MEXICO CITY — The superlatives have abounded during the run-up to Sunday’s general elections in Mexico: The most important in years. The most potential voters. The largest ever.
About 89 million Mexicans are eligible to vote for more than 3,400 local, state and federal posts around the country — the most races ever contested on a single Mexican Election Day.
The crown jewel is the presidency — a six-year term leading Latin America’s second-largest economy, in a country with 128 million people. The race, in part, is a referendum on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s six years in power. Mr. Peña Nieto, who heads the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, called the PRI, cannot run again because presidents are barred from seeking a second term.
The four contenders have all offered themselves as the solution to the country’s myriad problems — rampant violence and corruption, a sluggish economy, and widespread poverty and inequality. But one of them, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, appears to have had the most success capitalizing on widespread discontent. A victory by him would stand as a repudiation of the nation’s two dominant establishment parties, which have traded control of the presidency since the end of the PRI’s one-party dominance in 2000.
More than half of Mexicans still live below the poverty line, wages have stagnated for more than a decade, the yawning gap between the nation’s rich and poor persists, and a majority of workers in Mexico are in informal labor sector jobs.
What Are the Main Issues?
Mr. López Obrador, a leftist former mayor of Mexico City making his third bid for the presidency, has positioned himself as the consummate outsider. And for the first time in decades, a leftist could be taking the helm of the nation. He promises to attack corruption and poverty.
On the campaign trail, Mr. López Obrador knew he could fire up crowds by railing against what he called “the mafia of power.” It was shorthand for the small, insular Mexican political and business class that has dominated the country for generations and, he said, used its position to enrich itself and its friends.
He contends that Mr. Peña Nieto’s efforts to modernize the country came at a price, and has vowed to reverse some of those achievements. He has openly questioned an energy reform passed early in Mr. Peña Nieto’s term and vowed to cancel an education reform, both of which passed with resounding majorities in Congress.
But while Mr. López Obrador has made the fight against corruption central to his campaign, so have the other candidates. There may be no other issue that unifies the electorate so completely.
The ruling party has given the candidates plenty to rail against, including high-profile corruption scandals that took down several of the PRI’s governors. There were also allegations that top officials embezzled public funds to pay for electoral campaigns. And Mr. Peña Nieto’s popularity took a plunge when it was revealed that his wife had purchased a home from a government contractor on favorable terms.
The presidential campaign unfolded against a backdrop of record violence, another major theme for the candidates. The month of May saw the highest number of homicides of any single month in two decades, and there were more homicides last year than in any other year during the same period, according to the authorities.
The surging violence is blamed in part on the fracturing of large organized crime groups as a result of the government’s longstanding strategy of targeting drug kingpins, a cornerstone of its offensive against the nation’s main drug trafficking organizations.
What About Relations With the United States?
For two years, President Trump has taken an aggressive, hectoring approach toward Mexico. He has accused the neighboring country’s government of weakness on illegal immigration and promised to build a wall on the border. He also threatened to toss out the North American Free Trade Agreement and has stripped much of the hard-fought good will from the bilateral relationship.
But during the Mexican presidential campaign, talk of international relations, specifically with the neighbor to the north, was notably absent. Instead, the focus was largely on domestic issues. Amid such pressing problems, international relations seemed a remote concern to many voters.
Still, the relationship between the two countries will remain central on the agenda of the incoming president. The two nations are deeply intertwined through trade, migration and culture. All the candidates, to varying degrees, have said they intend to work hard to maintain and improve the relationship, though each has sought to show that he could stand up to Mr. Trump’s bullying.
Some see a victory by Mr. López Obrador as offering perhaps the greatest threat of disruption to relations with the U.S. But the candidate has been fairly moderate and pragmatic on the subject of Mr. Trump lately, saying in a recent interview, “We are going to maintain a good relationship. Or rather, we will aim to have a good bilateral relationship because it is indispensable.”
If the polls are accurate, Mr. López Obrador, 64, will win the day with a landslide. Representing a left-right alliance led by his relatively new Morena party, he has cast himself as the only candidate who can break the status quo and lead the nation out of its frustrating stasis.
His strongest challenger is Ricardo Anaya, 39, whose quick ascent has inspired awe and hatred, particularly for the way he has deftly — many say ruthlessly — sidelined and disposed of his opponents along the way.
Representing a left-right alliance led by his right-leaning National Action Party, he, too, has presented himself as a break from the status quo, though a better-prepared, more forward-looking and safer option than Mr. López Obrador.
Coming in third place in most polls is Jose Antonio Meade, 49, the candidate for the governing PRI who has held various cabinet posts in two administrations. He has sought to separate himself from the deeply unpopular administration of Mr. Peña Nieto, even though he was a member of it until he launched his candidacy. But his campaign has not been able to escape the taint of this longstanding association.
Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, an independent candidate who took a leave of absence as governor of the state of Nuevo León to compete, has been bringing up the rear in the polls. He has barely registered on the electorate’s consciousness except at moments where his famously unbridled tongue has grabbed attention. He proposed during one presidential debate that thieves should be punished by having their hands chopped off.
What if Polls Are Wrong?
In his first run for president in 2006, Mr. López Obrador lost by less than 1 percent. But he did not go quietly.
He claimed fraud and led his supporters in a monthslong protest, taking over Mexico City’s main square, blocking one of the city’s main boulevards and even staging an inauguration ceremony for himself.
If Mr. López Obrador does not win, protests could erupt again, with his camp charging fraud.
One wild card in the polling numbers are the undecided voters. At least one major poll put the number above 20 percent. If enough of them tilt toward one of Mr. López Obrador’s competitors, Mexico could be in for a long postelection dispute.
What Other Posts Are Up for Grabs?
With so many elected posts in play, from the nation’s highest office to the lowliest municipal council seat, the presidential candidates are urging their supporters to vote their party slates.
In addition to the presidency, voters will be electing a new national Congress — 128 senators and 500 deputies — eight governors and a head of government in Mexico City, as well as representatives to state congresses, mayors and municipal councils.
When Are Results Expected?
Polls close on a rolling basis at 6 p.m. local time. A “rapid count” result of the presidential vote, based on a sampling of polling stations around the country, will be released before midnight Eastern Time. Full counts for the presidential race and for other national, regional and local elections are not expected until midmorning on Monday.