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Highlights from Mexico’s 1st presidential debate

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Five presidential candidates in Mexico take the stage for the first of three debates. Photo: Facebook

Mexico City — The July 1 general election was propelled Sunday by the first of three presidential debates that will conclude in Mérida.

The face-off between five candidates focused on themes of insecurity, violence and democracy.

The frontrunner, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, was pounced on by his rivals, hoping to knock down his 22-point lead in a recent Reforma newspaper poll.

The trailing candidates put Lopez Obrador on the defensive without luring him out into an open verbal brawl, Reuters observed. A Dallas Morning News analyst said “he also seemed tired, speaking in a slow, monotone voice, though sure of himself.”

Attacked for a pledge to offer criminals amnesty, Lopez Obrador was quick to rephrase his promise.

“Amnesty does not mean impunity … We have to attend to the original problems that led to the issue” such as combating poverty, Lopez said, in Spanish.

AMLO, as the leading candidate is known, deflected the attacks when he displayed a graphic showing him with a 48 percent favorability rating in the Reforma newspaper’s poll last week.

“I don’t mean to brag,” but “something terrible has to happen” for us not to win, he told the audience and three moderators.

Lopez Obrador largely played it safe, repeating well-worn stump speech lines, wrote a reporter for Agence France-Presse. His more strident campaigns in 2006 and 2012 failed when conservative sectors compared him to Venezuela’s then-President Hugo Chavez, whose socialist policies are blamed for his country’s economic implosion.

As his rivals continued to pile on, the former Mexico City mayor, 64. rarely responded directly to criticism.

“Obviously everyone’s against me, ganging up on me, look,” said AMLO about a quarter of the way into the debate when his patience seemed to wear thin.

Other highlights:

  • Jose Antonio Meade (PRI) has devoted much of his time battling Ricardo Anaya (PAN-PRD) for second place in the polls. Meade, 49, called Lopez Obrador a “puppet of criminals” and described his political party as a “family business.” But Meade didn’t seem to help himself during the debate, “rarely, if ever, landing a punch,” said Alfredo Corchado, a border-Mexico correspondent for the Dallas newspaper.
  • Anaya has also weathered attacks. The PRI has accused him of laundering money in a 2014-2016 property deal, but he quickly rejected the allegations again to turn his fire back on the frontrunner on Sunday. “Our coalition is the only one that can beat Lopez Obrador,” Anaya said during his closing remarks.
  • Struggling to stay relevant, independent candidate Margarita Zavala seemed eloquent but distant during the debate, said Corchado.
  • Another independent, Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez, the governor of Nuevo Leon, started a sideshow when he promised to cut off criminals’ hands.
  • A Televisa panel of journalists reached no consensus after the debate. Soledad Loaeza said the evening contained no surprises. Héctor Aguilar Camín and Leo Zuckermann thought Anaya won, but “that will have no consequences,” Aguilar Camín said. Roy Campos said López Obrador won the debate.

Sunday night’s presidential debate was the first of three face-offs. The next debate will take place Sunday, May 20 at 8 p.m. in Tijuana, and will focus on border security, foreign policy and immigration.

Mérida hosts the final debate at 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, and the topic will be the economy. Candidates will gather at El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, putting Mérida’s modern museum in the national spotlight.

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