Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico's presidential frontrunner and the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate, emerged largely unscathed in a televised debate on Sunday night after his adversaries failed to take advantage of an increase in opposition to his bid.

During a two-hour encounter largely devoid of drama, Pena Nieto was barely troubled by his leftist rival Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador, whose recent surge in the polls has added an element of uncertainty to the July 1 vote.

And the jump in support for 2006 runner-up Lopez Obrador has pushed Josefina Vazquez Mota, the ruling National Action Party (PAN) candidate back into third place in most polls.

"[Pena Nieto] has positioned himself as a new, young, dynamic, reformist … it's enormously appealing to an electorate that's overwhelmingly young. I don't think this election is going to be decided on policies .…"

- Eric Olson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center

At least 60,000 people have been killed in drug violence since December 2006, when Felipe Calderon, the Mexican president, ordered a military crackdown on drug cartels. And Josefina Vazquez Mota is struggling to defend PAN's record as violence continues to surge.

Pena Nieto is also drawing attention to the sluggish pace of economic growth in the past decade under PAN rule.

Industrial production has surged in recent months, thanks to some improvement in the US economy. But that also makes Mexico vulnerable to the uncertainties of its northern neighbour.

Among the main concerns shared by Mexicans are high poverty rates and widespread inequality, as well as extensive corruption.

"[Pena Nieto's plan] is a radical one … he's trying to move the political agenda to the centre and yet argue that he is a different candidate from either of the two, putting them on either extreme."

- Ray Walser, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation

Emilio Lozoya, the international affairs coordinator for Pena Nieto, says the candidate plans to reform banking rules, boost domestic lending and liberalise the labour market, and create a new police force to combat drug violence.

"We will continue some of Calderon's policies but we will make them more efficient," Lozoya told Al Jazeera. "In five years more than 50,000 people have lost their lives in our country so we need to reduce violence .... We are absolutely committed not only to continue but to enhance the fight against organised crime."

So is a Pena Nieto victory inevitable in the Mexican presidential elections?

Joining presenter Anand Naidoo on Inside Story Americas to discuss this are: Manuel Camacho Solis, an opposition politician and the former foreign affairs secretary; Ray Walser, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation; and Eric Olson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

"There is a big vacuum in the need to reform the judicial system and the final orientation is the rule of law because otherwise what we are going to be seeing is a lot of cases of violations of human rights."

Manuel Camacho Solis, an opposition politician


  • Enrique Pena Nieto - frontrunner from the opposition PRI party which ruled Mexico for 71 consecutive years
  • Josefina Vazquez Mota - candidate from the PAN ruling party which has ruled Mexico since December 2000, and the first woman from a major party to run for president. She has promised to overhaul labour laws and to shift the security focus away from trafficking and towards victims of drug violence
  • Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador - a leftist candidate who had run for president in 2006. He promises to withdraw the military from the streets within six months, and wants more subsidies for the poor and increased credit access for farmers
  • Gabriel Quadri - a candidate from the New Alliance Party who has little support

Editor's note: This episode of Inside Story Americas first aired on May 07, 2012.

Source: Al Jazeera