Monthly Archives: July 2012

Romanian impeachment referendum 2012

A referendum on the impeachment of the President of Romania, Traian Băsescu, was held in Romania on July 29. This referendum was required to ratify the decision of the Romanian Parliament, on July 6, to impeach President Băsescu who has been in office since 2004. The constitution allows for the President to be impeached only for grave misdeeds, but this clause has been abused by Băsescu’s political enemies who had already tried to impeach him (unsuccessfully) in 2007.

Since January, Romania has been rocked by major political instability. The country’s politics have been bitter and sulfurous since at least 2009, and at the root of it all is Băsescu himself. The President quickly alienated most of his former political allies after being elected to the presidency on a centre-right, anti-corruption platform in 2004. Băsescu has a very hot temper and is well known for his erratic and off-the-cuff style, which sometimes degenerates into foul-mouthed tirades against his opponents. He has not lived up to expectations on the matter of corruption, and he has been criticized for his authoritarian penchants.

Băsescu survived a first attempt by the opposition to impeach him on fairly flimsy grounds in 2007, when three-quarters of the 44% who turned out voted against removing him from office (even if the referendum had been valid – it had a 50% turnout threshold – Băsescu would not have been removed from office). Relations between Băsescu’s centre-right Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) and the opposition – both the Social Democrats (PSD) and the National Liberals (PNL) worsened following Băsescu’s narrow reelection in 2009 with only 50.3% of the votes in a disputed runoff election.

Romania is a semi-presidential republic, with the President holding responsibility over foreign affairs as well as the power to appoint judges or to delay legislation. Between 2008 and 2012, his Prime Minister was Emil Boc, a member of the PDL. Boc governed in coalition with the PSD until 2009, when his first government was taken down by a no-confidence motion backed by the PSD, the PNL and the Hungarian minority party (UDMR). Following Băsescu’s reelection, he renominated Boc instead of nominating a candidate backed by the three parties which had voted the no-confidence motion. However, Boc managed to obtain Parliament’s confidence in December 2009, thanks to the support of the UDMR and dissidents from the PSD.

In office, Boc wrestled with the economic crisis. Romania fell into recession in 2009 and again in 2010, and since then the country’s economic recovery has been slow. While Romania remains the second poorest country in the EU, its economic situation – in a comparative perspective – is not all that bad. However, in 2009 Romania received a $27 billion bailout from the IMF, which came with strings attached. The Boc government implemented and became extremely unpopular for austerity measures, including budget cuts, wage cuts in the public sector and a sales tax hike. The government is committed to reducing the country’s budgetary deficit from 4.4% of the GDP in 2011 to 1.9% this year.

The austerity measures associated with the PDL and Băsescu were extremely unpopular. Voters in the EU’s second poorest country were tired of tax hikes, wage cuts and decling public services; all with the backdrop of politicians and political parties which are widely seen as lining their pockets. Maybe austerity would have been better received if voters did not feel that their representatives were stealing their money. Several PDL politicians, including Băsescu himself, are suspected of corruption; but the opposition hardly has a better reputation. The PNL’s ranks include a corrupt oil magnate/billionaire, while the ex-communist PSD is seen as the epitome of the old corrupt clique – a coalition of old communist party bosses and security employees.

There were major protests earlier this year, which ultimately forced Boc to resign on February 6. A few days later, he was replaced by a cabinet led by Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, a former boss of the foreign intelligence services. However, on April 27, his government was voted down by a motion of no-confidence backed by the opposition. In February 2011, the three main opposition parties (the ex-communist centre-left PSD, the liberal PNL and the small right-wing Conservative Party) formed an electoral coalition, the Social Liberal Union (USL).

Initially, in February, after Boc resigned, the leader of the PSD (and USL), 39-year old Victor Ponta, refused to become Prime Minister. However, after the Ungureanu cabinet fell, Băsescu was compelled to name Ponta, his top political rival, as Prime Minister. Romania was thus thrown into a French-like situation of cohabitation between an opposing President and government. However, unlike in France, Romanian politics – especially with a President like Băsescu who is known to be a prick – are far less consensual.

Since taking office, Ponta and Băsescu have been embroiled in a bloody schoolyard fight. Things got extremely ugly at the end of June, after the courts – which Ponta claims are stacked with Băsescu’s allies – found Ponta’s political mentor and former PSD Prime Minister Adrian Năstase guilty in a corruption and fraud case. It was after this incident that the Parliament voted to impeach the President, accusing him of using the secret services against political enemies, refusing to appoint cabinet ministers, trying to influence prosecutors in criminal cases and engaging in illegal phone tapping. Băsescu has flatly denied these allegations, and regardless of their veracity, the case for his impeachment is constitutionally flimsy and is definitely politically motivated. In this schoolyard brawl, Ponta’s allies claims that Băsescu struck back by leaking a plagiarism scandal in which Victor Ponta is accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. Ponta had the commission in charge of academic integrity dissolved and has said that he will not resign regardless of what happens in this case.

After a fight with the courts and Băsescu over who from Ponta and Băsescu should have represented the country at a European summit, Ponta made his most controversial moves. He threatened to fire constitution court judges (he claims that they are Băsescu loyalists), fired and replaced the ombudsman with a party loyalist, seized control of the official journal and replaced the heads of both chambers of Parliament. These measures, which opponents claim are clear moves to weaken the country’s independent institutions, sent a chill down the spine of the European Commission and most EU grandees. The EU has struggled in the past year with the issue of Hungary – which presents a similar case of a European elected government disrespecting the rule of law and liberal democratic values. In Budapest, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made controversial changes to the Hungarian constitution which has limited media freedoms and judicial freedom.

The EC issued a stark warning to the Romanian government in early July, and Germany’s Angela Merkel minced no words in condemning Ponta’s actions. The EC has debated which sanctions, if any, should be adopted against Romania. A freeze in EU transfers was seriously considered, but the crisis has likely derailed or at least significantly delayed Romanian attempts to join the Schengen area. Unlike Orbán however, Ponta has not been defiant of  European institutions and moved to soothe fears that he was staging something akin to a coup d’état. Ponta claimed that there had been misunderstandings, and reassured that he would withdraw his controversial laws if they were to cause any trouble for Romania in the EU.

In 2007, the previous referendum on Băsescu’s impeachment was deemed invalid because turnout was below the 50% threshold required to validate it. Ponta tried to remove this quorum and allow for the referendum to be valid even if less than 50% of voters turned out. After protests by the courts and the EU, he was forced to reinstate the turnout requirement. Băsescu, denouncing a constitutional coup d’état and a grave threat to democracy, called on his supporters to boycott the referendum (with the hope that less than 50% of voters would turn out and invalidate whatever the verdict was). However, Băsescu was far more popular in 2007 than he is today. Local elections held in June saw his party, the PDL, win only 15% of the vote against 49.7% for the USL.

The high prospect of the referendum both passing the turnout requirement and a majority of votes in support of Băsescu’s impeachment worried Romania’s European partners a lot. The EU would be forced to deal with the consequences of legitimate, free and fair referendum which was, however, motivated by a political turf war between two cliques and enemies. Such a result would have boosted Ponta’s power at home – it will still be boosted in November when the USL is the big favourite to win the legislative elections – by allowing for the election of a close ally of Ponta, perhaps the PNL’s leader and caretaker president Crin Antonescu.

