Mexico City (AFP) - Jose Antonio Meade, the presidential candidate trying to keep Mexico's deeply unpopular ruling party in power, insisted Wednesday he can still win the July 1 election despite trailing in the polls.
Meade, a well-respected former finance and foreign minister, is struggling under the baggage of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is so disliked in Mexico these days that it tapped a non-party member as its presidential candidate for the first time in its 89-year history.
After nearly six years of corruption scandals and brutally violent crime under President Enrique Pena Nieto, most voters appear to be looking for change -- either a radical one, in the form of fiery leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (widely known as AMLO), or a more moderate one, in the form of conservative Ricardo Anaya.
Recent polls give Lopez Obrador just over 30 percent of the vote, with Anaya in the 20s and Meade in the teens.
That scenario would make AMLO the winner in Mexico's first-past-the-post election system -- a prospect that makes the business world and the political establishment nervous.
Meade insisted Wednesday his rivals are only ahead because while he was busy serving the country, they were in permanent campaign mode -- Lopez Obrador as a two-time presidential runner-up, Anaya as the former leader of the National Action Party (PAN).
Meade vowed a turnaround once campaign season officially opens on March 30.
"The campaign hasn't even started yet," he said at a briefing with foreign correspondents.
"Honestly, given that we started from zero, as a candidate who had never been on the ballot and never appeared in a campaign ad, we're starting the race in a very competitive position. It would have been impossible to start any better."
He said that while the PRI is being punished as the party in power, voters are also fed up with Lopez Obrador's party, Morena, and Anaya's PAN.
"They're not just angry with one party. They're angry with all of them," he said.
Meade, 48, has to walk a fine line between disowning and defending the unpopular Pena Nieto.
He praised the outgoing administration for leaving a "transformed Mexico" through sweeping reforms in sectors such as energy, education and telecommunications.
But he also admitted shortcomings, especially on the issue of crime.
"I recognize and assume responsibility for the fact that we're in bad shape in terms of security," he said, after 2017 set a record as the most murderous year ever in Mexico, with more than 25,000 homicides.
But he slammed a proposal by Lopez Obrador to grant amnesty to drug traffickers as a "bad idea."
He put forward a his own proposals to fight the violence blamed on the country's powerful drug cartels, including a crackdown on gun trafficking and massive investment in the country's police.