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Mexican presidential election: Why the left is struggling.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the presidential candidate from Mexico's leftist party, is facing an uphill battle for the presidency due to his controversial past and Mexico's unique political history.

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San Cristobal de las Casas, located in the highlands of southern Chiapas state, seems like a logical place for the left to have a sturdy foothold. The city was overtaken by the Zapatista rebels in 1994 who emerged the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect and has since drawn anti-globalization leftists from across the world. It's also home to poor campesinos and indigenous communities.

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The PRD did win the south in the 2006 presidential race, but that is largely because the PRI candidate was considered so weak, analysts say. Now PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto is outshining both the PRD and PAN in preliminary polls, making the left's fight for votes even more of a challenge. According to a poll by the Mexico City-based firm Mitofsky, the PRI has more followers than any of the other parties in Chiapas State.

On the way to San Juan Chamula, in the indigenous highlands near San Cristobal de las Casas, a sign on the road into town reads: “This is PRI territory.” The opinions of residents here show the party’s historic reach.

“We have always been with the PRI,” says Cristobal Collazo, who works in the tourism desk outside the town's famed church where Catholic and ancient Maya rituals are practiced.

For many who make up the PRI’s base, the race seemed to have a foregone conclusion until López Obrador began catching up. Now the man who has moderated his message might find himself painted as a radical by his rivals once again.  In Villahermosa, the steamy capital of Tabasco state, Victoria Garcia Andrade, says she’s with the PRI because she fears the left: “We don't want what happened in other countries, like Cuba or Venezuela,” she says.

Of course, AMLO still has a base of hardcore followers. In fact, when asked why the left has not been able to win, they retort that it has – twice. They are referring to the 2006 race as well as one in 1988 in which the leftist candidate is largely believed to have won. They suspect the PRI of rigging that vote in its own favor.

This year, they hope to at last to see their candidate in the presidential palace, Los Pinos. Gladys Sanchez works at a jewelry shop on one of the main thoroughfares of San Cristobal. She says many people from Chiapas dismiss the PRD because they say it hasn't been in power and thus is not poised to navigate the economic problems and violence of Mexico. But she says the opposite is true. “We have tried the PRI and we have tried the PAN, it is time to give the PRD a chance,” she says.

“We need a change, but a real change.”


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