Turnout, however, ultimately fell just short of the 50% threshold. 46.53% of registered voters turned out to vote, but of these 46%, 87.5% voted in favour of removing Băsescu from office. If the law is to be followed, then the courts will not validate the results of this referendum and Băsescu will remain in office.

This result is a brief respite for Romania’s European neighbors and political partners, who feared the consequences of 50%+1 turnout in the referendum. However, the political instability and acrimonious political situation has not, for that matter, ended. Băsescu was triumphant on July 29, styling the results of the referendum as a victory for democracy against the constitutional coup d’état and democratic transgressions of Victor Ponta. While he said that he would work to mend the “enormous rift in society”, he has refused to resign and shows no sign of shying away from his confrontational attitude against Ponta’s government. Băsescu’s allies have been eager to attack the current government, recently leaking a secret deal between Ponta and a shady trade union of ex-military men which seeks to scrap institutions such as the Constitutional Court. On the other hand, Victor Ponta has been similarly defiant. He has claimed that Băsescu has lost all legitmacy and should resign, and originally indicated that he would refuse to work with an illegitimate president (and it is true, in part, with such a large number of voters voting to impeach him, that Băsescu’s legitimacy is minimal at this point). The USL would like for the courts to validate the referendum anyway, claiming that some registered voters on the rolls do not live in Romania and haven’t voted in years. Regardless of what happens, it is a certainty that Ponta backed by the legislature and President Băsescu will continue their bloody schoolyard fight in the foreseeable future, given that Băsescu’s term will only end in 2014.

Map of turnout by county (source: Wikipedia)

Given that the President’s remaining base of support is hardly more than 15%, he did not “win” the referendum only by motivating his supporters to boycott the referendum. Against all expectations, however, less than 50% of voters actually voted. There are a number of factors at play here. The EU’s threats (to suspend transfer payments, or keep the country’s judicial system under supervision or even the nuclear option) likely played a role in demotivating potential opponents of Băsescu. There is certainly an element of political apathy at play as well, boosted by the timing of the referendum (in the middle of summer on a hot Sunday) but also traditional disenchantment with politicians and politics. The USL is the favourite to win the next election, but – at least in Romanian academia – there is little enthusiasm for it. Romanians do not political parties as political movements which represent them or work for the national interest, but rather as a grubby bunch of frontmen and corrupt oligarchs and ex-communist stooges. Neither party has a crystal clean reputation. Ponta’s controversial tactics, mixed with the very personal and partisan nature of this referendum and the EU’s surprisingly vocal reaction to all this, like played a role as well.The geography of turnout shows that there is a clear partisan element at work, given that turnout was lowest (below 40%) in Transylvania, where Băsescu’s centre-right party is usually the strongest. However, the lowest turnout levels were in Harghita and Covasna counties, at barely 11.6% and 20.6% respectively. Both of these counties are heavily Hungarian (over 70% of the population). Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made a controversial entrance in the referendum campaign by calling Hungarians in Romania to boycott the referendum as well. Orbán’s controversial intervention was strongly condemened by Ponta, who claimed that Orbán was intervening in Romania’s internal affairs.

This referendum was, from a certain perspective, a no-win scenario given that a victory would have caused nightmares for the EU and cemented Ponta’s power, while its defeat means that the power struggle between both men will continue unabated, condemning the country to months of a bloody power struggle between two enemies who occupy the top two political offices in the country.

Libya 2012

Elections to the new General National Congress (GNC) were held in Libya on July 7, 2012. These elections are the first elections of any kind held in Libya since 1965, but most importantly are the first elections since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s long time authoritarian ruler, in the Libyan Revolution/civil war last year.

Since the beginning of the uprising in February 2011, Libya has been ruled by the National Transitional Council (NTC) which slowly became, in the eyes of most foreign countries, the sole legitimate government of Libya during the civil war against the Gaddafi regime. The NTC has officially assumed both executive and legislative powers during this interim period, which is scheduled to end with the election of the GNC which was, at the outset, tasked with appointing a constituent assembly (from outside its own ranks) which would have a 120-day period to draft a new constitution for Libya which would then need to be approved through a popular referendum. However, right before the election, the NTC seems to have said that the GNC will not have the power to appoint this constituent assembly which would instead be elected directly by the people. It is yet uncertain if the GNC will ultimately appoint the constituent assembly, given that the NTC’s decree was not well received and that the new members of the GNC seem to fancy appointing the constituent assembly. Otherwise, the GNC will have the responsibility of appointing a Prime Minister and later the promulgation of the new constitution.

Under Gaddafi’s regime, Libya had no parliamentary institutions to speak of because the Gaddafist ideology resented representative democracy and claimed to prefer ‘direct democracy’. Hence, on paper, Libya under Gaddafi was a direct democracy in which the ‘masses’ held power. In reality, of course, all power laid in the hands of Gaddafi and his inner circle of sons, family relatives, crooks and thugs. Under Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, any public institutions common to most other countries – even if they are not liberal democracies – were hollowed out and there was no civil society outside of Gaddafi’s inner circle. This is a fairly unique situation, especially when compared to Tunisia and Egypt. Both Tunisia and Egypt were authoritarian regimes prior to the 2011 revolutions, but both had actual representative institutions (even if they were practical jokes) and a semblance of ‘normal’ political life with some civil society structures and election-like events even if they were heavily rigged and controlled.

The new GNC will have 200 members. Working out the electoral system for these elections took quite some time and was a fairly controversial process in Libya. These elections used a parallel voting system with an individual-based system and a party list-based system. 120 seats were elected using the individual system, using either FPTP in single-member districts or SNTV in multi-member districts. These individual seats will all be filled, legally, with independent candidates not affiliated with any political party, but nothing prevented candidates from being endorsed by a political party. The other 80 seats were elected using the party-based system, with the country being subdivided into primary districts and/or sub-districts which hold a certain number of seats elected by proportional representation based on closed party lists (but parties did not need to field 80 candidates). There is a gender quota on the party lists, requiring that party lists alternate between men and women. The shape of these various districts is fairly hard to comprehend; other sources such as the POMED do a much better job than I at explaining its intricacies and detailing each district’s composition. Basically put, for the PR segment, you had primary districts – and some primary districts divided into sub-districts – which were allocated a varying number of party-based seats. The primary districts or sub-districts were then divided into secondary districts, which elect one or more individual (independent) member by FPTP or SNTV. Some districts did not have individual-based seats; others did not have party-based seats.

Overall, according to the POMED’s article, 105 seats out of the 200 seats in the GNC will be from Tripolitania (western coastal Libya – Tripoli), 60 seats will be from Cyrenaica (eastern coastal Libya – Benghazi) and 35 seats from Fezzan (southern Libya).

These three regions are the country’s historical regions since the colonial era, and regionalism is and has always been a potent political factor in Libya. The monarchy which ruled Libya from independence in 1951 until the Gaddafist coup in 1969 was, on paper, a federal regime (until 1963). However, Gaddafi’s regime was effectively extremely centralized and power relations based heavily on clans and tribal relations. From the outset, regional conflict has opposed Tripolitania – the most populated region – to eastern Cyrenaica, which on the other hand holds most of Libya’s oil reserves.

