Who will be Mexico's next president?


Mexico City (AFP)

Wanted: job candidate capable of dealing with a vitriolic Donald Trump, a record murder rate, a messy war on drugs, a sluggish economy and a political system rotting with corruption.

As the campaign kicks off for Mexico's July 1 elections, the country's next president has a long list of problems waiting for him or her.

Here is a look at the four candidates vying for the job:

- Lopez Obrador, the front-runner -

Veteran leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is one of the most divisive figures in Mexican politics.

Making his third presidential bid -- which he vows will be the last -- the man known as "AMLO" has sought to present a mellower side, toning down his fiery attacks on the "mafia of power" and laughing off critics' dire warnings about how he would wreck Latin America's second-largest economy.

When enemies accuse him of ties to Russia, he has slyly turned the insult to irony, donning a Russian ushanka hat and calling himself "Andres Manuelovich."

The former Mexico City mayor can afford to crack jokes: the latest polls give him a comfortable lead.

But Lopez Obrador, 64, also has a knack for shooting himself in the foot.

In 2006, he led for most of the race. Then he lost his cool in the home stretch, insulted the sitting president, Vicente Fox, as a "big-mouth" (loosely translated), and refused to accept defeat when he narrowly lost the race.

He has never hesitated to burn political bridges.

A native of the southern state of Tabasco, he got his start in politics in the 1970s with the ruling PRI party -- now his enemy.

He helped launch a left-wing breakaway, the PRD, in the 1980s, then spurned it to found his own leftist party, Morena, in 2014.

The widower remarried journalist and writer Beatriz Gutierrez Muller in 2006. He has four sons.

The last, Jesus Ernesto, has a name that sums up all his father's contradictions, says the journalist Raymundo Rivapalacio: "a mixture of Jesus Christ and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara."

- Anaya, the 'boy wonder' -

With his slender build and boyish looks, Ricardo Anaya can seem a bit like a teenager who somehow wound up running for president of Mexico. But the 39-year-old's rapid political rise was anything but an accident.

Running for the conservative PAN party, Anaya has mounted a campaign straight out of Silicon valley, roaming an open stage in wire-rimmed glasses, his shirt open at the collar, and promising to address Mexico's problems with innovation and ideas.

Known for his sharp intelligence, Anaya got his start in politics at age 17, when he knocked on the door of a local PAN leader in his hometown, Queretaro, and told her he wanted to work for the party.

"He was very young, very resolute and very aware that he wanted to be doing this instead of going to parties," the politician, Senator Marcela Torres, told AFP.

By 21, Anaya was running for state legislature, by 33 he was elected to Congress, and by 34 he was the speaker of the lower house.

Journalists nicknamed him "the boy wonder" for his rapid rise, his ambition, perfectionism and attention to detail.

Critics say he has a Machiavellian thirst for power, visible in the way he sidelined rivals for the his party's presidential nomination and forged an ideologically messy alliance with the left-wing PRD to boost his chances in the polls.

In characteristically decisive style, Anaya married his first love, his childhood sweetheart Carolina Martinez. They have three children.

- Meade, the regular guy -

Jose Antonio Meade might be remembered as the best president Mexico never had.

A respected technocrat, Meade, 49, has held a series of ministerial posts in both PAN and PRI governments, most recently as President Enrique Pena Nieto's finance minister.

Even many Mexicans who don't plan to vote for him say he is highly qualified for the job.

But he is carrying the very heavy baggage of the deeply unpopular president, and lacks the natural charisma that might have made it lighter.

Ironically, Meade is not a member of the troubled ruling party he is running for, and he could hardly be more different from Pena Nieto.

Where the outgoing president is suave and scripted, with handsome looks and a soap-opera star wife to match, Meade is running as a regular guy who just happens to be a devoted and capable public servant.

He drives his own Honda, eats Mexican "torta" sandwiches, and was known for regularly dropping by the cafeteria at his ministry.

Smart and experienced, he laces his discussions of policy with detailed statistics and history.

"He was a brilliant student," said newspaper columnist Fausto Pretelin, a university classmate. "His intelligence was in a whole other dimension."

Despite it all, Meade has struggled to connect with voters in his first-ever election campaign.

He is married to the artist Juana Cuevas. They have three children.

- Zavala, the first lady scorned -

Former first lady Margarita Zavala angrily quit Anaya's PAN last year, accusing him of refusing to let party members choose their own candidate transparently.

She is now standing as the first independent presidential candidate in Mexico's recent history -- the only one who gathered the required signatures to make it onto the ballot.

Zavala, a former lawmaker and the wife of ex-president Felipe Calderon, has little chance of winning.

But the 50-year-old conservative could steal crucial votes from Anaya.