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The Populist Who's Promised To Transform Mexico Is Set To Be Its Next President

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the frontrunner for weeks, led his nearest opponent by nearly 20 points in the preliminary vote count.

Posted on July 1, 2018, at 9:45 p.m. ET

Pedro Mera / Getty Images

ATLACOMULCO, Mexico — The first official preliminary results in Mexico’s historic election show leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador with a significant advantage, election officials said Sunday evening.

According to the initial count, López Obrador won 45.8% of the vote, nearly 20% more than his closest rival, Ricardo Anaya. Both Anaya and candidate José Antonio Meade, trailing in third, conceded defeat to López Obrador shortly after the preliminary result was announced.

The results leave López Obrador slated to be the next president of Mexico, crowning a 12-year-long campaign that took him to the most remote corners of the country several times. Sunday's results line up with the image he’s projected through the race: a dogged man convinced that his calling is to change Mexico’s history.

If his victory is confirmed, it would upend a political system that has been in place since the years following the Mexican Revolution and usher into power a leftist party founded four years ago, led by a three-time candidate who has vowed to transform the country as profoundly as independence did.

Mexicans under the age of 89 have spent most of their lives governed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, which ruled autocratically during much of the 20th century and again over the last six years. The National Action Party, or PAN, held power for 12 years at the turn of this century. Neither proved able to fix the country’s growing problems: entrenched corruption, record homicide rates as a result of the drug war, and a tumbling economy.

López Obrador, who had two unsuccessful presidential runs, capitalized on this widespread discontent. Morena, the party he founded in 2014, has little governing experience — but it does have a clean slate.

There was “a massive turnout,” said Lorenzo Córdova, president of the National Electoral Institute, during a TV appearance two hours after voting centers closed.

Should his triumph be confirmed, López Obrador will inherit a country at war with itself, with at least 136,000 people murdered in the last six years, and in a volatile relationship with the United States.

The announcement of the preliminary results capped a day that was uncharacteristically calm, especially given record levels of violence during the campaign season. In Atlacomulco, the cradle of the PRI, people formed neat lines at a polling station in the town center and got their shoes shined before going to Mass.

Alicia Pacheco, 37, asked a bystander to take a photograph of her and her family raising their thumbs, which had been stained with ink as part of a long-standing practice to avoid electoral fraud.

The problems in the country are so complex that “it will not be a matter of one administration. For now, it will not be a total change,” said Pacheco.

Polls had predicted a sweeping López Obrador victory for months. His closest rival, Anaya of the PAN, trailed behind him by about 25% in one of the last polls before the vote.

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