University students launched a series of anti-Pena Nieto marches in the final weeks of the campaign, arguing that his party hasn't changed since its days in power
Pena Nieto says his party has abandoned the heavy-handed ways of the past and will govern in an open and pluralistic manner, and many say the PRI would not be able to reimpose its once near-total control even if it wanted to because of changes in society, the judiciary and Congress.
"The context has changed dramatically," said Rodrigo Salazar, a professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Mexico City. "Society isn't the same. It's a very critical society, a very demanding society, with a strong division of powers."
The final pre-election polls on Wednesday, the last day they could legally be published, showed Pena Nieto with a lead ranging from 8 to 17 percentage points.
Mario Garcia, a 21-year-old criminal justice student, lined up to vote in the city of Atlacomulco at the same polling station where Pena Nieto was casting his ballot. "Ask anyone here and they will tell you they are going to vote for Pena Nieto. We are all of the PRI," Garcia said.
Several voters complained that the polling station opened 51 minutes late, and said election officials there were disorganized.
"They are still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes," said Maria Guadalupe Monroy. "Just imagine if Pena Nieto had voted at 8 in the morning (when the polls were scheduled to open). What would they have done?"
Lopez Obrador, 58, was a center-leftist as Mexico City mayor and pioneered some programs that Pena Nieto emulated in the neighboring State of Mexico, such as local pensions for the elderly. But he alienated many voters with his refusal to recognize the narrow victory of National Action's Felipe Calderon in 2006, declaring himself "legitimate president" and mounting protests that gridlocked much of the capital for weeks.
He remained confident Sunday. "We are going to win the election," Lopez Obrador said before voting in southern Mexico City. "Tonight, there will be a national civic celebration."
"Mexico is no longer for moving backward," he said. "People want a real change."
Lopez Obrador says he wants to keep state control over the national oil company, make Mexico self-sufficient in energy and food production, and fund new social spending and jobs programs by cutting waste and corruption, not by raising taxes.
Vazquez Mota, 51, is a former secretary of education and social development in the conservative administrations of President Vicente Fox and his successor, Calderon. She campaigned on the slogan, "different," but has struggled to distinguish herself from Calderon while maintaining the support of the party's power structure.
She has pledged to continue Calderon's war on drug cartels, increase penalties for public corruption and ease rules on hiring and firing employees in order to spur economic growth. On the last day of campaigning, she even promised to make Calderon her attorney-general if elected.
"Now it's the citizens' decision," Vazquez Mota said as she walked into a Mexico City polling station to cast her vote, accompanied by her husband and their three daughters. She hugged and kissed several children gathered at the polling station before being whisked away in an SUV.
Angel Guzman, a 49-year-old businessman, said he was voting for Vazquez Mota because he thought the PAN could better manage the economy. "I'm afraid that business will be derailed, that there will be an economic crisis, devaluations" if the PRI wins," Guzman said at the same polling place where his candidate voted.
The latest polls showed Pena Nieto favored by 32.2 percent to 41.2 percent of voters, in polls with margins of error ranging from 2.5 to 3 percent.
Lopez Obrador had support ranging from 23.8 to 25.4 percent. Josefina Vazquez Mota had 18.8 to 20.8 percent.
Also running is Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, 57, the candidate of the New Alliance Party, which has links to the powerful teacher's union. His poll support remains in the low single digits.
Mexicans are also electing 500 members of the lower house of Congress and 128 senators.
Voters will also select Mexico City's mayor and governors in the states of Chiapas, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Morelos, Tabasco and Yucatan. The president is elected for a single six-year term and cannot stand for re-election.
Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson, Adriana Gomez Licon, and Carlos Rodriguez contributed to this report from Mexico City, and Gloria Perez from Atlacomulco, Mexico.
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