls behind Pena Nieto and the current governing party`s candidate, Josefina Vazquez Mota. At one point, Pena Nieto led the two by 15 to 20 percentage points and the race had been considered all but over.

But a poll released yesterday by the newspaper Reforma said Pena Nieto led with only 29 percent support, with Lopez Obrador close at 26 percent while Vazquez Mota fell to 18 percent. The poll was conducted in late May and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. A month earlier, Pena Nieto had led the leftist 32 per cent to 21 percent.

A separate poll by the GEA/ISA firm gave Pena Nieto a stronger advantage, 33 percent to 21 percent for Lopez Obrador and 20 percent for Vazquez Mota. The result was a 3-point drop by the PRI candidate from the last poll and a 2-point rise by Lopez Obrador. The poll had a 3 percentage point margin for error.
Reforma`s poll said about 32 percent of voters were still undecided or without a preference, compared with 22 percent in the GEA/ISA poll.

The results are a big boost for Lopez Obrador, who many have written off as unelectable because of the angry, disruptive street protests that he led following his narrow loss in the 2006 race to President Felipe Calderon. Lopez Obrador has sought this time to soften his image, appeal to the middle class and businessmen, and apologise to those who were affected by his weekslong blockade of downtown Mexico City in 2006.

The leftist has been helped by campaign missteps by Vazquez Mota and by the protests that have sought to emphasise the PRI`s past as the unquestioned power for seven decades as well as alleged rights violations committed when Pena Nieto served as governor of Mexico State.

The protests appear to be having an effect, breaking the "aura of inevitability" that had hung over the Pena Nieto campaign, said political analyst John Ackerman of Mexico`s National Autonomous University.

"The election was somehow being portrayed as boring," Ackerman said. "All of a sudden it`s not boring."