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Mexico: Campaigning kicks off in presidential polls

Campaigning has officially begun for Mexico's presidential election on July 1. All four candidates have pledged to tackle corruption, seeking to capitalize on widespread voter discontent with the ruling party.

Mexican presidential hopefuls kicked off their campaigns on midnight Friday, exactly three months before voters head to the polls.

The diving popularity of President Enrique Pena Nieto's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) suggests that many Mexicans — fed up with ongoing corruption, soaring crime and the war on drugs — want a change at the top.

Recent opinion polls give Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, 64, a veteran leftist and former Mexico City mayor, a double-digit lead in the race to succeed Pena Nieto.

Battling it out for second place are Ricardo Anaya (pictured above), 39, of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and former finance minister Jose Antonio Meade, 49, representing the PRI. Independent Margarita Zavala, a former first lady, is polling in fourth spot.

Read moreOpinion: Latin America rings in 2018 election year with populism 

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (L), Ricardo Anaya and Jose Antonio Meade

Leading the field: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (L), Ricardo Anaya and Jose Antonio Meade

Corruption a major election issue

All four candidates have pledged to tackle entrenched political corruption, which has fuelled public anger and led to billions of dollars being diverted away from public services.

Lopez Obrador, or "AMLO" as he is widely known, has promised to set Mexico on a new path. But critics say uncertainty surrounding his policies could hurt business.

Controversially, he has hinted at plans to reverse Pena Nieto's landmark privatization of the energy sector, abandon construction on a new airport for Mexico City and restart negotiations on an updated NAFTA trade deal with the United States and Canada from scratch. This is his third bid for the presidency.

Read moreNegotiators meet to update NAFTA 

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Anaya and Zavala launched their campaigns with midnight rallies in Mexico City. Lopez Obrador and Meade will hold their first big events on Sunday.

"We have three candidates who represent the snare of money in politics, the politics of corruption," Zavala told her supporters.

Addressing his rally, Anaya said he would seek solutions to end insecurity, inequality, and corruption.

"Mexico is going to change," Anaya told the crowd of cheering young people. "This corrupt government has its days numbered."

Read moreThe war on drugs: Pena Nieto's Herculean task

Margarita Zavala

Margarita Zavala launches her presidential bid flanked by her husband, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon

PAN vs PRI

Anaya, the youngest in the race, has sought to paint himself as a forward-thinking fresh face in Mexican politics. But his reputation has been tarnished by corruption allegations related to his family's suspected involvement in a money laundering scheme.

Meade has been particularly vocal about the case, prompting accusations from Anaya that the story is part of a concerted campaign by the ruling party to discredit him.

"There's an open war between the PRI and the PAN," Mexican political analyst Jose Antonio Crespo told Agence France Presse, adding that Lopez Obrador would be difficult to beat.

"They're hitting each other so hard they're both falling down, leaving Lopez Obrador a wide-open path to victory." 

Around 88.3 million people are eligible to vote in the polls in three months' time. Whoever ends up leading the country for the next six years faces several significant challenges, including a lagging economy, a war with powerful drug cartels, and tense relations with the United States under President Donald Trump.

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nm/bw (Reuters, AFP)

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