State elections set to offer relief for harried Mexican president

June 2, 2019

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s president is expected to score comfortable election wins on Sunday in the first test of his popularity since taking office, despite a weak economy, rampant violence and troubled relations with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party is tipped for victory in state gubernatorial races in Baja California on the U.S. border and in the central region of Puebla, the two biggest posts among dozens up for grabs.

Opinion polls give his leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) a commanding lead against a divided opposition in both states, even as clouds have gathered on the horizon because of a potentially calamitous trade row with Trump.

Trump said on Thursday that he would hit all Mexican exports to the United States with an escalating 5% tariff from June 10 unless Mexico stops a surge in illegal immigrants from Central America reaching the U.S. border.

Lopez Obrador sent his foreign minister to Washington to try to broker an accord, and hinted on Saturday that he could agree to toughen migration controls to reach a deal, forecasting “good results” from bilateral talks due next week.

Around 80% of Mexico’s exports go to the United States, giving Trump plenty of leverage to put pressure on Lopez Obrador, who took office in December.

Since assuming the presidency, Lopez Obrador has repeatedly vowed to root out political corruption, which he says is a legacy of his adversaries’ years in power.

Disheartened and disorganized, the opposition has yet to recover public trust in spite of concern about Lopez Obrador’s economic management and his polarizing instincts.

Indeed, some prominent figures from the main opposition parties have declared their support for MORENA.

Lopez Obrador’s fight against graft has yet to show tangible results, but this week the government began stepping up a major probe into suspected financial wrongdoing by a former boss of struggling state oil company Pemex.

Still, the 65-year-old’s efforts to run a tight budget have caused shortfalls in public services, and helped prompt the first major resignation from his government last month.

His abrupt decisions on economic policy and doubts about the future of Pemex have rattled financial markets, and the economy contracted 0.2% quarter-on-quarter during the first quarter.

Meanwhile, murders are on track to surpass last year’s record of nearly 29,000, official data show.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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