Category Archives: Mexico

Mexican state elections 2013

State and local elections were held in fourteen Mexican states on July 7, 2013. Elections were held in the states of Aguascalientes, Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Veracruz and Zacatecas. There were local elections for each municipal government (ayuntamiento) and municipal president (presidente municipal, mayor) in all states except Hidalgo. Every state except Coahuila held state congressional elections, with the entirety of the State Congress (Congreso del Estado) being renewed. One state, Baja California, held gubernatorial elections. In total, 1,348 municipal presidents and 432 state deputies were elected.

Mayors, local councillors and state deputies are elected to serve three-year terms, while state governors serve six-year terms. Like the federal Congress, each state congress is composed of deputies elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (diputados de mayoría relativa) and deputies elected by party-list proportional representation (diputados de representación proporcional). The number of deputies elected by FPTP and PR varies from state to state.

In line with the Mexican revolutionary tradition of no reelección, no officeholder – either executives or legislator – may seek immediate reelection. The constitutionally entrenched principle of no reelección, one of the legacies of the Mexican Revolution, is viewed as sacrosanct, but there is increased support for the idea of legislative reelection both federally and in the states.

Political context

In federal elections a year ago, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI), which had ruled Mexico as a quasi-single party state between 1929 and 2000, returned to power with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) to the presidency.

EPN, like his party, polarizes public opinion in Mexico. The PRI, as the former natural governing party, retains the strongest grassroots networks of any of Mexico’s political parties, and it continues to hold a dominant role in state and local governments across the country – it governs 18 states out of Mexico’s 32 federal entities. The PRI’s rule rested on its ability to placate different sectors, playing the carrot and the stick and a strong corporatist alliance. While unions once controlled by the PRI are more independent nowadays, the PRI still retains close ties and links to powerful unions – notably the oil workers’ union. However, things have changed since the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, it could get away with corruption, complacency, woeful mismanagement and even overt electoral fraud (like in 1988). Today, while it remains powerful, a new generation of younger educated and urbanized Mexicans are no longer willing to give the PRI a blank cheque. These voters, powerful in urban areas such as Mexico City (the DF) and strong supporters of the left-wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution, PRD), are instinctively anti-priista - they view the PRI as an extremely corrupt and autocratic party which should have died off years ago, and they tend to look down on PRI voters and supporters. The 2012 election showed the growing divide between urban and rural Mexico, with EPN doing well in the rural areas but very poorly in Mexico City, a PRD stronghold.

EPN is a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. To begin with, he is a product of the Grupo Atlacomulco, a secretive and corrupt political group within the PRI in Edomex (the state of México, of which EPN was governor between 2005 and 2011) which included, at one time, Carlos Hank González and Arturo Montiel (a notoriously corrupt former governor and PRI powerbroker considered to be EPN’s political godfather). Therefore, even if EPN could – with some degree of truth – be considered one of the PRI’s younger and less autocratic members, his political rise was made possible by key members of the PRI’s old guard. Secondly, while EPN is charismatic, handsome, a smooth talker and an able politician; he is seen by his detractors as an uncultured idiot and the tool of powerful and corrupt vested interests in the PRI or strong monopolies/duopolies in the Mexican economy (his campaign was closely backed by the powerful TV giant, Televisa). The #YoSoy132 movement, which began during the 2012 campaign, is reflective of this urban left-wing opposition to EPN, viewed as a corrupt “Ken Barbie” tool of corrupt PRI elites, and the existing economic power structures in Mexico.

Given his background and a presidential campaign low on substance, many – myself included – held out little hope that EPN’s promises for economic and social reforms would go beyond words. He may have surprised everybody in his willingness to translate words (which every Mexican president is really strong on) into substantive actions and useful reforms (which few presidents are able to deliver). In his inaugural speech to the Congress, EPN promised key educational, telecommunication, financial/fiscal, labour and political reforms. Mexican presidents attempt to make their mark on their country in some way or another. EPN’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón, made his mark with his militaristic response to Mexico’s increasingly bloody drug war(s); EPN wants to focus on social and economic reforms which, he argues, target the social roots of Mexico’s narcotrafficking crisis.

In December 2012, Mexico’s three main parties – the PRI, the left-wing PRD and former President Calderón’s right-wing PAN (National Action Party) – signed the Pacto por México, a list of 95 loosely defined reforms and promises which the three parties have committed themselves to. Education, telecommunication and financial reform have been the top three priorities of the Pacto por México. The Pacto is one of EPN’s crown jewels in his young administration, given that it gives him the tools to do what Calderón failed to do – forge congressional consensus to push through major reforms. The PRI had blocked many of Calderón’s reform efforts during his sexenio.

