This Sunday Mexicans go to the polls to choose their next president, who will serve a non-renewable six-year term known as a sexeño. Who are the three candidates and what do they stand for?
The three main candidates have been trudging the campaign trail for three grueling months. It honed and hardened them for two televised debates in which they verbally sideswiped each other with relish.
Night by night we saw their public faces on television, while on the streets in the metro stations and on swirling overhead banners, their portraits were often defaced, with blackened-out teeth, false moustaches and eyes bored out.
But who are the real people behind these public masks? Colleagues and friends, privy to varying degrees of closeness with them, are determined to be supportive and not drop any last minute clangers, but every now and then the veneer slips for a moment…or two.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the Candidate for the leftist Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). A former Mayor of Mexico City, he ran for the presidency six years ago, and was pipped at the post by a razor thin 0.56 percent margin.
Protesting activists loyal to him then occupied tents along 12 kilometers of Avenida Reforma - Mexico City's main thoroughfare, for three months. Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, swears that he's since matured and mellowed.
Founder of PRD, son of a famous president and three times presidential contender in his own right, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas has known AMLO since 1988. "He's a very good organizer. It's also easy for him to talk with people. He's a good listener and a good communicator. Andres Manuel is a hard worker. All day long he can do any activity related to politics," Cardenas told DW.
"I think he's a little stubborn. We all are, but I think he's a little more so than most of us. When he decides to do something, he goes straight. He doesn't turn around or reflect, think or discuss with others, if that's the right decision, or not the right decision," he adds.
Lorenzo Meyer, a professor of political history at the prestigious College of Mexico, also knows AMLO well. "He's not interested in making money. He's interested in leading a political force that will change Mexico. His way of looking at the World is permeated by politics. He's a leftist who believes in God and he has a duty. If he fails in this world, his conscience will be as clean as a whistle, because he tried to do the right thing," Meyer told DW.
Josefina Vazquez Mota is the first-ever woman presidential candidate for a major political party, the right of center National Action Party, known as the PAN. It's supplied the country's last two presidents. She's gained experience as the Minister of Social Development and the Secretary of Education. Happily married, she wrote a self-help book for women, with the alarming title, "My God, make me a widow."
Miguel Szeckely who's worked with Josefina for more than 10 years in government, is her coodinator of public policy in this campaign. He and others have worked hard to balance the gender issue, as it's virgin Mexican political territory. Szeckely insists his boss is a strong and astute woman.
"She is very self-confident, which allows her to invite people into her team that might be better than her in some dimensions. But she doesn't feel threatened in doing this. Josefina is very good at bringing people together and getting the best out of them in very specific jobs. She has incredible energy and motivation bringing this to the rest of the people, so you end up with adrenaline at a very high level," he told DW.
Dr Francisco Schnass is the Head of Psychiatry at the ABC Hospital in Mexico City, and an expert profiler. He welcomes Josefina Vazquez Mota's pioneering candidacy as a breakthrough in Mexican politics. He describes her as having led a stable life, and as the most secure of the three. "She may not be the best speaker, she may not have the best campaign, but I think she's the most trustworthy of the three."
Not last nor least, there's frontrunner Enirque Peña Nieto of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI. PRI presidents ruled Mexico for 71 years, until the year 2000. Blessed with film star good looks, Peña Nieto did well as the Governor of the State of Mexico, gaining prestige.
Some mischievous Mexican rough and tumble media have delighted in trying to simultaneously knock him off the front runner's pedestal and then trip him up. He struggled to match authors to novels at a book fair, and when asked how much a kilo of tortillas costs, conceded that he isn't a housewife. He also got a rough reception at a private university, which has since spawned an opposition student movement.
Robust and resolute, this hasn't really dented his lead in the polls, or diverted his publically avowed intention to realize Mexico's lagging potential on many fronts.
Lorenzo Meyer reflects: "Enrique Peña Nieto is relatively young, has good looks and he's supported by a very disciplined group of politicians from the State of Mexico. He's the product of this political elite. We have to accept that he's worked hard, that he knows how to play the role of a candidate, has lots of money and he's surrounded himself with intelligent people. The rest of the political class that belongs to PRI accepts him as the leader. And so he's about to fulfill his dream."
Pena the perfectionist?
One intelligent and disciplined person in Peña Nieto's campaign team is Senior Advisor Francisco Guzman who's worked with him for a decade.
"Enrique Peña Nieto is quite a formal guy, who's strict with his agenda, but he's fun to be with. He's a perfectionist who's very results orientated. Enrique Peña Nieto is a modernizer. He's a man of the future," Guzman told DW.
As for criticism constructive and destructive, Francisco Guzman confides: "He says if you don't like the heat, you shouldn't be in the kitchen, and he's pretty much used to the heat. Enrique Peña Nieto is a good listener and at learning from specialized people, in terms of grasping their proposals and their needs. We look forward to having major structural changes in pretty much all areas of society."
Author: James Blears, Mexico City
Editor: Rob Mudge