Cyrenaica was a stronghold of opposition to Gaddafi and was the first base of the Revolution as early as February 2011. Since the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in October 2011, some easterners have been vocal in demanding major decentralization or federalism. Some went as far as to proclaim their own regional assembly for Cyrenaica, while some radical federalists boycotted these elections though they failed to disturb the voting in a significant manner.

The regional tensions in the Benghazi region have been but some of the troubles faced by the NTC. There are powerful armed militias and local warlords in towns such as Misrata who have refused to lay down their weapons and adapt to peacetime circumstances. There are the remnants of well-armed Gaddafist militias which could turn the south into a no-man’s land. But while Libya’s future is, to be sure, difficult and very risky, it is not for that matter extremely sombre.

Libya has not had political parties to speak of since the monarchy banned all parties following contested elections in 1952, which the main opposition claimed to have won. Similarly, all parties were banned under Gaddafi, who hated all forms of organized political action. Thus, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt which had political parties prior to their revolutions, Libyan parties are all new creations and though some may have an history as opposition movements, few if any of them had a strong grassroots presence in one form or another prior to the Revolution.

The two main parties which emerged were the National Forces Alliance (NFA) and the Justice and Construction Party (JCP).

The NFA is a coalition of parties and groupings led by Mahmoud Jibril, who served as the NTC’s Prime Minister between March and October 2011. Prior to this, Jibril had been a fairly high-ranking official in the old regime, working closely with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi as head of an economic development board which led the old regime’s attempts, between 2007 and 2011, to open up to the west and liberalize the Libyan economy. Jibril was something of a pro-western liberal technocrat during that period – which now seems like almost surreal given how Gaddafi turned out – in which the old regime tried to cozy up with its old western enemies and become a major economic partner for them. Jibril quickly defected and headed the NTC until the fall of Sirte and the Gaddafi regime last fall. By quitting the NTC last fall, Jibril made a smart political move in moving away from the NTC, which has since become quite unpopular.

The NFA is allied with the National Centrist Party (NCP), an ideologically similar party led by academic and former NTC cabinet minister Ali Tarhouni.

The NFA has been presented as a secular, liberal party. It is true that the NFA appears to be a liberal party – at least on economic matters, unsurprising given Jibril’s résumé. However, it can only be described as secular and liberal within Libya’s very conservative political culture. We’re not dealing with some European liberal party which is going to legalize drugs and gay marriage tomorrow morning. Jibril has not styled himself as a secular leader and the NFA openly accepts an Islamic reference to the law. Thus, while the NFA endorses sharia law, it is, within Libya’s very conservative and religious political culture, considered the most liberal and secular option compared to the other main party, the JCP. On economic matters, the NFA is fairly liberal.

The Justice and Construction Party (JCP) is the political wing of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (MB), similar to Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party. The MB in Libya has been heavily influenced by the much more prominent Egyptian Brotherhood. Indeed, the Libyan section of the MB was basically born as a result of the exile of Egyptian MB leaders to Libya during the Nasser regime, during which they found a sympathetic host in Libya’s King Idris. The exiled leaders of the Egyptian Brotherhood gained significant power in Libyan academia during the monarchy, and built a large group of followers who could go on to form a Libyan section of the MB in the early 1960s. However, they were quickly forced underground by Gaddafi after the 1969 coup. Until 2005-2006, the Libyan MB developed in exile – notably in the US, while inside the country the regime led cracked down on the group. In 2011, the MB played a fairly prominent role in the civil war.

The JCP has been divided on the attitude it should adopt vis-à-vis its Egyptian ‘brother’ – should the party pursue a pan-Islamic agenda or act in a more nationalist and isolationist vein? Some have claimed that the JCP would be hurt by being too close to the more powerful Egyptian FJP, given what appears to be an underlying current of nationalism in Libya which is somewhat suspicious of Egypt and Egyptian motives. The JCP is led by Mohammed Sawan, a prominent leader of the MB and a victim of the old regime’s 1998 crackdown against the MB.

The NFA and the JCP emerged as the two main political forces, the NFA benefiting from the personality of its leader and the JCP benefiting from the fairly good local implantation of the Libyan MB in some parts of the country. But there are hundreds of other parties. The most important of these parties is the National Front Party (NFP). The NFP is the political wing of an old rebel group founded in the 1980s, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL). The party’s leader is Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, the former leader of the NFSL. An ambassador to India, Magariaf broke with the old regime in 1981 and founded the NFSL. During the 1980s, the NFSL, working in tandem with the CIA and other foreign countries including Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, led several violent attacks against the regime in unsuccessful bid to overthrow Gaddafi. Backed – allegedly – by the CIA, the NFSL attempted to assassinate Gaddafi in 1984 but failed, after which the NFSL slowly abandoned its most violent actions. However, it refused Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s overture towards past opponents and enemies of the regime in 2005-2006.

The NFP’s ideology is unclear, but while it accepts sharia law, it appears more nationalist and secular-oriented than outright Islamic. The NFSL’s main base was in Cyrenaica, but it has been said that it is popular with Libya’s Berber population in the west (mountains south of Tripoli) – who had long been opponents (and victims) of Gaddafi. The Chairman and Prime Minister of the NTC since last fall are both former members of the NFSL.

The results for the 80 party-based seats were as follows:

NFA 39 seats
JCP 17 seats
NFP 3 seats
Wadi al-Hiya Alliance 2 seats
Union for the Homeland 2 seats
NCP 2 seats
Other parties 15 seats
Independents 120 seats (individual-based)

Mahmoud Jibril’s NFA emerged as the surprise winner of this election, taking what seems to be close to 60% of the popular vote for the party-list votes. These elections were the first partisan elections in Libya since 1952 and probably the first free elections in the country’s existence, hence it was very hard for observers to assess and evaluate the chances of the various parties. Based on the Tunisian and Egyptian precedent and Libya’s prevailing religious conservatism, most had assumed that Mohammed Sawan’s JCP would win fairly handily.

What can explain the Islamist defeat in Libya after their victories in Tunisia and Egypt? Firstly, I think it is important to recall that unlike Ennahda in Tunisia and the MB/FJP in Egypt, no party in Libya had a comparable level of implantation on the ground prior to the fall of the ancien régime. The MB has never been an extremely powerful political actor in Libya, it did not lead the Revolution last year and its grassroots – though they are strong compared to other Libyan political actors – remain fairly weak. However, at the same time, it is not like the NFA started out with especially strong grassroots either.

Secondly, Libya’s revolution was completed only through a bloody and protracted civil war – which did not happen in either Tunisia or Egypt. One of the main leaders of this civil war/revolution – Mahmoud Jibril – was the leader of the winning coalition who, despite his past links with the Gaddafi regime, remained very popular and his decision to quit the NTC last fall was a move of genius. Jibril’s opponents, Sawan first and foremost, attacked him for his links to the old regime and Sawan styled Jibril was being “worse than Gaddafi”. However, it appears as if most voters did not hold his past career under the dictator against him. Fairly understandably given that Jibril was nothing more than a western technocrat who defected very early and is not seen as having blood on his hands. After all, a lot of the new Libyan leadership worked, in one way or another, with the old regime.