Mexico has the potential to have a strong and robust public education system, but decades of mismanagement, corruption and nepotism in the system turned public education into a complete mess. Until now, education has been controlled by the powerful teachers’ union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, SNTE), a corrupt entity led between 1989 and 2013 by Elba Esther Gordillo, La Maestra. The SNTE effectively controlled teacher hiring, promotion, evaluation and dismissals meaning. As a result, most state spending on education (Mexico is the OECD country spending the most on education, but its educational performance is one of the worst in the OECD) went to paying salaries to ‘ghosts’ who weren’t teachers, while many teaching jobs are inherited – passed on from one generation to another within the same family – or sold (one case of a teacher ‘buying’ her job for $20,000!). The SNTE and La Maestra were extraordinarily powerful actors. The SNTE was one of the PRI’s corporatist allies, but La Maestra was an extremely adroit political player who managed to ally herself with all Presidents since Carlos Salinas (1988), including the two PAN president – Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. In 2005, she split from the PRI to form her own party, the New Alliance Party (Partido Nueva Alianza, PANAL), an ostensibly liberal party which is in reality a front for the SNTE which sells itself to the highest bidder (the PANAL backed 16 of Mexico’s 32 incumbent governors). PANAL helped the PAN in 2006, therefore Calderón never really dared to cross her. In 2012, a potential deal with the PRI fell through at the last minute.

In late February 2013, EPN officially promulgated a constitutional education reform, which had been approved by Congress in December 2012 and ratified by the states. The reform will wrestle control for teacher evaluation, promotion, hiring and so forth from the SNTE and place it with a centralized independent public body. Promotions will be on the basis of merit only; as a result, teaching positions should no longer be inherited or sold. In addition, the reform grants some decision-making autonomy to local schools and mandates a comprehensive census of teachers, schools and pupils in Mexico. The very next day, on February 26, authorities arrested SNTE leader Elba Esther Gordillo. The attorney general (the PGR) charged her for embezzling $2 billion pesos (US$156 million) from the SNTE; he detailed how she had lived and spent lavishly on union funds, with purchases in high-end department stores in California, secret bank accounts in Switzerland, amasisng a total of 10 properties and plastic surgery in California. La Maestra‘s arrest was widely approved by the Mexican electorate, which has long known her to be extremely corrupt. For EPN, it was a show of authority – similar to how Carlos Salinas arrested a powerful oil workers’ union boss in 1989 shortly after taking office, to assert his authority after a disputed election (EPN’s election was not as disputed as 1988, of course, but he still faced protests on his inauguration day from #YoSoy132).

In more ways than one, however, EPN was not the most likely candidate to take on La Maestra like no president had ever done since she took the reins of the SNTE in 1989. However, he quickly showed that he had no great affection for her – his secretary of basic education is a longtime opponent of hers – and with the wide-reaching reform, he took her on. Of course, a cynic would be right to contend that he moved against her because he didn’t owe her anything (although many in the PRI do). In contrast, his government hasn’t been investigating other union bosses known to be just as corrupt as she was. Romero Deschamps, the leader of the powerful oil workers’ union (STPRM), is widely suspected of corruption and embezzlement of Pemex/union funds, but he is a leading PRI senator and a loyal ally of EPN – an especially important one as EPN moves to significantly (and controversially) reform Pemex, Mexico’s sacrosanct publicly-owned oil monopoly.

La Maestra would have become a powerful anti-reform voice if she had not been arrested, so with her arrest, EPN thought he had rid himself of the strongest bulwark to the reform. However, EPN and the Tripartite Pacto faced their first major challenge in April, when rogue teachers (most unaffiliated with the SNTE, now in a bit of a power vacuum) in the southwestern state of Guerrero staged large violent protests which blockaded a road from Mexico City to Acapulco and attacked local offices of the three major parties. They have allied themselves with local armed vigilante groups and some far-left agrarian movements, still powerful in the poor and indigenous states of southwestern Mexico. Proponents of the reform claim that these teachers are only selfishly protecting the old system, their job security and the old advantages. The rogue teacher claim that they oppose the reforms because it thretens job security and they view it as the first step towards the ‘privatization’ of education and the centralization of education decision-making in the hands of the state. However, some of their concerns are quite legitimate. For example, they are critical of the centralized evaluation procedures which would be make-or-break from now on for teachers. They claim that teachers in rural areas, like impoverished southwestern Mexico, face much different realities and must adapt to local circumstances in different ways than teachers in the DF. Therefore, what ‘works’ in the DF might not work in Oaxaca or Guerrero.

EPN and the Tripartite Pacto’s second objective was telecommunication reforms. Monopolies or duopolies in Mexican telephony and media have dragged down the Mexican economy (costing it $25 billion a year) and effectively closed these key sectors to . They have worked to the advantage of a small group of wealthy oligarchs – Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, owes his wealth in large part to the fact that his companies (Telcel, the local subsidiary of América Móvil; and Telmex) control respectively 80% of cellphone services and 95% of landlines respectively. Mexico’s television is dominated by two powerful media behemoths: TV Azteca (38%) and the (in)famous Televisa (56%). Monopolistic actors jealously guard their turf, often through very close ties to politicians (Televisa was accused, rightly, of media bias in the PRI and EPN’s favour in 2012; Televisa’s former attorney went on to become a federal deputy for Mexico’s ‘Green’ Party, PVEM) which allows them to lobby parliamentarians and influence legislation (see the 2006 Ley Televisa, rammed through by the PAN and PRI, under the influence of Televisa – it was invalidated). EPN taking on Televisa is even more surprising, given how Televisa basically served as his mouthpiece in 2012 and his close ties to Televisa – his wife, Angélica Rivera, was an actress in some of Televisa’s telenovelas.

