June 11 (Bloomberg) -- Mexican presidential front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto promised to spread economic prosperity and defended himself from attacks over corruption in a televised debate hours after more than 90,000 people rallied against him in the capital.
“I want to return peace and liberty to the Mexican people,” Pena Nieto, 45, said in the second and last officially-sanctioned debate ahead of July 1 elections. “I want to bring about a more inclusive Mexico without poverty.”
Pena Nieto is trying to defuse a student-led campaign against his candidacy that has threatened his more than 10 percentage point lead in recent weeks. Protesters have used social media such as Facebook and Twitter to warn that corruption that blossomed under 71 years of one-party rule that ended in 2000 could deepen if Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party returns to power.
Pena Nieto’s lead has declined since 45,000 students on May 19 marched on Mexico City’s historic downtown. Yesterday’s gathering in the capital drew at least 90,000, according to local police. Benefiting the most from the anti-PRI marches has been Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who opposes Pena Nieto’s plans to ease the state oil monopoly of Petroleos Mexicanos and who narrowly lost to outgoing President Felipe Calderon in 2006.
Pena Nieto had 37.6 percent support compared with 23.7 percent for Lopez Obrador in a poll of 1,152 registered voters taken June 8 to June 10 by Grupo Economista Asociados-ISA. Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party had 20.5 percent support. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Attacking Pena Nieto
In last night’s debate held in Guadalajara, Lopez Obrador reached out to the students, highlighting his plan to boost youth employment. He promised to boost the economy by emulating Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930’s in U.S.
Vazquez Mota attacked both men, criticizing Lopez Obrador for promoting radical policies and holding up a photo of Pena Nieto with a former PRI governor accused by the U.S. of taking millions of dollars in bribes from a drug cartel.
Lopez Obrador’s avoidance of confrontation last night may have been an attempt to assuage critics who remember him best for blockading one of Mexico City’s busiest boulevards for weeks to protests his defeat six years ago.
“He’s trying to shrug off a reputation for violence that his critics have pinned on him,” said Roy Campos, who heads Mexico City polling company Consulta Mitofsky.
Many Mexicans have turned against Vazquez Mota’s ruling party after Calderon declared war on the drug gangs, costing more than 47,000 lives in the past five years.
Student protesters are organizing a third debate to be transmitted via YouTube on June 19. All the contenders have agreed to participate except for Pena Nieto, who said there’s no guarantee the forum will be impartial. The students from both public and private universities have said they are unaffiliated with a political party even though they oppose Pena Nieto and what they allege is favorable media coverage of his candidacy.
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