Thirdly, the political culture in Libya is different to that found in Tunisia or Egypt. In both of these countries, the political role of Islam is a controversial matter. In Libya, however, the place and role of Islam in government is a foregone conclusion, and all parties – including the ‘secular liberal’ NFA and NFP – accept an Islamic reference to the law. Hence, the JCP could never establish itself as the unquestioned representative of political Islam or boast its Islamic credentials. Similarly, the victory of the ‘liberals’ is only a victory for the liberals and moderates within a Libyan context. Even in Egypt and Tunisia, I doubt the NFA would be considered a secular party.

Given that 120 seats will be held by independents while only 39 seats will be held by Jibril’s party, it is hard to describe this as a victory for the NFA. The presence of a majority of independents in the GNC means that the shape and colour of the next government is very much up in the air, and extremely uncertain. While both the NFA and JCP endorsed individual candidates, the JCP has boasted that it benefits from a strong base of support with them. The party’s leadership has not specified exact numbers, but around 25 of the individual members are said to be close to the party – which, in the end, isn’t all that much out of 120.

The JCP and its leader, Mohammed Sawan, showed themselves to be openly hostile to the NFA and Jibril during the campaign, even if it accepted defeat fairly quickly and honourably. In recent days, it seems as if Sawan and the JCP might have backtracked and conceded that it will need to work with the NFA in the formation of a new government.

Besides the NFA and JCP, other parties did extremely poorly given how most of them had high expectations for themselves. The NFP won only two seats, both of them in Cyrenaica. It is quite likely that the NFP, which could become a small ally for the NFA, was hurt by its association with the unpopular leadership of the NTC.

One party which did extremely poorly was the Homeland Party, a fairly ‘radical’ Islamist party led by prominent cleric Ali al-Salabi and Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) under Gaddafi. Belhaj, who served as head of the Tripoli military council during the civil war, was in jail under the old regime (until the LIFG entered a dialogue with Saif al-Islam in 2009 and 2010) and claims to have been handed over to Gaddafi by CIA agents. The Homeland Party rejects the Salafist or radical label and claims that it is an inclusive religious party, but it has been described as fairly conservative and radical and the question of the LIFG’s presumed ties to al-Qaeda in the past are a matter of concern. The Homeland Party hoped to win as many as 27 seats in the GNC, in the end it won no seats whatsoever.

At a constituency level, it is quite remarkable how the NFA managed to bridge the regionalism of Libyan politics by winning very strong results in both Benghazi (Cyrenaica) and Tripoli (Tripolitania). The federalists in Cyrenaica saw their boycott fall flat on its face and its attempts to severely disturb the voting process similarly failed. The only major city where the NFA performed poorly is Misrata, where the NFA won only 8.8% of the vote and a single seat. In Misrata, the Union for the Homeland, a party led by former Gaddafi opponent Abdul Rahman Swehli. The party rejects federalism but supports major decentralization. Swehli’s group appears to be a national party – it won another seat seat in al-Aziziya just outside of Tripoli – but it is strongest in Misrata, the country’s third largest city and a fairly rebellious city since the fall of Gaddafi. Local authorities in Misrata have often defied the NTC, and it seems as if its voters feel similarly independent. A regional party – the Wadi al-Hiya Party for Democracy and Development – won two seats on 35.8% of the vote in the Ubari sub-constituency in Fezzan (where the NFA seems to have performed poorly).

In Tripoli, the NFA won 9 seats overall against 4 seats for the JCP. Two minor parties won a seat each, while Ali Tarhouni’s NCP won a seat in the Hay al-Andalus district of the city with 35.4%. In Benghazi, the NFA took 7 seats (64.5% of the vote) against 2 for the JCP (11.4% of the vote) and one for the NFP (a small party won the last seat).

Libya’s future remains unclear, but it appears to be on an encouraging track. This election was a success, finally undisturbed by endemic violence and turf wars which have weakened the NTC since Gaddafi’s fall last October. The question of who will get to decide on the membership of the constituent assembly which will draft Libya’s new constitution will probably become a very thorny political issue, given that the NTC removed this power from the GNC but the GNC would probably like to keep this precious power. Even if Libya’s path to potential liberal democracy has a great many obstacles and the country’s stability faces very serious threats, in retrospect, the results of this election seem to confirm that it really was ‘worth it’ to get rid of Gaddafi. Like in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria; there seems to be real appetite for fundamental change (but perhaps not democracy as we know it or like it) in Libya. Finally, from a purely psephological perspective, it is always fascinating to follow elections in countries which haven’t held free elections in decades.

Mexico 2012

Presidential, federal congressional and gubernatorial elections were held in Mexico on July 1, 2012. The President of Mexico and the entirety of the two houses of the Mexican Congress were up for election. At the state level, seven states held gubernatorial elections. I discussed the Mexican political system, the country’s political history and the stakes of this present election in a preview post.

One of the main principles of Mexican politics is that of no reelección, a sacrosanct constitutional rule since 1917 which prevents all officeholders from seeking immediate reelection. The President of Mexico, who wields power comparable to that of his American counterpart, is elected by first-past-the-post to a single six-year term and he may not ever seek the office again after his term has expired. Similarly, all 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies (three-year terms) and all 128 Senators (six-year terms) are renewed in their entirety every election because they may not seek immediate reelection.

Between 1929 and 2000, Mexico was dominated politically by a party quite unlike any other in Latin America. For this 71 year period, Mexico was a quasi-single party state ruled by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI). In most of Latin America, parties are dependent on their leaders and caudillos and are, on the whole, artificial creations created to serve the whims of their leaders. In Mexico, it was almost the other way around. While the country certainly did have some strong personalities and famous heads of state, in large part they were dependent on the PRI which emerged as a state-party.

The PRI was not subservient to any single ideology, rather it followed an eclectic, pragmatic and opportunist path which alternated between left and right based on the dominant wind. After all, the same party produced Lázaro Cárdenas, one of the most left-wing nationalist leaders in Mexican history and Miguel de la Madrid, a neoliberal technocrat who liberalized Mexico’s economy.

The PRI entrenched its political dominance of the country by playing the carrot and the stick, shrewdly balancing repression with concessions and enticements of various sorts to potential rivals and opponents. It built up its remarkable dominance through a corporatist alliance composed largely of the industrial working-class and the rural peasantry. But to cement its dominance, the PRI knew how to placate both sectors without conceding too much but also how to play both of them against one another.