The constitutional reform for telecommunications was promulgated on June 10 by the President. The new reform strengthens freedom of speech and access to information, guarantees access to information and communication technologies (including broadband internet) and telecommunications/broadcasting as a constitutional right. To regulate telecommunications, a new autonomous public body will be created (Ifetel); the Ifetel will be the sole body with the power to grant and revoke licenses – this will, hopefully, allow for technical rather than political decisions. The Ifetel will also have the power to subject dominant actors to asymmetric regulations, break up monopolies and impose limits on concentration of market shares. Two new television channels will be created and auctioned off, and neither Televisa nor TV Azteca will be allowed to bid. The reform opens up telecommunications and broadcasting to sizable foreign investment: allowing majority holdings in telecommunications via satellite, and a minority share (up to 49%) in broadcasting. The reform institutes must-carry, must-offer rules; this could force, for example, Televisa to sell its content to rivals and carry competitors’ signals.

The reform has been hailed as “very good on paper”. Like the education reform, however, it also requires additional implementation legislation and more details will need to be hashed out. There are fears that, like in the past, the dominant economic actors will put pressure on the new regulatory bodies and limit their wiggle room. However, EPN recently signed a ley de amparo, which, among others, should curtail the use of legal injunctions by corporations. There are risks that the dominant economic players will use this reform to expand their interests into other areas – Carlos Slim is eager to enter the television market, and could participate in the bidding for the two new national networks; Televisa also fancies entering Slim’s landline and cellphone markets.

The education and telecom reforms have formed the hallmark of EPN’s tenure thus far. However, his government and the Tripartite Pacto has other major reforms in mind – and these will be more controversial than the first two reforms. There is a fiscal reform in the works, which could come up this fall. Mexico’s taxation system is inefficient and filled with loopholes – tax revenue is only about 20% of the GDP, one of the lowest in the OECD. Problems in the tax system include tax avoidance (particularly the income tax), state and local governments’ incompetence at collecting taxes, the huge informal economy and tax loopholes which allow corporations to evade taxation. The reform will aim at significantly increasing non-oil tax revenue, by at least 6% of GDP. It is unclear which route the PRI and the Pacto will take on this issue. Recently, the PRI amended its statutes to allow the expansion of the VAT to cover foodstuffs and medicine, currently exempt from taxation. Consumer subsidies, including for fuel, could be phased out. This article (in English) presents various routes and explains the political horsetrading behind the reform. Fiscal reform will prove more controversial, especially for the PRD, which will likely oppose expanding the VAT to foodstuffs and medicine – an idea which is also unpopular with most voters. The PRI will likely need to give in to some of the PRD’s demands or give concessions to the PRD (and the PAN) on other reforms.

One of the most controversial reforms will certainly be the energy reform. Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, and what it symbolizes – Mexican control of its most cherished natural resource, is a source of national pride for Mexico and a sacrosanct institution. Few major politicians in Mexico would ever dare to explictly call on its privatization or the deregulation of the energy market. Besides, Pemex, through the royalties and taxes it pays to the federal government is its main source of revenue. However, the exorbitantly high taxes paid out by Pemex have left it saddled with debts and unable to invest in new technologies and further exploration – notably new underwater oil reserves. There seems to be a majority consensus among leading politicians for energy reform; the Tripartite Pacto explicitly called for an energy reform but also excluded privatization of Pemex, to the chagrin of some foreign investors. It is unclear how far EPN is willing to go with energy reform, and how far his ‘allies’ in the Tripartite Pacto (especially the left-wing PRD) are willing to go on their end.

Earlier in June, celebrating Pemex’s 75th anniversary, EPN talked of transforming it into a “world-class enterprise” and presented six main objectives – all fairly vague – including converting Pemex into a ‘model of efficiency, transparency and accountability’, ‘unlocking its potential to invest and innovate’ and establishing Pemex as an ‘industry generating other industries’. A reform will likely allow for regulated private and foreign investment (likely in in shale oil and gas, refining and petrochemicals). The Pacto mentioned allowing for ‘competition in the refining, petrochemicals and transportation of hydrocarbons without privatizing Pemex’.

However, even with these vague declarations on all sides, the reform is already sparking considerable political debate, especially within the PRD. The PRD’s 2012 presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is sidelined by the PRD’s current leadership and has created his own movement (Morena), has said that Pemex does not need reform. The patriarchal figure and founder of the PRD, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (the son of PRI President Lázaro Cárdenas, who nationalized oil and created Pemex in 1938), says that reform should be limited to reducing Pemex’s tax burden. The former PRD head of government of the DF and likely 2018 presidential candidate, Marcelo Ebrard, has said that it would be a catastrophic strategic mistake for the PRD to back EPN’s energy reforms. The PRD’s president, Jesús Zambrano, appears more pragmatic but is also quite adamant that nothing is sealed. The PRD in general seems to oppose any constitutional reform on the subject; private investment would necessitate amending the constitution’s article 27.

