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Leftist Candidate Is Victorious In Mexico's Presidential Election

NOEL KING, HOST:

Mexicans have elected a populist leftist as their new president. His anti-corruption, anti-establishment message struck a chord with an electorate that is angry over skyrocketing violence. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador beat out his top two rivals. Early counts show he won more than half of the vote. He promises to clean up Mexico's corruption, help the poor and the elderly and have a cooperative, respectful relationship with the United States. NPR's Carrie Kahn is with us now from Mexico City, where celebrations continued into the early hours of this morning. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

KING: So this was Lopez Obrador's third time running for president. He was not successful in the past. And now he's got an overwhelming win. What changed?

KAHN: I think two things changed. Mexico is very different - and so was candidate Lopez Obrador. First, Mexico is so much more violent than it was during his previous two runs for president. There were nearly 30,000 murders here last year. And this year looks even more violent. He was very different as a candidate this time around. He toned down some of his rhetoric. He was less confrontational. And he built this odd wider coalition. He had everything in there from leftists to the Worker's Party to this conservative evangelical party. And then more than that, he honed in on his message. His main message is just corruption is the number one problem in Mexico - causing everything from poverty, poor economic output, inequality - all of it. And it was a strong message, and it was very well received this time.

KING: Well, you've been traveling the country talking to voters. Tell me. What did people say after his win last night?

KAHN: Voters all day were just saying that they went to the polls for a change. I heard that over and over again. Everybody said that. You know, Lopez Obrador's win, I think, was a repudiation of this current administration. Just - if you would listen to these chants of the jubilant crowds that gathered all over downtown Mexico City last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).

KAHN: They were shouting "Mexico without the PRI." The ruling party here is so unpopular right now. It's been embroiled in countless corruption scandals, at the federal, the state level, local level, for the past six years. And I think more than voters wanting to bring in a leftist government, this was more about an anti-establishment vote - an electorate very angry over the corruption, violence and the impunity that's rampant in this country these days.

KING: Lopez Obrador came out, and he gave a couple of different victory speeches last night, right? What did he say in those?

KAHN: Well, he went back through his long list of promises. He says he's going to work hard. He's going to be honest. He repeated several times that he wants to go down in history as one of Mexico's greatest presidents. He spoke to this massive crowd in Mexico City's historic Zocalo Plaza. And he said he promised he would not let them down. He said that a couple times. I will not let you down, and I will live by these three basic tenants.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT-ELECT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

KAHN: So he said "no lying, no stealing and no betraying the people." "Long live Mexico," he shouted to thunderous applause.

KING: It sounds like something people really wanted to hear.

KAHN: They did.

KING: One big thing that remains to be seen is the relationship that Mexico will have under Lopez Obrador with the United States. What has he said about President Trump - about working with him or not?

KAHN: Well, it really didn't come up that much during the campaign. Trump was not an issue during the campaign mainly because all of the three major candidates pretty much said the same thing. They all said they're going to demand respect from Trump. And yet, they're going to continue to cooperate with the United States. And that's what Lopez Obrador said last night. He said he wants a cooperative, respectful relationship with the U.S. You know, President Trump and the current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, have had a tense relationship - mostly over Trump's insistence that Mexico pay for a U.S. border wall. But President Trump did tweet his congratulations last night to the Mexican president-elect.

KING: Carrie, let me get your 3,000-foot perspective on something. Given the depth of corruption in Mexico, do you think that this new president can actually make good on his promises to stamp it out?

KAHN: Oh, it's a tall order. You know, I asked that of voters that were voting for him - the exact same question. Can he do all that? You know, I really feel like expectations are high but not really that high. People are - people know how terrible the situation is right now. And they're saying - one person even said, you know, if we could just get a little bit done, that would be better than nothing. So I think that expectations are sort of realistic - how difficult the problem is and how entrenched corruption and violence is in Mexican society right now.

KING: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Carrie, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.