The PRI’s stranglehold over Mexican politics started weakening with the rigged 1988 election, but it was only in 2000 with the election of President Vicente Fox, from the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) that the PRI’s dominance of Mexican politics came to an end – for the moment. In 2006, Fox was succeeded by another panista, Felipe Calderón, who won the 2006 election by a very tight margin over Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the candidate of the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

This frontrunner in this year’s election was Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, the 45-year old former governor of the state of México (Edomex, one of the most populous in the country). Peña Nieto is an image-perfect, media savvy, pop-star politician. He is not particularly talented, he has always been very low on substance and has a reputation as being an intellectual lightweight; but he is charismatic, handsome and particularly resistant to attacks and even his own gaffes. Peña Nieto is nonetheless a controversial and somewhat polarizing character. He has been suspected of corruption, including a financial deal with media giant Televisa in return for favourable media coverage. His record while governor of Edomex is a subject of much debate, though it seems to have been neither the great success he bills it as or the unmitigated disaster his opponents say it was. His personal life is also the subject of much talk and some controversy. His first wife died in 2007, in circumstances so unclear that some suspect he might have killed her, but by then he had already fathered two children out of wedlock with two other women (in addition to three children with his first wife) and only three years after his wife’s death, he married Televisa soap opera star Angélica Rivera.

At any rate, however, Peña Nieto led by far the most successful and competent campaign. The PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota was no match for him and even the PRD’s AMLO, running a more moderate campaign after his very left-wing campaign in 2006, did not really stand a chance. Major student-led protests against the PRI, Televisa and Peña Nieto (the #YoSoy132 movement) did not really dent Peña Nieto’s significant advantage in the polls, and neither did fears of a priista resurgence only twelve years after its 71-year dominance was toppled in 2000.

Because official results will take a few more days, here are the preliminary results (with 98.95% having reported ‘in time’ for the closing of the PREP) from the IFE’s unofficial rapid counting election night system (the PREP). This is not quite ideal, because if the presidential results will change only cosmetically (but two states could ‘switch’ with final results), the PREP does not give us the full composition of the new Congress because it doesn’t include the PR seats in both the Chamber and the Senate.

President (final PREP results, 98.95% of precincts)

Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI-PVEM) 38.15%
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD-PT-MC) 31.64%
Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) 25.4%
Gabriel Quadri de la Torre (PANAL) 2.3%
Invalid votes 2.42%
Write-in candidates 0.06%

Chamber of Deputies (final PREP results, 98.77% of precincts)

PRI/PRI-PVEM/PVEM 37.99% winning 177 direct seats
PRD-PT-MC 27.02% winning 70 direct seats
PAN 25.91% winning 53 direct seats
PANAL 4.08% winning 0 direct seats
Invalid votes 4.85%
Write-in candidates 0.1%

Senate (final PREP results, 98.79% of precincts)

PRI/PRI-PVEM/PVEM 36.99% winning 48 state seats
PRD-PT-MC 27.33% winning 19 states seats
PAN 26.29 % winning 29 state seats
PANAL 3.69% winning 0 direct seats
Invalid votes 5.55%
Write-in candidates 0.1%

But Google Politics continues to prove itself as the best thing to come out of the year 2012.

Unsurprisingly, Enrique Peña Nieto emerged as the winner by a fairly comfortable (albeit somewhat narrower than expected) 6.5% margin over his closest rival, AMLO. Throughout this campaign, Peña Nieto’s victory was never placed in serious jeopardy. He led in basically every single poll for over a year before the election and was always the man to beat in this contest. His victory marks the PRI’s return to executive power in Mexico twelve years after its dynastic hold on Mexican politics was ended in 2000.

Many could have thought that a party like the PRI, with its style of non-ideological corporatist, corrupt and semi-authoritarian politics, would not survive its defeat in 2000 and would lose its dominant place in Mexican politics. After the 2006 election, in which the PRI’s horrible presidential candidate placed a distant third with only 22% of the vote, the PRI was in a very tough spot.

The PRI and Peña Nieto’s victory reflects, first of all, the continued power and influence of the PRI. Whatever one may think of the PRI, it has, in part, managed to give the appearance of having reinvented itself. Peña Nieto could possibly be nothing more than a stooge for corrupt PRI dinosaurs, but he gives the image of being one of a new generation of priista politicians: young, charismatic and more technocratic than kleptocratic. Peña Nieto is not really comparable to the corporatist, statist, corrupt and authoritarian PRI leaders of the 1970s, he is more comparable to Ernesto Zedillo, the last PRI president, under whose presidency the party turned away from its archaic traditions and the country moved towards genuine liberal democracy.

President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto

Peña Nieto proved to be, regardless of what can be said about him, a strong candidate and campaigner. His ability to deflect damaging incidents and attacks is quite remarkable, given that his campaign could have feasibly stumbled more than once in the past few months. For a lot of voters, Peña Nieto also had a likable personality: young, good looks, a flashy personal life and a good deal of charisma. He was perfectly groomed to appear as image-perfect, continued his photo-op ‘micro-promises’ which marked his tenure as governor, spoke in simple terms, and promised vague but attractive reforms and changes.

Unsurprisingly, the anti-Peña Nieto and anti-priista movements seems to have remained a phenomenon of the urban middle-classes, young students, the blogosphere/twittosphere and the peredista base in the DF. It did not really impact or influence poorer voters in rural areas, less educated and probably far less aware of the internet’s activity against Peña Nieto.

The PRI has also remained a powerful political machine. It controls a vast majority of states, and its political machine remains, on the whole, well-oiled and influential in basically every part of the country besides Mexico City. But the PRI also quickly learned its lesson from 2006, when the party was dealt a very major blow thanks to a very bloody internal civil war and a terrible presidential candidate loathed by half the party to begin with. Unlike the PRD or even the PAN, since 2006 the PRI has given the appearance of a united party, which has the good taste of not hanging its dirty laundry in public anymore (for now). It certainly benefited from this in the 2009 midterms, which were in many ways foretold this year’s election.

Peña Nieto also owes part of his victory to his two main opponents, the PAN and the PRD. This election, twelve years after the great hopes for fundamental changes and a break from the dirty past which accompanied Fox and the PAN’s original victory in 2000, represents the disillusion of a country with these promises and optimistic hopes. Fox and Calderón will probably not go down in the history books as particularly bad or incompetent leaders; both had their fair share of achievements while in office and certainly left at least one or two positive marks on Mexican history.

However, they certainly did not live up to expectations. The endemic corruption which has permeated Mexican politics from the beginning was not rooted out, and remains a major problem. The inefficiencies of public and private monopolies in various sectors have not been resolved and they continue to weaken Mexico’s economy and its global economic competitiveness. Efforts to reform Pemex, the public energy monopoly, by opening it up to private investment have failed one after the other, leaving Mexico’s energy sector in an ever-precarious position. The public education sector remains a mess of corruption, waste, inefficiency and patronage. If the past government originally had any hopes of curbing violence, a long-standing problem in Mexico, it certainly did not achieve that. The past six years were marked by a very public war against drug cartels, which killed over 50 thousand individuals yet failed to significantly weaken the powerful drug cartels.

It would be unfair to blame only Presidents Fox and Calderón for these disappointments. While the PAN could certainly have showed more willpower and courage in dealing with certain issues (notably against the SNTE, the all-powerful teachers’ union), or could have been served by more conciliatory relations with opposition parties like the PRI in Congress, a fair number of the disappointments of the past twelve years have been also due to circumstances beyond the control of these two men. Mexico’s recession in 2009 was wrought by the collapse of American banks and a spell of slow growth between 2000 and 2003 was due to Chinese competition. The drug cartels are so huge, powerful and global that they could not realistically be destroyed by Mexican military action. The PAN also faced a divided and often deadlock Congress (which it did not always control) and more assertive state governors, unlike the PRI which, between 1929 and 1997, always controlled an absolute majority in Congress.