On the issue of security and the drug cartels, which is likely EPN’s weakest suits (and he is well aware of that), the federal government can temporarily pride itself on a slowly declining death tolls – deaths from drug-related violence or organized crimes are down from the highs of 2011, but they are still much higher than they were pre-2006 and many Mexicans are still murdered, kidnapped or extorted on a daily basis. EPN’s main proposal on the security front in 2012 was to shift focus from battling and “winning the war” against the cartels (a daunting task which Mexico cannot accomplish on its on) to reducing violence and deaths, as well as creating a new police force – the Gendarmería Nacional. But it remains unclear what role this Gendarmería will assume, where its role will stop vis-a-vis the Federal Police and whether the government intends to continue Calderón’s military-led war strategy.

EPN’s ambitious reformist agenda has won him plaudits from foreign observers and journalists, who have praised his reformism and perhaps gone a bit overboard in the hype and their newfound admiration for him. For example, some right-leaning American commentators tried spinning the arrest of La Maestra as a sign that Americans should get tough on “corrupt teachers’ unions” just like EPN was apparently doing – omitting to mention her backstory, the nature of education in Mexico (compared to the US) and how her arrest served EPN’s domestic political agenda. In Mexico, by contrast, public opinion seems far more divided on the new President and certainly not as wildly enthusiastic as some foreigners might assume. His approval ratings remain positive and in the range most European leaders could only dream of these days – about 50 to 60% – but compared to his predecessors, that is on the low side of things.

Left-wing criticism – and that is from where most criticism of EPN seems to come from – decry EPN’s agenda as a broadly neoliberal one which serves the interests of the main parties, the elites and big business (domestic and international).

Electoral context

EPN’s reform, if successful and if he is sincere about them (and those are two big ifs), represent major changes for the PRI – akin to the transformation of the PRI under Miguel de la Madrid/Carlos Salinas after 1982. However, the PRI is a party with a chameleonic ability to adapt itself to changing times and circumstances.

All the while EPN’s federal government is moving an ambitious reformist agenda, some in the PRI continue to engage in the party’s darker time-honoured traditions – corruption, vote buying and manipulation of government resources for political/electoral ends. The PRI’s old autocratic tradition, in some states, is alive and well. Some might even argue that it is alive and well in the priista-controlled executive branch federally. One such case of corruption earlier this year threatened to dismantle the whole Tripartite Pacto. In April, PAN leader Gustavo Madero accused the PRI governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, and the Secretary of Social Development (Sedesol) Rosario Robles (a former national leader of the PRD and a one-time PRD head of government of the DF) of conditioning government social programs to votes for the PRI in these elections. The PAN and PRD claimed that this was all part of a wider abuse of government resources and social programs to buy votes for the PRI. Following these accussations, the PAN and PRD suspended their participation in the Pacto and threatened to pull out of the Pacto entirely unless EPN fired Robles and Duarte resigned. In any event, nobody resigned and the PAN or PRD didn’t pull out of the coalition. Despite initially washing off the allegations against his Sedesol and rushing to her defense, EPN later managed to save the Pacto from an early death by signining, in May, an addendum to the Pacto with the PAN and PRD.

Nevertheless, throughout the campaign, the PRI and PAN have traded accusations of abusing government resources. The PAN has detailed numerous allegations of misuse of government resources for electoral ends by PRI state governments, the PRI has countered with allegations that the PAN did likewise when it held the federal government (until 2012) and in the states it governs, including Baja California.

There appears, at least with the educated middle-classes, to be much less tolerance for corruption, nepotism and abuse of powers by elected officials or government officials. The former PRI governor of Tabasco, Andrés Granier (2007-2012), was arrested on charges of corruption and embezzlement of public funds in late June – his PRD successor discovered that $190 million in state funds had gone missing. Several former governors – from the PRI and other parties – are being investigated for corruption or other charges.

In May 2013, the government dismissed Humberto Benítez Treviño, the head of the federal consumer protection agency (Profeco) after her daughter, styled #LadyProfeco, caused an uproar when she had Profeco close down a restaurant where she felt she had not been served quickly enough. That same month, a PRD senator, who became known as #LadySenadora, was caught on video blowing a fuse with an airline employee who had kept her from boarding a flight after the doors had closed.

The right-wing National Action Party (PAN), which lost the presidency in 2012, has been rocked by an internal crisis in its senatorial caucus and national leadership. In May, the PAN’s national leader, Gustavo Madero, dismissed the party’s Senate coordinator, Ernesto Cordero, a former finance secretary under President Felipe Calderón and a close ally and friend of the former President. Cordero, who, as the calderonista candidate, placed second in the PAN’s presidential primaries last year, had previously criticized the Pacto, lamenting how it was built behind closed doors without input from legislators. His comment irked Madero, who dismissed him as the PAN’s senatorial coordinator (caucus leader) and replaced him with a more conciliatory Senator. However, Cordero’s dismissal created a rift within the party’s caucus – 23 of the PAN’s 38 senators signed a letter calling on Madero to reinstate Cordero. Former President Calderón criticized Madero for hanging the dirty laundry in public, saying it hurt the party.

