Mexico City, Mexico - Official campaigning for Mexico’s presidential election has come to an end, with leading candidates staging final rallies aimed at gaining momentum ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Enrique Pena Nieto, former governor of Mexico State and candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), held a wide lead over his rivals, according to opinion polls released on Wednesday.
"We are ahead in the polls, but we can't let ourselves be over-confident,” Nieto told thousands of cheering supporters in the city of Toluca.
“We have to redouble our efforts in a free, reasoned and reliable way […] in order to achieve the triumph that we want on July 1."
Newspaper El Universal conducted the final voter survey on Wednesday that showed Pena Nieto rising 4.2 percentage points to 41.2 per cent from a poll published on June 18.
A victory for Pena Nieto would see a return to power of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for most of the last century.
Married to a soap-opera star, Nieto considers himself the new face of the PRI. The party laid the foundations for modern Mexico, but late in its rule became known for widespread corruption, vote-rigging and heavy-handed repression of dissent.
Electoral law mandates that campaigning must end before midnight on Wednesday local time in the lead up to Sunday’s vote.
Wednesday's opinion poll gave Nieto a 17.4-point lead over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former Mexico City mayor and 2006 runner-up, who rose 0.3 percentage points to 23.8 per cent.
Hundreds of thousands rallied in the capital for Lopez Obrador, candidate of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Participants cautioned against believing the opinion polls.
“The media is manipulated, that’s why they say [Enrique] Pena Nieto is the front runner,” Patricia Gabriella Sanchez, a mother of two attending the PRD rally with her family, told Al Jazeera. “I want a change for the country. There is too much corruption. Obrador is the candidate who is most clean.”
His support is particularly strong in the capital, where voters are traditionally more liberal than in other regions.
Analysts say the biggest election issues are the economy, security and clean government.
Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate of the ruling National Action Party (PAN), trailed in third place with 20.6 per cent, a drop of a 0.8 percentage point from the previous survey.
Vazquez Mota, who on Wednesday night rallied supporters in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, is seeking to become Mexico's first woman president.
“She has one more shot of trying to convince voters that she should be Mexico’s first female president,” said Al Jazeera’s Rachel Levin, reporting from Guadalajara, as PAN supporters filed into a stadium for the rally.
Two other polls published on Wednesday, which marks the final day of campaigning, gave the PRI candidate a lead of between 10 to 16 points over Lopez Obrador.
Pena Nieto's PRI ruled Mexico between 1929 until 2000, when it lost to the PAN in a presidential election.
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The PAN's victory was hailed as a triumph of democracy, but its record on the economy and its failure to contain violent crime appears to have opened the door to a return by the PRI.
President Felipe Calderon Mexico’s current president from the PAN, is deeply unpopular with voters for his policies related to the war on drugs.
More than 50,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence since Calderon sent the army to battle cartels in December 2006. Insecurity seems to be worsening in many regions and voters have taken out their anger on Mota, who is polling in third place.
Candidates do not have many specific campaign promises on how to improve security or the economy.
“Pena Nieto insists on six per cent economic growth per year; he is entirely committed to this project,” Cesar Camacho, president of the Colosio foundation, a PRI-linked think-tank, told Al Jazeera. Economic growth last year was around four per cent. If elected Nieto will “reform” PEMEX, the national oil company, Camacho said, in order to seek more outside investment.
Obrador wants higher taxes on mining companies, a national old age pensions system (he enacted a similar programme for residents of the capital when he was mayor) and national construction programmes to stimulate economic growth.
“I am here for change,” Jose Ramoz, a PRD supporter who attended Obrador’s rally, told Al Jazeera.
Fear of fraud
Recent polls also suggest the PRI could win a majority in both the Senate and Congress in Sunday’s vote.
That would help strengthen its mandate to push through fiscal and energy reforms that have stalled under Calderon.
Lopez Obrador lost the 2006 election to Calderon in a tight finish and contested the results, staging months of protests and unnerving investors in Latin America's second-largest economy.
He has stirred up fears of a repeat of the chaos, accusing the PRI of trying to rig the vote, although any protests are to be shortlived if Pena Nieto wins by a wide margin.
A close result would raise the risk of demonstrations, particularly as Lopez Obrador has the support of a newly emerged student movement that shook up the campaign with huge rallies.