09 June 2006

Debate leaves election outcome mired in doubt

Roberto Madrazo, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Felipe Calderon

Story by : David Agren

Mexico’s second and final presidential debate on June 6 promised fireworks, but the fuse was ignited miles away from the made-for-television event, with unknown gunmen targeting the wife of a businessman supposedly harboring explosive evidence against Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderon – who boasts of having “manos limpias (clean hands)” – fending off accusations of nepotism.

With Lopez Obrador and Calderon running neck-and-neck – three polls released last week said the pair were in a statistical tie – most of the attention focused on the two frontrunners, who sported drastically different demeanors – and attire.

Lopez Obrador, wearing a dark suit and daring sunny-yellow PRD tie, looked serene, but stiff and out of his element – which perhaps answered why he skipped the first presidential debate. Speaking calmly, he outlined his agenda for Mexico’s poor – a constituency he champions.

“The poor first, that’s how we’ll govern,” he said, seeming to trot out the same answer for all of Mexico’s challenges – including foreign policy.

Although goaded, he avoided outbursts, defying his angry stereotype. He even ended the debate with the cheery comments, “Smile. We’re going to win.”

Lopez Obrador raised his usual hot-button issues, most notably Fobaproa, a bailout of the banking industry a decade ago.

Calderon targeted Lopez Obrador with every outburst, castigating the former Mexico City mayor’s job performance in the capital.

“(Lopez Obrador) left the Federal District as the most indebted city, the most insecure in the country, the entity with the highest corruption in all of Mexico, with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest growth rate in the country,” the panista said.

Calderon spoke more forcefully than the last time, rattling off his proposals in monotonous numbered sequences. He initially seemed ready for everything; when Lopez Obrador alleged PAN improprieties in Fobaproa, Calderon flashed a photo of a PRD candidate, who supported the bailout.

But as the debate neared its conclusion, Lopez Obrador accused Calderon’s brother in-law of not paying tax on contracts received while the PAN candidate was energy secretary. The debate format prevented Calderon from immediately replying. The PRD later produced documents supposedly proving the improprieties. Calderon spent the day after the debate denying the charges.

The remaining three candidates on stage were largely overshadowed. Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Roberto Madrazo toned down his rhetoric and confrontational approach, which had turned off viewers in the last debate. He differentiated himself, speaking of a law-and-order agenda and describing the PRD and PAN as “a radical and conflictive left and (an) intolerant and repressive right.”

Most opinion polls show Madrazo running third.

Patricia Mercado of the Alternativa, one of the surprise performers in the first debate, kept speaking of controversial social issues, no doubt trying to solidify her modest support base. She captured lightning in a bottle during the first debate, but not last Tuesday. She needs two-percent support for her party to stay certified.

Most pundits declared Felipe Calderon the winner by a slim margin with Lopez Obrador a close second. Neither man delivered a knockout punch.

Several gunmen, though, delivered their own blows just prior to the debate, attacking a vehicle carrying the wife and children of jailed businessman Carlos Ahumada in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood. No one was injured. She had been scheduled to release a video that could have reflected badly on Lopez Obrador. A Lopez Obrador associate was shown accepting a large bribe from Ahumada in 2004. In a statement, the PRD denied any involvement in the shootout and suggested the event might have been staged.

From the Guadalajara Reporter

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