Mexico candidate pledges no mercy as election campaign heats up

Monday , March 12, 2018 - 11:35 AM

Nacha Cattan

(c) 2018, Bloomberg.

Mexican presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya, who’s polling in second place ahead of the July vote, said that if elected he’ll do everything he can to ensure that incumbent Enrique Pena Nieto and members of his administration are investigated for corruption.

“We will have a full investigation into the corruption of the government, and we’ll take it to its ultimate consequences,” Anaya said in an interview in his campaign office in Mexico City. “The full political will, in this case of the president, will absolutely be used.”

The 39-year-old Anaya has enjoyed a surge in support this year since winning the nomination for the business-friendly PAN party. Polls suggest he’s the strongest mainstream challenger to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist who’s held a clear lead for months. Anaya’s promise to go after Pena Nieto and the PRI marks a new contrast with Lopez Obrador, who’s suggested that he would leave any investigations to an independent judiciary if he wins, and talked about forgiveness and reconciliation.

Anaya’s more combative approach could energize voters against a deeply unpopular ruling party -- or could mobilize the PRI’s well-oiled machine against him (which may be happening already) in what is increasingly a two-horse race. The candidate from Pena Nieto’s PRI group is currently running a distant third, weighed down by the corruption scandals surrounding the party.

There’s also been criticism that Anaya’s promise of presidential involvement in corruption probes would amount to an interference in the judiciary. The candidate says that executive power is needed to make the investigation effective.

“The governing body doesn’t have any right to pardon anyone who’s committed acts of corruption,” Anaya said in his first sit-down interview with English-language press since he sought the nomination. He called his attitude to the corruption cases as a “defining topic” that separates him from Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador’s campaign and Pena Nieto’s press office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Anaya has begun attacking Lopez Obrador more directly on other topics as well. It’s a sign he’s shifting from defending himself against PRI party candidate Jose Antonio Meade, to prepping for a showdown with Lopez Obrador.

The leftist frontrunner has “a profoundly authoritarian disposition” that could prove dangerous for Mexico’s democracy and economy, Anaya said. There’s a risk that he could make poor decisions that would trigger capital outflows and a plunging currency, he said. “That’s just what a man filled with contradictions and antiquated ideas can provoke.”

Anaya cited Lopez Obrador’s call for agricultural price-controls, and attacked his failure to condemn the economic record of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro -- a stance he called “truly retrograde, absurd and inconsistent.”

It was partly an appeal to history. In 2006, Felipe Calderon -- a candidate from the PAN, like Anaya -- defeated Lopez Obrador to win Mexico’s presidency. Calderon came back from a substantial poll deficit after comparing his rival to Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chavez.

Anaya is presenting himself as the last hope for voters who are both fed up with the incumbent -- after numerous corruption scandals dogged the administration -- and also fearful of a populist like Lopez Obrador.

Yet he’s also found common ground with both. Anaya has praised the PRI government’s NAFTA negotiating team, and said he’d keep some of its members. His economic adviser has also echoed Lopez Obrador’s pledge to double the minimum wage, though Anaya told Bloomberg that the proposal still needs to be reviewed to ensure inflation doesn’t spiral out of control.

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