Opposition to the Tripartite Pacto has been strongest within the left-wing PRD. It may appear odd that the PRD, whose 2012 presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) refused to recognize EPN’s victory, would sign on to a deal with EPN and the PRI. The PRD, however, is controlled since 2008 by the so-called Chuchos faction, whose hostility towards AMLO is no secret. The PRD’s current leader, since 2011, is Jesús Zambrano Grijalva, is a prominent leader of the chuchos although he is not the chucho himself – that was his predecessor, Jesús Ortega. The chuchos tend to be far more pragmatic and open to working with the PAN (and, to a lesser extent, the PRI) than AMLO is. Nevertheless, the strongest opposition to the Pacto from its three component parties comes from the PRD. Although AMLO has left the party and founded his own movement, Morena, he retains a significant minority of support within the PRD, and he may also count on the strong support of the smaller leftist Workers’ Party (PT) and Citizens’ Movement (MC). For example, while no PAN or PRI deputies voted against the telecom reform, 26 PRD deputies voted against (56 voted in favour).

Major races

By far, the most important race in these fairly low-key elections was Baja California. Not only was it the only state with a gubernatorial contest, but the state is an important symbol in Mexican politics. In 1989, it was the first state to elect a non-PRI governor, in the form of Ernesto Ruffo, the panista who had previously conquered the municipality of Ensenada from the PRI in 1986. At the time, President Carlos Salinas, a year after his ‘victory’ in an election marred by overt fraud, was quite pleased by the PAN’s victory in Baja California – it pleased the PAN, and more importantly give his presidency a crucial veneer of democratic legitimacy, no matter how shallow. Since 1989, the PAN has held the state in three successive gubernatorial elections, making it one of the toughest anti-priista strongholds.

Baja California, the northernmost and westernmost state of Mexico, covers the northern half of the Baja California peninsula. It is a fairly populous state (3.3 million), and one of Mexico’s most affluent states – it has the fourth highest HDI of Mexico’s 32 federal entities. The bulk of the population is concentrated along the coast and/or along the American border – urbanized and industrialized areas with a strong agricultural backbone, and also (in the case of the coast), one of the few regions in the state with a Mediterranean rather than arid climate. With the exception of the Mexicali Valley in the northeast or the wineries of the Guadalupe Valley (in the northwest, near Ensenada), most of the state’s interior is covered by arid deserts or inhospitable mountain ranges.

All of Mexico has been influenced by proximity to the United States, but that influence is even stronger in Baja California. Tijuana is the Mexican extension of the San Diego metropolitan area in California, and there are close ties between both cities. Mexicali, the state capital, was developed at the turn of the last century by American industrialists. The adjacent Mexicali Valley, an irrigated agricultural area surrounded by arid desert, is a continuation of the Imperial Valley in California (Imperial County). The state’s industry is driven by maquiladoras in Tijuana and Mexicali, foreign-owned factories in free trade zones. Perhaps less so than Baja California Sur (Los Cabos) or Jalisco (Puerto Vallarta), the state nevertheless attracts many tourists (or longer-term residents) from the western United States. By virtue of its border with the United States, immigrants seeking to cross the border into California will do so from Baja California. However, Baja California is a receptable for immigrants in its own right. As a prosperous and industrialized state, a large part of the state’s population was born in other (poorer) states or immigrated to work in factories or agriculture. Since statehood in 1952, none of the state’s thirteen governors have been born in the state itself – ten were born in other states of Mexico and three, including Ernesto Ruffo, were born in California.

The PAN’s José Guadalupe Osuna Millán won 50.4% of the vote in the 2007 election, against 44% for the PRI’s Jorge Hank Rhon. The PRD, which won 2.3% in 2007, has always been very weak at the state and local level in Baja California, where the contest is always between PAN and PRI. Nevertheless, the PRD’s AMLO placed second in both the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections, and the PAN took a monumental thumping in 2012 in the state, placing a disastrous third in the presidential race with 27.7% against 37.7% for EPN and 31.8% for AMLO. The PAN had already suffered a fairly significant defeat at the hands of the PRI in local and state legislative elections in 2010 – the PRI won all five municipalities in the state, and 14 state deputies to the PAN’s 8.

This hotly contested race had three candidates.

The PRI, in coalition with the PVEM, PT and a small local party (PES), nominated Fernando Castro Trenti, a former senator (2006-2012). Castro Trenti defeated a controversial figure of local politics, Jorge Hank Rhon, in the PRI’s internal primaries. Jorge Hank Rhon, the son of former Edomex governor Carlos Hank González (and former leader of the Grupo Atlacomulco), is a businessman and former municipal president of Tijuana between 2004 and 2006. Hank Rhon remains closely tied to the Grupo Caliente, a powerful economic conglamerate which owns the local stadium in Tijuana, horse racetracks, a hotel and casinos; additionally, the group is intimately tied to three local trade unions which strongly support Hank Rhon. Like his father before him, Hank Rhon is suspected by the United States of ties to narcotrafficking – particularly the Tijuana cartel – and he has been tied up in a number of murky dealings. Most recently, in 2011, Hank Rhon was arrested by the military for illegal ownership of several weapons.

