Voters in Mexico go to the polls tomorrow after an ugly and vitriolic presidential election campaign and with the outcome between the two leading candidates too close to call.
The last opinion poll permitted under electoral law gave a tiny lead to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist former mayor of Mexico City, over his rival, Felipe Calderón, a former energy minister who studied at Harvard. Both have about 35 points, with a third candidate, Roberto Madrazo, trailing in third place with less than 25 points.
Some observers believe the race is so tight that whatever the outcome it is possible the result will be contested by the loser.
Mr López Obrador, the candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), resigned last year as mayor of the nation's teeming capital city to run for president with the slogan: "For the Good of Everyone, the Poor First". He has promised to invest in social programmes and job creation, something desperately needed in a country where 20 per cent of the population lives in poverty and where economic inequality is rife.
Mr Calderon, 43, of the National Action Party (PAN) - the party of the incumbent President, Vicente Fox - offers a different vision for the country, saying he will create jobs through private investment and will continue the country's current tight fiscal policy and its pro-business, neo-liberal approach. Mr Calderon was briefly a minister in Mr Fox's administration before he quit to launch his own campaign - much to the incumbent's consternation - in which he has called himself "the disobedient son".
The attacks against Mr López have been particularly vicious and persistent, with his opponents seeking to scare voters by portraying him as being in the mould of Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected leader of Venezuela, and claiming both men are autocrats.
The nation's most important business group has released advertisements claiming Mr López's welfare plans will leave the country bankrupt and destitute. It has been reported that the decision to "go negative" was taken at the suggestion of campaign advisers from the US.
Mr Lopez Obrador, 52, who had an approval rating of 80 per cent when he resigned as mayor, has hit back at claims that he would undermine democracy. He told The New York Times: "It's not true. One must respect the institutions. I am in favour of the division and the balance of powers."
He described the business interests who have campaigned against him as "white-collar criminals", saying at a recent rally: "What are they afraid of? That they'll lose their privileges? I would tell them 'Calm down, be serene, nothing's going to happen.' Vengeance is not my force. I'm not going to invent crimes. We're not going to hunt down anyone. The only thing that will happen is that Mexico will not be a country of privileges."
Michael Lettieri, an analyst with the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, said the rhetoric of the campaign had polarised voters. "Calderon would not have got back into the campaign if he had not gone negative. And it worked," he said. "But the trouble is what it does for after July 2. It is going to be very difficult for whoever wins."
The campaign has taken place against a backdrop of unrest and some violence. In the past three months the government has violently suppressed a serious of strikes involving steelworkers, street vendors and teachers.Reuse content