Regardless of who is to blame, the reality is that most voters feel disappointed by twelve years of panista governance. The mood was eager for change. In this situation, PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota stood no chance. Despite her attempts to describe herself as ‘different’ or to warn voters against the dangers of the PRI, she was unable to detach herself from a fairly unpopular party which has done its time. Vázquez Mota placed third, as expected, with only 25.4% of the vote. This is the natural result of a poorly managed campaign and her fairly low notoriety, but also the inadvertent results of some strategic voting against the PRI.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the charismatic champion of the Mexican left, won 31.6%. A lower performance than his performance six years ago (35.3%), but overall still a fairly honourable finish by AMLO, impressive considering that he owed some of his success in 2006 to the PRI’s quasi-obliteration. It is quite possible that AMLO benefited from some strategic, anti-PRI voting from panista voters. AMLO is certainly not one who would normally motivate strategic voting from the PAN, even if it is against the PRI, but AMLO’s results outran the PRD’s congressional vote share by about 5%. It is possible, indeed it is fairly likely, that some particularly anti-priista PAN voters voted for AMLO, despite everything, because he was the strongest candidate against the PRI’s Peña Nieto. A poll showed that Vázquez Mota had the weakest retention of her party’s voters, with ‘only’ 85% of PAN voters having voted for her.

However, Peña Nieto’s victory also reflects either disappointment or unease about the PRD, which in the 2006 presidential and congressional elections emerged as the strongest opposition to the PAN. If it must be repeated, AMLO’s behaviour after the 2006 election, which he denied the legitimacy of and declared himself as the ‘legitimate’ President, backfired against him. His refusal to submit to the popular will in a closely fought but ultimately transparent election and his lack of respect for democratic institutions significantly hindered his image and scared off a lot of voters. His rebranding as a calmer, more reasonable and less ‘scary’ moderate did not have much success. AMLO, buoyed by his trademark populist charisma, maintains solid and motivated base of support but also has a large crowd of voters who cannot stand him, inherited from his 2006 behaviour.

Even if his performance after the PRD’s rout in the 2009 midterms is quite honourable, the Mexican left in its contemporary lopezobradorista form, has been dealt another defeat. It did not manage to sustain itself as the main alternative to the PAN. The PRD must imperatively reinvent itself if it wants to achieve power in 2018. AMLO, like a self-parody and a broken record, has once again refused to recognize this election and has announced his intention to contest the legitimacy of this election, citing fraud and manipulation. In 2006, he originally had a capital of sympathy and support backing his allegations of fraud (which started evaporating when he blockaded a main road in the capital), but at this point his shenanigans only confirm his reputation and serve to paint him as a sore loser. He is demanding a full recount, and he may have a point in talking about inconsistencies, but ultimately he didn’t win.

Even if Peña Nieto’s victory is fairly comfortable it is not quite the landslide which some had predicted. He won by 6.5%, a margin which cannot be contested, but which is on the fairly low side of his polling numbers in the past few weeks. I’m not sure if this could qualify as an underwhelming or even Pyrrhic victory, but it is certainly not as convincing as a double digit win would have been.

From these numbers, I think that if Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard had been the PRD candidate, he would have had a very solid chance at actually defeating Peña Nieto. Ebrard leaves office extremely popular, and his candidate for Mexico City mayor won over 63% of the vote (far more than what AMLO won at the same time in the capital). He is also a fairly moderate, social democratic centre-leftist for whom a fair number of PAN voters, save the clerical ones, could easily stomach voting for to stop the PRI (unlike with AMLO). Ebrard could have potentially achieved, in reality if not on paper, a PRD-PAN alliance at the top level to prevent the PRI from winning the presidency. AMLO is a much too controversial and polarizing character for such an alliance to be formed, even informally.

The ‘other elections’: congressional and gubernatorial contests

The full composition of the new Congress is not yet known: but it is certain that the PRI, even with the PVEM, will have fallen short of an absolute majority in Congress. El Universal, one newspaper among others, has its own projection of the final composition of both houses. In the Chamber, it predicts 232 seats for the PRI-PVEM block against 140 seats for the PRD-PT-MC block, with the PAN winning only 118 seats and 10 seats for PANAL. In the 2009 midterms, the PRI-PVEM block won 258 seats (an absolute majority) against only 90 for the PRD-PT-MC block and 143 for the PAN. In the Senate, it predicts 57 seats for the PRI-PVEM, 41 seats for the PAN, 29 for the PRD-PT-MC block and 1 seat for PANAL. The outgoing Senate had 50 PAN senators, 39 PRI-PVEM senators, 36 PRD-PT-MC senators and 2 PANAL senators.

Results of the Chamber of Deputies election by single-member constituency (source: El Universal/PREP)

It is interesting to compare the national results for Congress and the presidential results. This is, of course, only a partial image because the voting patterns and differences varied quite a bit from state to state. At a superficial national level, Peña Nieto apparently outran the PRI-PVEM by a short margin. AMLO clearly outperformed his party, at least in terms of raw national vote shares: he won 31.6% nationally, but his block won only 27% of the congressional vote. In contrast, Vázquez Mota underperformed her party by about 1% while Quadri clearly underperformed PANAL’s congressional results (which – in passing – allow the party to, once again, save its registration). I would shy away from taking too much out of this trite quantitative analysis, given that when you look at the state level, there are clear indications that ticket splitting was quite commonplace in a good number of states (Baja California, especially in the Senate, being the top example).

In the lower house, the PRI and PVEM had an alliance in 199 out of 300 constituencies and it triumphed in 123 of these constituencies. The PRI and PVEM ran separately in the other constituencies, the PRI winning in 51 of these contests while PVEM candidates managed to win three direct seats (by beating, notably, PRI rivals) – all of them in Chiapas.

I’ve amused myself at spotting differences between the presidential results by constituency and the results of the direct vote in each seat. The differences are not huge, but some states stick out for ticket splitting. The PAN did significantly better than its presidential candidate in Baja  California Sur, Sonora and Puebla (in the city proper). The PRD, in contrast, did not do as well as AMLO in states such as Quintana Roo, Puebla and Veracruz. In Michoacán, it was the other way around: the PRD candidates did better than AMLO. Incidentally, Michoacán is the home state of the old PRD boss, Cárdenas, and used to be a PRD stronghold.

Compared to 2009, the PAN suffered heavy losses in Baja California, Jalisco, San Luis Potosí, Chiapas, Querétaro and parts of Guanajuato. In contrast, the party made some significant gains in Baja California Sur, Tamaulipas, Sonora, Puebla and parts of Veracruz. The PRD lost ground in Michoacán, Chiapas, Baja California Sur and Zacatecas but scored impressive gains in the DF, Edomex, Tlaxcala, Morelos, Tabasco, Guerrero and Oaxaca

In the Senate elections, which I don’t know much if anything about, there seems to have been some significant ticket splitting in certain states, Baja California being a great example: the PAN did terribly in the presidential and lower house vote there, but held on in the senatorial contest.  Manuel Bartlett, the guy who rigged the 1988 election against the PRD, was defeated running as the top candidate on the PRD slate in Puebla. In Quintana Roo, the PRI-PVEM slate headed by el niño verde (the Green kid – the leader of the PVEM who is the son of the party’s founder) placed first.

