Mexicans eager to see Pena Nieto probed for corruption: poll

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The vast majority of Mexicans want former President Enrique Pena Nieto to be investigated for corruption, a poll showed on Monday, offering a potential winning issue for the current administration, whose popularity is starting to fade.

A Feb. 25-29 survey of 1,200 adults by newspaper Reforma showed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s approval rating fell by 19 percentage points to 59% over the past year, the latest poll pointing to his waning appeal.

Buttressed by soaring popular support, Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018 vowing to root out corruption, lift the economy and reduce record levels of violence.

Since then, homicides have broken new records and the economy has tipped into a mild recession, chipping away at backing for the veteran leftist, who has sought to blame previous governments for Mexico’s problems.

The Reforma poll showed 88% of respondents favored opening a corruption probe against Pena Nieto. He has always denied any wrongdoing, but his government was seriously tainted by graft allegations by the time he left office.

One of Pena Nieto’s erstwhile top aides, Emilio Lozoya, a former boss of state oil firm Pemex, is wanted in Mexico on corruption charges.

Lozoya was arrested in Spain last month, and media reports suggest other senior figures from the Pena Nieto administration are in the sights of Lopez Obrador’s investigators.

Lopez Obrador has said he is not personally in favor of pursuing former presidents in court because he does not want to rake through the past. But he regularly accuses his predecessors of being complicit in state-sponsored corruption.

And if enough people sign a petition to trigger a referendum on whether former presidents should be prosecuted, Lopez Obrador says they should be heard.

The Reforma poll showed the government’s record on violent crime has been particularly damaging to Lopez Obrador. Some 47% of respondents said public security had worsened in the past year, with only 21% taking the opposite view.

Public discontent intensified in recent weeks after a string of highly publicized slayings of women and girls. They included the death of a young woman mutilated by her partner, and the murder of a 7-year-old girl.

A separate survey by polling firm Consulta Mitofsky showed that over the past month Lopez Obrador’s approval rating among women slipped nearly 3 percentage points to 52.7%. That compared with a drop of 0.6 points to 59.2% among men.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Paul Simao)