Castro Trenti served as a state deputy between 2001 and 2004, during which time he gained considerable influence as a local powerbroker. Even while serving as federal senator, he retained influence and became the de facto leader and kingmaker of the local PRI, replacing Hank Rhon who neglected politics after 2007. Castro Trenti is a close friend and ally Manlio Fabio Beltrones, a former governor of Sonora (1991-1997) who is currently the PRI’s coordinator (caucus leader) in the Chamber of Deputies. More importantly, however, there are strong indications that he was EPN’s favourite candidate – the President was unwilling to go with Hank Rhon, because of his judicial problems and needed a ‘cleaner’ figure to live up to his much-heralded nuevo PRI image.

There is a lot of bad blood between Castro Trenti and Hank Rhon, the culmination of an early alliance turned awry after 2007. Castro Trenti served as Hank Rhon’s secretario de gobierno while the latter was mayor of Tijuana between 2004 and 2006 and he was Hank Rhon’s campaign manager in the 2007 gubernatorial contest. In this contest, Hank Rhon’s supporters claimed that their candidate was betrayed by Castro Trenti, who deliberately failed to mobilize the priista electorate and stood idly by as La Maestra had the SNTE intervene in the PAN’s favour, to get back at her sworn enemy within the PRI, Roberto Madrazo (a former leader of the PRI and the party’s disastrous 2006 presidential candidate, a close ally of Hank Rhon). There are also rumours that Castro Trenti had sealed a deal with the PAN’s José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, who defeated Hank Rhon. Regardless, Castro Trenti’s campaign was silently undermined by Hank Rhon’s supporters, who sat on their hands. A union boss allied with Hank Rhon said that they had orders to work on the campaign of the PRI’s candidate for mayor of Tijuana (Jorge Astiazarán, a close ally of Hank Rhon), but they received no such orders for the gubernatorial campaign. The only public appearance of both PRI rivals together came at the end of the campaign, with Castro Trenti’s final rally alongside Hank Rhon in the estadio Caliente in Tijuana, the stadium owned by Hank Rhon. However, at the same time, there were reports that one of Hank Rhon’s son attended the PAN candidate’s rally.

The PAN candidate was Francisco “Kiko” Vega de la Madrid, a former mayor of Tijuana (1998-2001) and former federal deputy (2009-2012) who had already sought (and lost) the PAN’s nomination for governor in 2001 and 2007. Third time was the charm for him, defeating Héctor Osuna Jaime, another former PAN mayor of Tijuana (in the 1990s) who was backed by incumbent senator and former governor Ernesto Ruffo. “Kiko” Vega was backed by the PRD, the PANAL and a regional party (PEBC). PAN-PRD alliances, increasingly common, may appear rather contradictory for foreign observers used to a strict left-right spectrum, but Mexican politics is rather different. The PAN and PRD are rivals, but they are also united by their common opposition to the PRI, which they both incessantly denounce. Under the leadership of the chuchos, the PRD’s leadership has favoured anti-priista alliances with the PAN, beginning in 2010. They successfully conquered the states of Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa from the PRI in 2010. In Baja California, a PAN-PRD was made even easier by the fact that the local PRD is extremely weak.

The MC nominated Felipe Ruanova Zárate. Ruanova Zárate is not a member of the MC, rather he is a priista and on good terms with the PRI’s candidate, Castro Trenti. He had already run for small left-wing parties in state and local elections in the past. In debates, he attacked “Kiko” Vega but said nothing of the priista candidate, claiming that he knew nothing reproachable about Castro Trenti. Reading his answers to various questions here, it mostly consisted of ad hominem attacks on “Kiko” Vega and nothing but praise and admiration for the PRI’s candidate. He was described by at least one journalist as a PRI plant to draw votes away from the PAN-PRD alliance.

The campaign was extremely dirty on both sides. The ideological differences between both candidates are fairly minute – their answers here consisted mostly of platitudes (for the PRI about ‘change’, the PAN about how good they’ve been since 1989) or attacking one another – so the attacks were quite personal. The PRI accused the incumbent PAN governor of embezzling 103 million US dollars, both candidates owned a large number of properties in Mexico and the US and various other attacks of that kind.

States holding elections this year (source: Red Politica.mx)

The other races were all local and state legislative elections, of lesser importance and symbolic value, but still quite important in their own right. All of these state legislative elections (except for Baja) were ‘midterm’ elections for their governors, and some state congressional elections were rather important: Veracruz, not only because it was the biggest state to vote but most importantly because of the recent scandals surrounding Governor Javier Duarte (PRI); Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa, midterm elections three years after PAN-PRD alliances defeated the PRI in gubernatorial races; and Tamaulipas, a border state on the frontline of the war on drugs where the PAN did well in 2012 because of security concerns and the unpopularity of the PRI governor. In mayoral races, the biggest races were Puebla (PAN incumbent), Ciudad Juárez (PRI incumbent), Tijuana (PRI incumbent), Aguascalientes (PRI incumbent), Oaxaca (PAN incumbent) and Cancún (PRD incumbent).

