Mexican voters will elect a new president July 2. The constitution gives presidents one six-year term and forbids re-election, so the current president, Vicente Fox Quezada of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), must go.

Recently, one Latin American country after another has elected a government that to some degree has bucked U.S.-supported policies of “free trade,” privatization, cuts in social spending and isolation of socialist Cuba. If Mexico, a country of 106 million people with a 2,000-mile border with the United States, also moves left, it will cause worry at the White House. And the main left-of-center candidate is ahead in the polls.

Three major forces are contending in the Mexican elections:

• The PAN, allied with Mexico’s Greens, has lost prestige since Fox’s election in 2000, because it has not been able to solve the country’s economic problems with its neoliberal program. Fox also failed to fulfill his promise to reach an agreement with President Bush on immigration. His presumed successor, cabinet member Santiago Creel, had to withdraw under a cloud of scandal, so now the PAN/Green ticket is headed by right-wing politician Felipe Calderon Hinojosa. PAN’s strengths are its financial support by big business and its links to conservative elements of the Roman Catholic Church.

• The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose candidate is Roberto Madrazo, ruled Mexico before 2000 for nearly 70 years under different names. It originated from the circle of businessmen and military officers who emerged as the victors of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, and developed in a corporativist direction, sort of “Mussolini lite.” Usually representing the national bourgeoisie, it had some progressive moments, especially during the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas del Rio, who advanced labor rights, nationalization of petroleum resources and land reform. However, the PRI was frequently plagued with corruption scandals. From the 1980s, the PRI signed on to the neoliberal project, causing suffering to workers and farmers and consequently losing support. Its strength derives from its still-intact clientage networks in every area and institution of the country.

• The left-of-center “For the Good of All” bloc, whose candidate, former Mexico City area government chief Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is leading in the polls, consists of three political parties, the largest of which is the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). The PRD has a complex origin. Part of it consists of a left defection from the PRI after the latter adopted neoliberal policies.

In 1988, the former PRI governor of Michoacan state, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzono, son of Lazaro Cardenas, ran for president on a left-of-center program and would have won had it been not for massive electoral fraud.

In the euphoria following Cardenas’s near-win, most forces that had backed him, including elements of the socialist left, came together in 1989 to form the PRD. But this part-PRI, part-left origin of the PRD is the source of its major weakness, which is internal incoherence and infighting. It, too, has not been immune to corruption scandals and is very unevenly developed by region. Its main strength seems to be its candidate, Lopez Obrador, who is a popular, tough and resourceful politician who so far has managed to turn all his opponents’ accusations back on the accusers.

Much of the non-PRD left is lukewarm about Lopez Obrador. The Zapatistas are running a non-electoral campaign aimed at uniting grassroots opposition to neoliberal policies. Zapatista spokesman “Subdelegate Zero,” formerly known as “Subcomandante Marcos,” has been critical of all three major candidates. The Party of Mexican Communists, with a Marxist-Leninist orientation, has pointed out the excessive moderation of Lopez Obrador’s main program. If this program is any guide, Lopez Obrador in power would not be another Chavez of Venezuela, but would cautiously back away from the most extreme neoliberal policies.

In spite of Lopez Obrador’s cautious approach, Bush may threaten punitive measures, like mass deportations of undocumented Mexican immigrants and an end to their remittances back home, should Mexico’s voters elect him. Bush used this kind of scare tactic successfully in the Salvadoran presidential election of 2004. This time it would likely be a bluff, since the U.S. and Mexican economies are so interdependent. Whether such a bluff would frighten Mexican voters, or anger them more, remains to be seen.