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Pena Nieto in lead for Mexico vote

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People attend the closing rally of Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City (AP)

People attend the closing rally of Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City (AP)

People attend the closing rally of Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City (AP)

Four days before Mexico's presidential election, much of the nation's attention is focused on a man who appears certain to lose.

That man is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the fiery, feisty leftist who shut down the heart of Mexico City after the last election with mass protests against a narrow loss that he blamed on electoral fraud.

Final polls released on Wednesday showed Mr Lopez Obrador in second place, with the candidate of Mexico's former ruling party, Enrique Pena Nieto, anywhere from eight to 17 percentage points in the lead.

As a result, few expect anything other than a Mr Pena Nieto victory that will return the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to the presidency after 12 years out of the nation's highest office.

What remains in doubt for millions of Mexicans is whether Mr Lopez Obrador quietly accept defeat or whether he will call his followers back to the streets for a repeat of the 2006 allegations of fraud, and protests that shut down the heart of the capital for weeks and shook the faith of many, at home and abroad, in the stability of Mexico's young democracy.

In that last run, Mr Lopez Obrador led until the final days and his backers could not believe the official result showing him less than one percentage point short of victor Felipe Calderon, though electoral courts upheld it. Mr Lopez Obrador declared himself the "legitimate president of Mexico", named a Cabinet and toured the country to rally backers.

As his final campaign act this year, Mr Lopez Obrador led thousands of people on a march on Wednesday afternoon that many see as an uncomfortable echo of the last electoral battle.

Supporters waving the yellow flags of his party and wearing Lopez Obrador T-shirts shouted: "President! President! You are the president!" as they lined four lanes of Mexico City's central Reforma boulevard and headed to the Zocalo, the centuries-old square in the centre of downtown that has served as the base for many of his protests. Some of his supporters brought their pets, among them a white bull terrier with a message written on its side that read "a dog's life no more."

There were so many followers trying to get near Mr Lopez Obrador that at one point of the march his security team had to take him out of the crowd through a hole they tore in a construction fencing around the Alameda park.

Mr Lopez Obrador softened his rhetoric at the start of this three-month campaign, saying he wants to build a "Republic of Love" marked by reconciliation and peace. In recent days he has been pledging, when pressed, that he will respect the will of the people, though he asserts he is ahead. But the former Mexico City mayor has also been launching sharp attacks on Mr Pena Nieto and the PRI, and routinely expressing grave doubts about the validity of the electoral process and the potential for fraud.

PA