Results and analysis

Preliminary results from the PREP – these are not final certified results, and they do not account for 100% of precincts.

Baja California

(97.85% reporting, PREP)

Francisco “Kiko” Vega de la Madrid (PAN-PRD-PANAL-PEBC) 47.17%
Fernando Castro Trenti (PRI-PVEM-PT-PES) 44.12%
Felipe Ruanova Zárate (MC) 5.11%
Write-ins 0.42%
Invalid votes 3.18%

Turnout: 39.43%

Mayoral races

PRI+ PAN PRD PT MC Others Nulos
Puebla, PU (PAN) 40.31% 49.36% PAN 3.06% 1.53% 0.78% 4.79%
Ciudad Juárez, CH (PRI) 52.91% 37.78% 2.89% 2.06% 1.09% 0.14% 3.13%
Tijuana, BC (PRI) 49.3% 43.39% PAN PRI 4.28% 0.34% 2.68%
Chihuahua, CH (PRI) 50.10% 41.58% 2.12% 2.53% 0.28% 3.4%
Aguascalientes, AG (PRI) 35.04% 40.29% PAN 1.9% 12.89% 5.38% 4.5%
Saltillo, CO (PRI) 40.66% 48.08%  2.03% 1.5% 4.45% 3.28%
Mexicali, BC (PRI) 41.04% 49.06% PAN PRI 6.58% 0.32% 3.01%
Culiacán, SI (PRI) 57.83% 24.52% PAN PAN 2.36% 12.10% 3.2%
Cancún, QR (PRD) 50.68% 21.79% 13.8% 7.2% 1.69% 4.85%
Torreón, CO (PRI) 45.53% 43.8% 2.65% 0.77% 3.48% 0.33% 3.44%
Reynosa, TM (PRI) 57.12% 31.27% 4.03% 1.49% 2.36% 1.26% 2.48%
Durango, DG (PRI) 44.26% 36.6% 3.06% 11.78% 0.02% 4.01%
Xalapa, VE (PRI) 38.74% 23.02% 5.66% 2.1% 18.04% 7.53% 4.91%
Veracruz, VE (PRI) 43.05% 26.74% 22.19% 0.77% 1.26% 2.18% 3.81%
Oaxaca, OA (PAN) 39.65% 38.61% PAN PAN 5.44% 12.54% 3.76%

State congress (districts only)

(2010 results for FPTP districts in parenthesis)

PRI+ PAN-PRD PAN PRD PANAL MC Others PR seats
Aguascalientes (18) 10 (16) 7 (2)   1 9
Baja California (17) 7 (13) 10 (3) 9
Chihuahua (22) 18 (19) 4 (2) (1) 11
Durango (17) 17 (13) (4) 13
Hidalgo (18) 18 (12) (1) (2) (3) 12
Oaxaca (25) 11 (9) 14 (16) 17
Puebla (26) 3 (12) 23 (14) 15
Quintana Roo (15) 14 (12) (1) 1 (1) (1) 10
Sinaloa (24) 21 (15) 3 (9) 16
Tamaulipas (22) 16 (18) 6 (4) 14
Tlaxcala (19) 10 (10) 3 (8) 3 (1) 1 1 1 13
Veracruz (30) 27 (20) 3 (3) (3) 20
Zacatecas (18) 18 (13) 5 (2) (1) (2) 12

The PAN-PRD ultimately won in Baja California, the biggest prize of the night. By winning an unprecedented fifth successive mandate in Baja California, the PAN managed to save face and prevent an embarrassing defeat. The race was always going to go down to the wire, but if polls are to be trusted, the PRI held a narrow advantage over the PAN in the early stretch of the race, but the PAN closed the gap by the end of the race. One analyst explained the PRI’s decline in polls by its overly negative campaign, in so doing, Castro Trenti almost turned his panista opponent into a victim.

The PAN maintained a fairly consistent 3-4% lead throughout the night, although both candidates claimed victory when polls closed. The PREP’s result are only preliminary results published on election night which make vote rigging much harder and provide transparency in the electoral process; the PREP is never a final result, the final result comes from a conteo distrital which begins on Wednesday and must end, by law, on the Sunday. Generally, a sizable lead – like Kiko Vega’s lead – in the PREP is enough to be certain that a candidate has won, although defeated candidates do not need to concede defeat on the basis of the PREP’s result.

