Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential election, setting the stage for the most left-wing government in the country in decades.
An official “quick count” from a national sampling of ballots showed Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, having about 53 percent of the vote, putting him well ahead his main rivals.
Exit polls also showed a decisive victory for 64-year-old veteran candidate, who has pledged to eradicate corruption and subdue drug cartels with a less confrontational approach.
In brief remarks at a hotel in central Mexico City, Lopez Obrador called for reconciliation after a polarising campaign and promised profound change that respects the law and constitutional order.
“I confess that I have a legitimate ambition: I want to go down in history as a good president of Mexico,” said Lopez Obrador, who won after losses in the previous two elections.
“This new national project will seek to establish an authentic democracy and we do not intend to establish a dictatorship,” Lopez Obrador said. “The changes will be profound, but in accordance with established order.”
His main opponents, Ricardo Anaya and the ruling party’s Jose Antonio Meade conceded after congratulating him on the win.
“The people wanted a change,” said Anaya, a former head of the centre-right National Action Party (PAN).
According to the initial results, Anaya is expected to come ahead of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate, Meade, who told supporters he wished Lopez Obrador the “greatest success”.
Lopez Obrador, was seen as the frontrunner in Sunday’s election, coming in ahead of his closest competitor by as many as 20 points in the opinion polls leading up to the election.
Late on Sunday, people streamed into Mexico City’s vast main square, where a stage was set up to receive the victor, with a large screen bearing the words “Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, president.”
Ramon Patino Espino, a biology professor at Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla, said he was was happy to see the end of the PRI government.
“I feel happy because I doubted that I was going to see with my own eyes the decimation of the PRI,” Espino told Al Jazeera.
Lopez Obrador’s victory is a stinging rebuke to the PRI, which has governed Mexico for 77 of the past 89 years.
Espino added that he is optimistic for the country, which has been plagued by violence and corruption.
“I also feel hope, because Lopez Obrador now has the opportunity to start a transition with policies to eradicate corruption, and to fulfill other promises that he made during the campaign,” he said.
Born in Tabasco state, Lopez Obrador first came to global attention as Mexico City mayor, a post he left to run for president in 2006. Narrowly losing, he cried fraud and launched street protests many thought would end his political career.
However, with stubborn self-belief, he began a long journey back to prominence, tirelessly visiting far-flung villages and towns neglected by mainstream politicians for decades.
Pointing to Lopez Obrador’s nationalism, stubborn nature and put-downs of rivals, critics have compared him to US President Donald Trump. Others fear his ambitious proposals for government programmes, without tax increases, may push the country down the path of crisis-hit Venezuela.
“Lopez Obrador is going to be a capricious, controlling, obsessive president,” said Maria Teresa Chavez, a secretary is Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, and a supporter of Ricardo Anaya.
“I’m worried about the future of Mexico, but I think that if we all do our part Mexico can succeed,” she told Al Jazeera.
The lead-up to Sunday’s election was marred by waves of electoral violence. There were more than 130 political killings during the campaign, according to public security policy consultancy firm Etellekt.
Lopez Obrador has said that he alone could end a “mafia of power” and root out corruption. His critics point out, however, that he remains vague on policy details.
Late on Sunday, Obrador also said he will seek “friendship and cooperation” with the US.
US President Trump took to Twitter to congratulate the president-elect on his win.
“I look very much forward to working with him. There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico!” Trump tweeted.
The first high-level contact between Lopez Obrador and the White House is likely to be a phone call on Monday. Earlier on Sunday, Trump raised the prospect of taxing cars imported from Mexico if there are tensions with the new government.
The United States, which has been at odds with Mexico and Canada over the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has launched a probe into whether to slap tariffs on imported autos. Results are expected within months.
How Lopez Obrador handles relations with Trump, who has also sparred with Mexico over the US president’s call for a wall on the US-Mexico border, will help define the new administration which will take office on December 1.
According to a prominent exit poll, Lopez Obrador’s MORENA party allies were poised to score huge wins in the Senate and lower house.
Additional reporting by Simon Schatzberg in Mexico City.