Enrique Pena Nieto leads his rivals in exit polls of Mexico’s presidential election as he seeks to return the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party to power after a 12-year hiatus.
Pena Nieto received 42 percent of the vote, topping 31 percent for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party and 23 for Josefina Vazquez Mota of President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party, according to a survey of voters at polling stations by GEA-ISA. The poll of 3,588 people had a margin of error of 2 percentage points. A survey by BGC, Ulises Beltran y Asociados showed Pena Nieto with a similar lead.
“Tonight, Enrique Pena Nieto is the next president” of Mexico, the candidate’s campaign manager Luis Videgaray said in an interview with Milenio TV. “If the numbers of GEA-ISA are sustained, we’re talking about Enrique Pena Nieto winning the presidential election with a margin between five and six million votes.”
Pena Nieto, 45, led polls from the campaign’s start, fueled by pledges to boost salaries held back by economic growth that averaged 1.8 percent a year since Calderon took office in 2006. That’s half the rate of Brazil’s 4.1 percent average over that period, though Mexico has caught up in the past two years. Pena Nieto also promised to turn the tide in a drug war blamed for more than 47,000 deaths under Calderon and pursue tax, labor and energy overhauls to boost competitiveness.
In a televised speech, Vazquez Mota thanked all her supporters and said that the early results didn’t favor her.
Pena Nieto has criticized the ruling PAN for not spreading the benefits of economic stability more widely during 12 years of rule since President Vicente Fox’s election in 2000 ended the PRI’s 71-year reign. Mexico remains economically dependent on the U.S., the world’s largest economy, sending 80 percent of exports to its northern neighbor. Mexico is also the biggest buyer of U.S. goods after Canada.
Investors took the election in stride. Mexico’s peso has rallied 5 percent in the past six months, the best performance of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg. The benchmark IPC stock index surged to a record on June 29 and has gained 1.7 percent in the past three months, compared with a 9.7 percent drop in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index spurred by Europe’s debt crisis.
Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg forecast Mexico’s gross domestic product will expand 3.7 percent in 2012, outpacing growth in Brazil for a second straight year. Mexican peso bonds have returned 12.9 percent in dollar terms this year, compared with a gain of 3.4 percent for local-currency emerging-market debt, according to Bank of America Corp.
Many Mexicans will be looking to see if Lopez Obrador, 58, who has focused his campaign on boosting spending for the poor, will concede defeat if he loses. After the last elections in 2006, which the PRD candidate lost by less than a percentage point after leading in many pre-election polls, his supporters occupied streets in the capital for weeks claiming fraud.
Lopez Obrador arrived today before 8 a.m. at his voting station in Mexico City and had to wait more than 45 minutes until it was formally opened.
“I trust the people of Mexico, I believe in the people,” he said, according to the Reforma newspaper. “We are going to win.”
Lopez Obrador’s party has alleged the PRI tried to buy votes by handing supporters shop gift cards, while the PAN has said Pena Nieto’s party gave away bank cards. The PRI denied the claims and its leadership yesterday in a press conference said it has asked all of its representatives to abide by electoral laws.
Whereas Lopez Obrador arrived in a single car to vote, Pena Nieto came in a convoy of three dark sport utility vehicles and took several photos with supporters on his way in and out.
The PRI’s years in power were marked by “theft and devaluation,” said Maria Etchegaray, 82, as she lined up to vote in Mexico City. “I am going to vote for Vazquez Mota because I’ll never vote for the PRI,” she said, adding that Lopez Obrador “scares” her.
At the same polling station, Enrique Torres said he would vote for Pena Nieto, describing him as more “refined.” Lopez Obrador’s “time has passed,” he said.
In the past few weeks, Pena Nieto has faced student protests organized on the Internet and driven in part by concern he will erode civil liberties and revive corruption that thrived under previous PRI regimes.
Vazquez Mota, 51, has promised to continue the pro-business policies and drug crackdown initiated by Calderon, who is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election.
To push his agenda Pena Nieto will need the support of Calderon’s party in Congress. A poll by Consulta Mitofsky taken June 22-24 showed the PRI-Green alliance garnering at least 274 of the 500 seats in the lower house of Congress. Currently, the PRI’s coalition has 262 seats.
Preliminary results for congressional seats haven’t been released yet.
Pena Nieto has said that if elected he plans to spur growth by making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers, increasing tax collection and encouraging more businesses to join the formal economy. He also said he plans to loosen Petroleos Mexicanos’ oil monopoly, which was formed when his party nationalized the then foreign-owned industry in 1938.
Pena Nieto has said he’ll change tactics in the drug war, reducing violence by focusing on the worst crimes such as murder and kidnapping and eventually return the army to the barracks.
It was President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of the PRI who signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and Canada that took effect in 1994. Mexican sales to the U.S. have since jumped six-fold to $263 billion last year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department data. That helped more than double Mexico’s GDP in those years to more than $1 trillion in 2011.
Pena Nieto filled most of the Azteca soccer stadium for his final rally in Mexico City on June 24, telling supporters he’s “part of a generation that has grown up in a democracy, and I aspire to be a president who governs respecting liberties, listening to everyone and including the voices of all.”
His rivals have said that he isn’t capable of bringing about the change he promises and that returning the PRI to power would reignite corruption that blossomed under its previous rule.
“People are going to be asking ‘Is this a new PRI?’ which his campaign suggests, or is he the young, handsome face of the old PRI,” said Diana Villiers Negroponte, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “I don’t think any of us can make that conclusion with certainty until January or February,” after the new president takes office on Dec. 1.
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