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Mexico votes amid violence with hopes for change

Voters in Mexico’s largest ever election Sunday cast ballots for 3,400 local, state and federal officials including president, bringing to a close a violent election season. While the results could further complicate tense relations with the U.S., campaigns there were more focused on corruption, assault and poverty. NewsHour’s Nick Schifrin joins Hari Sreenivasan from Mexico City.

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    Trade is one of the areas of tension between the United States and Mexico. The other is immigration. But in Mexico it is election day: the largest election in the country's history. That includes a new president and more than 3,000 other local, state and federal officials. The issues on the minds of voters there have little to do with the U.S. Here's our foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin reports.


    In this middle class neighborhood, Mexicans upset by widespread corruption and violence started voting early. For almost a century, Mexico's only known two establishment parties. The 25 year old Ethel Vasquez voted for a new leftist party that's expected to sweep.


    AMLO signifies a new approach. I've tried the PAN party, I've tried the PRI party and I'm going to try the new candidate to see if things can improve.


    AMLO is 64 year old Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, widely known by his initials, AMLO. In 2006 he ran for president, promising social programs for the poor. He lost by less than a percent, and his supporters occupied parts of Mexico City for two months. He ran and lost again in 2012. But this election he started a new party and has broadened his appeal among urban, middle class voters by expressing rage at the establishment.


    We're going up against the Mafia of power. They're sneaky. They don't want to stop robbing and they don't want to lose. Tatiana Clouthier is Lopez Obrador's campaign manager.


    He's a radical when he talks about corruption. If being radical means sitting on the side of the persons, that the persons that have bigger needs in the country–if that is being radical, I think he's a radical.


    AMLO's opponents use the word radical against him. PRI party candidate Jose Antonio Meade warns AMLO is a threat to Mexico's nascent democracy. 39-year-old PAN party candidate Ricardo Anaya says AMLO represents old failed policies–criticism echoed by 29-year-old voter André Gutierrez.


    I really don't believe in Lopez Obrador, because I don't believe his proposals about anti-corruption when he's one of the most corrupt persons in the country.


    But polls show most voters consider AMLO anti-elite and anti-corruption, and reject his opponents because of anger. Anger at violence. In the last 12 years, 250-thousand Mexicans have been killed. And this year more than 100 politicians have been murdered, including one who vowed to take on a cartel, and was shot in the head. And anger at government corruption, like the son of a Mexican ambassador showing off on Instagram in a country where 43 percent of the country lives below the poverty line. 34-year-old Joceleyn Dzol voted for AMLO.


    He's definitely a change. To look after the poor, for those of us who are in need, who pay taxes all the time and are trying to get ahead, but are still living hand to mouth.


    And today the hands of voters upset with the status quo are expected to choose an untested party and (vo-AMLO) an untested man, hoping he can deliver where his predecessors failed.


    Nick Schifrin joins us now from Mexico City outside a polling station. Nick, as you point out in your story, Lopez Obrador is painting himself as the outsider not affiliated with any of these parties. How radical is he?


    Well, his opponents say he's radical in two ways. One, in 2006 after he lost for the first time, he launched widespread protests that really occupied some parts of Mexico City, and he called for alternative institutions, alternative government, and his opponents say that he doesn't respect or support Mexican institutions. And number two, he's calling for the redirection of money to the poor through things like pensions, scholarships, apprenticeships, even free fertilizer for farmers. And his opponents say that that is unaffordable and he's going to drive Mexico into default. And his campaign has said that no, he's softened, since he's been running multiple times for president and that he respects Mexican institutions, and also that he's a "fiscal moderate," in the words of his campaign manager. And Hari, if that's the case, it's an open question whether he can be both a fiscal moderate and fulfill all of those campaign promises which will cost billions.


    And what about the tensions that Mexico's had with the Trump administration? What are his policies likely to be toward the United States?


    Yeah, he's called for moderation. In his final campaign speech this past week he called for dialogue with President Trump and he's wanted to, or he said he has wanted to work with President Trump so long as he receives "respect" from President Trump. And there's an open question though of how helpful he'll be with the U.S., whether he will continue some of the security cooperation that we've seen between the U.S. and Mexico, leading Mexico to cut off some of the routes that Central Americans take to the U.S. border. Also questions about NAFTA: Lopez Obrador has said that he might be willing to be, or to go without NAFTA, but he's been very vague on both of those proposals and that's the bottom line. That we don't necessarily know how he's going to treat the U.S. and Mexicans don't necessarily know about all of his policies within Mexico or toward the U.S. That's just another sign, Hari, that the inspiration that Mexicans feel is less about the details of his policy and more about anger: anger at corruption, anger at violence. And choosing, not so much him, but choosing against the establishment parties.


    All right. Nick Schifrin joining us from Mexico City tonight. He'll have all the latest tomorrow on The Newshour. Thanks so much.


    Thanks, Hari.

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