May 21, 2018 / 12:31 AM / a year ago

Mexico presidency rivals tackle foreign policy in second debate

MEXICO CITY, May 20 (Reuters) - Mexican presidential front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador faces off with rivals in a second televised debate on Sunday night, one of the last major chances for them to attack his sizeable lead ahead of the July 1 election.

Leftist Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor, withstood a heavy onslaught from the other contenders in the first debate last month, and some recent voter surveys show his advantage in the race has grown since then.

Second-placed rival, 39-year-old Ricardo Anaya, who heads a right-left coalition, emerged as the victor of the first debate in some polls, and he has consolidated his position as the main challenger to Lopez Obrador.

However, he remains up to 20 percentage points adrift in some voter surveys.

The second debate will focus on international trade and investment, border security and the fight against cross-border gangs, as well as migrants’ rights. All have featured heavily in Mexico’s fraught relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump.

In his third tilt at the presidency, Lopez Obrador has capitalized on widespread disenchantment with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) over corruption, rising levels of violence and sluggish economic growth.

The PRI candidate, former finance minister Jose Antonio Meade, has struggled to make an impact. Most polls place him third in a contest that has been reduced to four competitors since former first lady Margarita Zavala pulled out this week.

Lopez Obrador came close to winning the presidency in 2006 and was runner-up again six years later.

This time around, Lopez Obrador has cut a more relaxed figure on the campaign trail, largely avoiding the kind of outbursts that in the past helped adversaries depict him as a threat to the stability in Latin America’s No. 2 economy.

He has adopted more moderate economic rhetoric, even meeting with BlackRock Inc Chief Executive Larry Fink this month, part of a push to reassure investors about his policies.

Despite softening his tone, Lopez Obrador has butted heads with Mexico’s business community, calling several tycoons influence traffickers who benefit from corruption.

Lopez Obrador has already caused concerns with threats to walk back the liberalization of the country’s oil and gas business and to scrap a new $13 billion Mexico City airport.

Sunday’s debate takes place in the northern city of Tijuana from 7:30 pm local time (9:30 p.m. in Mexico City/02:30 GMT). A final debate is scheduled for June 12. (Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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