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Mexico: Who is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador?

The veteran leftist politician leads the opinion polls as Mexicans head to the ballot boxes on Sunday.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador heads into Sunday's presidential election in Mexico as the clear favourite.

The veteran leftist politician is riding a wave of populist support as he makes his third attempt at the presidency. 

A recent survey by the local newspaper Reforma and Radio Centro gave the former Mexico City mayor 51 percent support. Lopez Obrador's competitor, conservative National Action Party (PAN) candidate Ricardo Anaya, received 27 percent support, and Jose Antonio Meade from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) received 19 percent. 

For 13 years, Lopez Obrador crisscrossed the nation in a pursuit of its highest office.

Commonly known as AMLO, 65-year-old Lopez Obrador bounced back from two presidential election defeats, two gubernatorial losses and a 2013 heart attack, defying his critics with an unshakeable faith in his ability to tackle Mexico's maladies.

"We're the only ones that can put an end to corruption in Mexico," Lopez Obrador told supporters this year in Cintalapa, a town in the impoverished south of the country.

A long political career

Born in 1953 to a family of modest means in the southeastern state of Tabasco, Lopez Obrador worked for the state's indigenous affairs bureau in the 1970s. 

He was a member of outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto's PRI, but he quit the party in the late 1980s. 

He lost in Tabasco's governor race two times.

In 1994, after his second loss, he staged a protest march to the capital, helping raise his profile, especially during a time of growing opposition to the PRI. 

In 2000, he was elected mayor of Mexico City, where his administration was widely viewed as pragmatic, providing a springboard for his first bid at the presidency.

He ran for president in 2006 on promises to "put the poor first". Opponents likened him to then-President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and launched a campaign branding him "a danger for Mexico".

Fierce opposition from business groups may have cost him an election, which was decided by a razor-thin margin. After the loss, he claimed the system had been rigged against him.

He then brought large swaths of the capital to a standstill for weeks with huge demonstrations and declared himself the legitimate president of Mexico.

The protests fizzled out and he began campaigning all over Mexico, speaking in villages that had not seen political leaders in years, sometimes to only a handful of people, according to Polimnia Romana Sierra, one of his aides from 2003 to 2011.

"He spoke with the same energy under a tree in front of 10 people as he did in the full Zocalo," Sierra said, referring to the square in the heart of Mexico City that holds about 100,000 people. "Nobody works the microphone like him."

Lopez Obrador went back on the road after losing the presidential race again in 2012. 

He formed a new party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), and by 2015, he was seen by many as someone who seemed poised to win the next election.

As support for the PRI dropped over corruption scandals, record levels of violence and economic growth that fell short of expectations, Lopez Obrador's stature grew.

"I can handle the dirt roads better now," a laughing Lopez Obrador told an audience of university students in April of this year. 

Part of that transformation has been attributed to Lopez Obrador's wife, Beatriz Gutierrez, a feminist who has broadened his appeal among female voters in Mexico.

His critics

While Lopez Obrador has a significant number of supporters, he has remained a controversial figure. Some of his critics still fear he could become a Mexican version of Hugo Chavez.

Jorge Castaneda, Mexico's ex-chancellor and Ricardo Anaya's campaign coordinator said that AMLO "represents a return to the nationalism of the 70s of the last century". Castaneda also claims that AMLO believes in old-fashioned protectionism, statism and subsidies. 

However, in an effort to appease the business leaders of Mexico, Lopez Obrador has promised there will be "no expropriations, no nationalisations". He has promised his social programmes will be funded entirely by the money saved from stamping out corruption. In doing so, he says, he will not have to raise taxes. 

His critics question the feasibility of the plans and contend the proposals lack concrete details. 

Lopez Obrador has also said reviews of contracts under the energy reform would seek only to guarantee they were not won through corruption.

Castaneda also claims that "people don't go to his rallies or listen or believe in him because he speaks intelligently or eloquently or with charisma.

"They go because of what he represents, the end of the [existing political] system."


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