State elections proved quite interesting. In the much-talked about mayoral race in the DF (Mexico City), Miguel Ángel Mancera, the PRD candidate and a ‘proxy’ for incumbent mayor Marcelo Ebrard, won 63.56%. Beatriz Paredes, the PRI candidate, placed a very distant second with 19.75%. Mancera’s record-smashing win for the PRD in the capital confirms the growing gap between the cosmopolitan and socially liberal Mexico City and the rest of the country, which elected a priista President. But Mancera’s victory is also reflective of Ebrard’s popularity in his city. Mancera outran AMLO by over 10% in the city and swept every district of the city, including traditionally panista upper middle-class districts downtown.

In Chiapas, governed by the PRD for two successive mandates (though the current incumbent is basically a priista), PVEM Senator Manuel Velasco Coello, backed by the PRI, was elected governor in a massive landslide, with 67% of the vote against 17.6% for the PRD candidate. Velasco, who seems to be a local carbon copy of Peña Nieto (young, soap opera star girlfriend), benefited from the support of the term-limited PRD governor and rode a wave of change in the state which swept out the PRD at all levels. It is interesting to point out that the election of a Green (well, more like a ‘Green’) governor in the state had an impact on other races: Peña Nieto won 19.2% on the PVEM ballot line (Mexico has some sort of fusion voting like New York state and a few other American states), the PVEM won three house seats, and the PVEM ballot line got 24.8% in the senatorial election (a PRI-PVEM common slate). Velasco himself got 28.8% of the vote just on the Green ballot line.

In Guanajuato, PAN candidate Miguel Márquez Márquez managed to keep this panista bastion in the PAN’s column. He won 48.3% of the vote against 40.9% for Juan Ignacio Torres Landa, the PRI-PVEM candidate. The PAN has governed the state since 1991, making it one of the PAN’s oldest core strongholds. Vicente Fox served as governor in this state before becoming President. A PAN defeat in this stronghold would have been an unwelcome humiliation for the party.

In Jalisco, governed by the PAN since 1995, the young PRI mayor of Guadalajara, Aristóteles Sandoval – another Peña Nieto-like priista – was elected with 38.8% against 34.1% for a former panista running on the MC slate. The official PAN candidate won only 19.9% of the vote. Jalisco is a fairly important state and it has traditionally been a PAN bastion, making this PRI victory a fairly significant one.

The PAN also lost the state of Morelos, a small state south of the DF which it first won in 2000. PRD Senator Graco Ramírez won 43.3% of the vote against 34.7% for the PRI-PVEM candidate. The PAN placed a distant third with only 15.1%. The race had been closely disputed between the PRI and the PRD, but the PRI was thought to have a small edge, so this is welcome news for the PRD.

Also welcome news for the PRD is the result in the state of Tabasco, which had never elected a non-PRI governor. Tabasco is the home state of AMLO, who lost a likely rigged gubernatorial election in 1994 to Roberto Madrazo of the PRI. The 2000 gubernatorial contest was so rigged that it was finally annulled by the courts. But it was generally assumed that the PRI would manage to hold the governorship. There seems, however, to have been a strong anti-PRI movement at all levels on the ballot here. The PRD’s Arturo Núñez Jiménez won 51.4% of the vote against 43.8% for the PRI-PVEM candidate.

In Yucatán, the PRI’s Rolando Zapata held on to the state, which has been governed by the PRI since 2007, when it gained it from the PAN which won the state in 2001. Zapata won 50.6% of the vote against 41.3% for the PAN candidate, a better than expected showing for the PAN.

Attempts at a Geographic Analysis

Mexico’s electoral geography and voting patterns are a complex topic for an outside observer like me. From my little knowledge or experience with Mexican voting patterns, state lines remain a very important determinant in voting behaviour. Indeed, state-by-state voting patterns are heavily conditioned by the local strength and history of the two old opposition parties (PAN and PRD) but also by the popularity of the incumbent state government. Hence, Mexican voting patterns appear, to me at least, as being remarkably unstable. 2006 produced a fairly neat north-south split, with Calderón sweeping the north and AMLO being dominant throughout most of the south and the centre. But this was fairly illusory, and based more on the bizarreness of the 2006 election and the historical implantation of the PRD than anything else. It hid the fact that a lot of the northern states were and still are, in good part, strong states for the PRI where the PRD has never gained a foothold.

This year produced a fairly weird map. Peña Nieto’s support was fairly evenly spread out throughout Mexico except for the DF, which has often been the case. The PRI’s support this year, as in the past, tended to be more rural than urban. A poll showed that, unsurprisingly, Peña Nieto found his strongest support with women, rural voters, less educated voters and older voters. Peña Nieto won 43% in Edomex, his home state, and nearly 60% in his hometown district. On the other hand, Peña Nieto struggled in a lot of urban areas, first and foremost the capital city.

AMLO dominated, as in 2006, in Mexico City, where he was mayor between 2000 and 2005. He won 52.8% of the vote in the DF this year, which, as aforementioned, is significantly less than what the PRD’s mayoral candidate won at the same time. Mexico City clearly, unmistakably, stands out from the country. It is a fairly affluent, highly educated, quite young and certainly very cosmopolitan metropolis which has long been a redoubt of left-wing opposition to the PRI. The DF is basically one of the only states where the PRI seems to totally lack any semblance of an old machine or political base. Nothing too surprising, however: polling has shown that AMLO was the favourite for the youngest voters and the most highly educated segment of the electorate.

With 34.1%, AMLO placed a fairly strong second in Edomex, holding on to the PRD’s base in Mexico City’s impoverished working-poor suburbs, notably the PRD stronghold of Nezahualcóyotl. His strongest state, however, was his home state of Tabasco, where he won 59% of the vote (an improvement over 2006 actually). The 2006 results in Tabasco are clouded by the fact that the PRI’s candidate, Roberto Madrazo, was also from there and had a significant favourite son vote (Peña Nieto actually did worse than Madrazo there). But Tabasco also seems to have had an anti-PRI wave this year, which allowed the PRD to win the governorship (the first time ever) and do well in downballot races.

AMLO also did quite spectacularly well in Guerrero (46.7%), Oaxaca (43%) and Puebla (34.6%) which are three old PRI strongholds. The PRD won a second successive gubernatorial mandate in Guerrero last year, while the PRD gained the states of Oaxaca and Puebla, which had never had non-PRI governors before, in 2010 through an alliance with the PAN (Oaxaca has a PRD-MC governor, Puebla has a PAN governor). It would certainly appear as if AMLO’s strong performance in these states this year has something to do with the popularity of their incumbent governors.

