KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Mexico National Elections

Jul 1, 2018
Originally published on July 2, 2018 12:09 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, Mexicans are choosing a new president, and this is all taking place at a time of extreme violence. Dozens of campaign workers and political candidates have been murdered in recent months along with thousands of others.

NPR's Carrie Kahn is our correspondent in Mexico, and she's with us now.

Carrie, thanks so much for being here.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Oh, thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: First of all, I understand that there's a front-runner. Can you tell us about him?

KAHN: Sure. His name is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. This is his third time running for president. He's running under a new party that he started. It's called Morena. It's brand-new, and it's really just all about him. You know, his stump speech really hasn't changed much over the years. But this year, it's really striking a strong chord with millions of Mexicans that are just fed up with corruption and the violence in the country. That's what Lopez Obrador says the main problem in Mexico is - it's corruption that leads to all the crime, the violence, the poverty, inequality and the sluggish economic growth the country has experienced for so many years.

And he says he's going to cut the perks and corruption from the top and give that money and savings to the bottom - raising salaries, pensions for the elderly, scholarships for the young. And he says he'll be the most hardworking government official ever, starting at 6:00 in the morning and working 16 hours a day with an austere government that won't raise taxes or the national debt. So he's got a big agenda there and a lot of promises.

MARTIN: Could you talk a bit more, though, about the bloodshed leading up to today's election? I mean, why do you think that is? And is that a factor in this election at all?

KAHN: Well, one of the reasons that the country has been so polarized over this election and it's got - it's such a big election. That's the thing. It's like, not only are - there's an election for president, but the entire congress - every seat in the congress is up. There's nine governors running races, and there's hundreds of mayoral races. They say it's one of the biggest elections ever in Mexico's history. So there's a lot at stake here.

As you said, there's been a lot of violence, too. More than 130 candidates and politicians have been murdered since last September when the pre-campaigns started for this election. Those are mostly in small towns. Those are where the power structure is really about either organized crime gangs or just powerful families and business interests that are really feeling threatened by this moment of change that is sort of coming over the country and people's fed up with the establishment. We'll have to see if it is discouraging voter participation, especially in small towns.

Where I've been - I've been to three states now. I was in the - Mexico City for a while this morning, and then I moved to the state of Mexico, and now I'm here in the central state of Hidalgo. And we've just seen a constant stream of voters - very tranquil areas where I've been.

MARTIN: Since you mentioned that you've been traveling around, what are voters telling you? What are you hearing from them?

KAHN: You hear a lot that people want change. The number-one issue everybody talks about is violence. They're just really tired of all the violence in the country. The murder rate last year was the highest since record-keeping has been taken. Over 30,000 people were murdered last year. And this year is set to break even more records. And that's what people are most talking about. They want a change.

It's interesting because I picked some places to go where the ruling party still is strong. And the other party, which is known as the PAN Party - it's a conservative party - is strong, especially where I am right now. And people say that they're voting to make sure that - they think Lopez Obrador is going to win the presidency, but they want to make sure that there's opposition in the congress. And that's why they're coming out to vote - to make sure there's checks and balances on his power.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, what about relations with President Trump and the U.S.? Is that playing a role?

KAHN: Well, actually, it hasn't. All three of the major candidates here speak the same about President Trump. They say they're going to demand that he respects Mexico. They are going to stand up to him. Lopez Obrador says he's going to make sure that President Trump respects him and that he will not allow Mexico to become anybody's pinata.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico.

Carrie, thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.