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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Posted on July 5, 2012, in Mexico, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. AMLO’s reaction to the 2006 election result may have damaged his credibility, but who’s to blame anyone for accusing PRI of playing dirty?

  2. Michoacán has been ravaged by violence in the last years. Maybe the last PRDistas governors became unpopular because of this (PRI won there in 2011) and subsequently the PRD vote dropped at the Presidential election. The last month 900 people were killed in Mexico and it was a good month! Impressive effort and analysis.

  3. excellent and hyper-well-informed analysis. very helpful, thanks

  1. Pingback: 2012′s Top 10 « World Elections

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