On the other hand, AMLO did poorly in four other states which had usually been counted as PRD strongholds: Baja California Sur (third place, 24.9%), Zacatecas (24.6%), Michoacán (31.3%) and Chiapas (31.3%). All these states had PRD governors until recently – the PRD just lost Chiapas after two terms, it lost Baja California Sur to a panista (who is still a former peredista) in 2011, it came third in Michoacán (the Cárdenas family state)  in the last state elections there late last year and lost Zacatecas to the PRI in 2010. Chiapas certainly had a major anti-PRD swing this year, while the PAN scored impressive results in Baja California Sur (but did terribly in Baja California, its first stronghold) – perhaps the results of its victory in the state in 2011? In Michoacán, AMLO has always struggled to catch the personal vote which flowed to the state’s native son Cárdenas up until 2000. In Zacatecas, which used to be a PRI stronghold until the PRD gained it for a while, it seems as if the PRI governor might be quite popular or something.

Vázquez Mota’s map is definitely quite weird. She did very well, all things considered, in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, where she placed first with 41.8% and 39.8% respectively. Nuevo León has had a PAN governor in the past (but currently has a PRI governor) but Tamaulipas has usually been a PRI stronghold – I don’t think it ever elected a PAN governor. In Tamaulipas, Vázquez Mota did best in the maquiladora towns lining the US border (Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros) while in Nuevo León she won thanks to her strength in the state capital, Monterrey (where the PAN has always been strong). The PAN likely benefited from the unpopularity of the PRI incumbents in these two states, whose poor security record (these states are part of the frontline for the drug wars) might have hurt the PRI locally. In Nuevo León, the PRI governor, Rodrigo Medina, is particularly unpopular and has been criticized for his security policy. Vázquez Mota also did quite well in Coahuila, another longtime PRI stronghold on the northern border.

Vázquez Mota prevailed in Guanajuato, governed by the PAN since 1991. Guanajuato is an industrial state in the traditionally Catholic (in the 1920s, the cristeros war was fought in this general region) and politically right-leaning regions of western Mexico. However, she was defeated in Jalisco, a similarly Catholic and fairly industrialized state where the PAN has usually been strong. As aforementioned, the PAN lost the governorship of this state which has been hit by the drug war.

On the other hand, the PAN won some horrible results in other parts of the country. Baja California was horrible. Vázquez Mota placed third, behind AMLO, with only 27% of the vote. The state used to be the panista stronghold par excellence, having been the first state to be won by an opposition party when the PAN conquered the governorship in 1989 and held on to it since then. The PAN can take solace in its strong showing (29.7% in the presidential race, strong results in the house election) in Baja California Sur, the sparsely populated southern end of the peninsula which had, until 2011, been a fairly solid PRD state. But with a gubernatorial race scheduled for August 2013 inBaja California, the PAN’s hegemony in the state is put into serious jeopardy.

Mexico’s future

Enrique Peña Nieto will take office on December 1, 2012 but the new Congress will be taking office as early as September 1. Peña Nieto has a tough road ahead of him, as the country faces many challenges. He has called for national unity and promised significant reforms, though he has rarely given substantial details. In fact, most of the reforms he promises are not all that different from those reforms which Calderón promised in 2006 but failed to live up to.

The PRI has signaled that it would like to pass a major fiscal/tax reform and a deregulating labour law reform before Peña Nieto is to take office. The PRI will lack a congressional majority on its own, meaning that it too will be forced to look to other parties – either the PAN or the PRD – for support for its legislative agenda. A lot of reforms require a two-thirds majority, so the PRI will also need to deal with the PRD as well as the PAN.

One of Peña Nieto’s main priorities will likely be a major reform of Pemex, which would allow for partial private investment in shale oil and gas, refining and petrochemicals. He will need, I think, a large majority in Congress in order to achieve this reform, which is seemingly backed by the powerful petroleum workers’ union (which was very pro-priista in this election). The PAN tried and fail to pass such reforms in the past, but usually had to settle on piecemeal reforms which ultimately didn’t change much. Such a reform would certainly be warmly welcomed by foreign investors, and could prove beneficial for Pemex, which is in dire need of private investment if it is to invest in new technologies and further explorations.

The drug cartel conflicts and the violence which has plagued Mexico for years now was a major issue in this election and will be a major issue on Peña Nieto’s agenda. Officially, Peña Nieto has not indicated that he would significantly alter Calderón’s heavy-handed strategy. He could be shifting gears a bit, however, in favour of a slightly less aggressive approach which focuses on reducing violence and murders while not necessarily going all-out after the empires which are drug trafficking and the cartels. While he has firmly rejected any negotiations or talks with individual drug cartels, many believe that Peña Nieto could secretly negotiate or even pay certain drug cartels in order to buy peace or eliminate other cartels.

On other issues, it is doubtful whether Peña Nieto, by the nature of who he is, will do much. Many fear that Peña Nieto’s election seals the return of the old PRI dinosaurs to power, and while Peña Nieto has preferred to surround himself with likeminded young flashy technocrats, he is never far away from the corruption and shady tactics of the old PRI bosses. Peña Nieto’s own name has been mixed up in a few corruption cases, dating back to his time as Governor. During the campaign, Peña Nieto was closely supported by the Pemex workers’ union, well known for its corruption and collusion with the PRI. Public education is a mess and any government would do well to clean it up, but given the disproportionate power wielded by La Maestra and the SNTE, few governments have the courage to do so, and Peña Nieto hardly seems like the type of President who will pick fights with her. Media bias and the private monopolies over television and telecommunications in Mexico are obviously major issues which weaken Mexico’s still nascent liberal democracy, but clearly Peña Nieto is not going to even lift a finger against giants like Televisa…

Above all, there are widespread fears both in Mexico and abroad that the man who some call “Mexico’s Vladimir Putin” will work to undermine Mexico’s democracy from within. Some have styled his victory as the return of the old guard to power. I do not really buy the doom-and-gloom scenarios whereby Peña Nieto’s victory spells major trouble for Mexico’s democracy.Mexico has changed since 2000, and the political culture is now quite accustomed to vibrant multiparty democracy and independent institutions. Corruption, collusion between private interests and political interests, sleazebag politicians and restrictions on personal freedoms are no longer accepted or tolerated in the same way as they were in the past era(s) of PRI dominance. The #YoSoy132 movement, but also the major concerns about media bias and human rights abuses are reflective of this new political culture, which has changed significantly since the 1990s and which is not ready to idly stand by and accept democratic abuses and transgressions.

To point out the obvious, the PRI also lacks a congressional majority, meaning that in basically everything it tries to do, it will need to collaborate with opposition parties. And while the PAN could be ready to support some of Peña Nieto’s free-market reforms, neither it nor the PRD will be docile and passive opponents – unlike the charades which pass as opposition parties in Putin’sRussia.

At this point, President “Ken Barbie” must now prove that he is up to the job, and lives up to the expectations placed by some voters in him. He has promised things such as an ‘efficient state’, but will he prove to be more efficient than the PAN was in dealing with Congress? But, above all, will he be able to restore a semblance of security and rule of law throughout Mexico, further instill democratic principles in a still fairly new democracy, and promote economic growth? Only time will tell.

This post will (hopefully) be updated with final results as the votes are counted (and recounted).

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