Mexicans Vote for New President Following Violent Campaign
Sunday, July 1, 2018 at 8:05AM

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexicans lined up to vote for a new president on Sunday with the anti-establishment outsider who is tipped to win calling for national reconciliation after a campaign in which dozens of down-ticket candidates were murdered by suspected drug gangs.

Presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador casts his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Mexico City, Mexico July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Opinion polls before the election showed a double-digit lead for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor expected to inject a dose of nationalism into government and sharpen divisions with U.S. President Donald Trump if he wins. 

Lopez Obrador, 64, would be the first leftist president in decades in Mexico, Latin America’s No. 2 economy, if he ousts the ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). 

Runner-up in the 2006 and 2012 elections, he pitched himself as the only man capable of cleaning up a political class whose credibility has been ground down by graft, years of subpar economic growth and soaring crime levels. 

Since the race began late last year, at least 133 politicians have been murdered from all the major parties. The crimes are mostly attributed to gangs trying to influence municipal elections. 

“With all my heart, I want today’s election to take place without violence,” Lopez Obrador said before voting in the south of Mexico City after a campaign marked by mud-slinging between presidential candidates over tit-for-tat graft allegations. 

“As soon as the election is over, we will begin a period of national reconciliation,” said Lopez Obrador, who is known by his initials AMLO, smiling and flashing a victory sign at the polling station where he arrived 40 minutes before it opened. 

Presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gestures after casting his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Mexico City, Mexico July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Across the country, many people, waiting in the morning chill to vote at schools and community centers, said it was time to give the left a chance, and that traditional parties had failed to stem graft and bloodshed. 

In addition to the political killings, Mexico suffered its most violent year in recent history in 2017, with murders unabated this year. The bloodshed is blamed on drug cartels splintering and branching out into fuel theft and extortion. 

“This is our chance to bring about change in the country,” said Meinardo Perez, 25, an engineer voting for Lopez Obrador, who nonetheless recognized the candidate would struggle to keep all his promises. 

“But we have to start somewhere. We need to upset things,” he added.

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