In this case, while Kiko Vega’s lead is sizable and should hold up in the conteo distrital, the incompetence of the state electoral institute (IEPC-BC) and their apparent inability to do basic math has cast a cloud over the result. During election night, the PREP consistently showed the wrong percentages for the candidates until 21:54 PST, when the results disappeared and reappeared, at 22:27 PST – but still with incorrect percentages. Only at 2:32 PST did the correct percentages finally appear. This article details the PREP’s kerfuffle. Conspiracy theorists and partisan hacks (for the PRI this time) will be coming up with their own conspiracy theories, about how this election was rigged and so on and so forth. However, rather than any sinister at work, it appears as if there was a mistake – some idiots apparently unable to calculate percentages on a computer. The PREP publishes precinct-by-precinct results, and the conteo distrital refers to the actual official counting and certification of all precinct results. Unless there was more than a math error here, the precinct results show the PAN ahead. No party is claiming fraud, but the PRI has not conceded the race (although it now says it didn’t win, but didn’t lose either) and will wait for the conteo distrital, saying they will respect that final result barring exceptional circumstances in which case they threaten to drag this to court. However, this whole silliness reflects quite poorly on state electoral institutes – while most worked smoothly, Veracruz and Tlaxcala’s PREP crashed several times, and the IEPC-BC apparently didn’t bother checking that somebody knew how to calculate percentages on Excel. This adds to calls for the creation of a single, national electoral institute (a National Electoral Institute, INE) responsible for federal and state/local elections – the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which is far more competent than its state counterparts, is only responsible for federal elections.

Results of the 2013 gubernatorial and state congressional elections in Baja California, by state electoral district (own map)

Results of the 2013 gubernatorial and state congressional elections in Baja California, by state electoral district (own map)

A look at the results might point to another factor to explain the PRI’s defeat: Hank Rhon’s Tijuana machine turned out for the PRI’s mayoral candidate, but the machine sat on its hands in the gubernatorial race. The ‘hankist’ PRI candidate for mayor of Tijuana won his race with 49% to the PAN-PRD’s 43.4%, but Castro Trenti lost all but one of the state electoral districts located in Tijuana. PRI mayoral candidates were equally successful in the two other municipalities which Castro Trenti did win: Tecate and Ensenada.

These elections were quite important for federal politics, particularly the Tripartite Pacto. The gubernatorial election was important for both the PAN and the PRI, but particularly the PAN because of the state’s high symbolic value as the ultimate panista stronghold since 1989. This led some to come up with their conspiracy theories – that it was actually in the PRI’s interest to let the PAN win in Baja California, given that a defeat would destabilize Gustavo Madero’s leadership and further legitimize calderonista voices critical of the Pacto within the party. However, there seems to be little substantiated proof for those conspiracies – the PRI did not run a nobody and the PRI ran an active campaign with their top brass campaigning for Castro Trenti throughout. Could EPN be relieved, however, that the PAN won? Perhaps. EPN seems to be extremely dedicated to making the Pacto work, he’s certainly one of its most enthusiastic proponents given how everybody has been hailing the Pacto as one of his top achievements. A PAN defeat would have been very bad news for Gustavo Madero, whose leadership came under fire after the PAN’s disastrous showings in 2012 (losing the presidency, among others) and had recently come under fire again from Ernesto Cordero’s calderonistas. Most agree that the PAN’s victory allows Madero to breath a sigh of relief, as it strengthens his hold on the party.

However, the PAN and PRD have publicized accusations of fraud and attempted vote rigging in some states, and they are accusing the PRI of being behind it. These accusations include stealing ballots and vote buying. The PRI responded by accusing the PAN of intimidation of some voters in Baja California, and pointed out that the house of one of its candidates in that state had been attacked with Molotov cocktails. It is unclear to what extent these accusations are ‘normal’ and localized incidents (rather than part of a larger conspiracy). Nevertheless, the PAN and PRD have both warned that these irregularities might put the Pacto into jeopardy.

Outside of Baja California, the PRI and the PAN mostly split the difference. The PAN held the highest prize, Puebla’s mayoralty, with ease, and gained Aguascalientes, Saltillo, Mexicali and a few other towns (the most important of which is perhaps Boca del Río, a suburb of Veracruz) from the PRI. In contrast, the PRI held the vast majority of the other towns it was defending, and gained Oaxaca from the PAN-PRD and Cancún from the PRD. In state congressional elections, the PAN seems to have regained a majority (unclear if it will be an absolute majority or not once PR seats get allocated) in Baja California, gained significantly in Aguascalientes (governed by the PAN until 2010, although the former PAN governor if accused of corruption) while the PAN-PRD alliance did well in both Oaxaca and Puebla, which they had wrestled from the PRI in 2010. Overall, governors generally saw their parties/alliances do well; the only exception to that might be Sinaloa, a traditional priista bastion which elected a PAN-PRD governor in 2010. There, the PRI swept almost everything, the only major exception being Mazatlán’s mayoralty.

Even in Veracruz, despite the recent allegations against the PRI governor which almost sunk the Pacto, the PRI did very well. They held their absolute majority in the state congress, and now govern 96 out of the state’s 212 municipalities, compared to 81 municipalities in 2010. In contrast, the PAN which had won 90 municipalities in 2010 now holds 44, while the PRD fell from 37 to 29. The PRI’s victory in the state can be attributed to the division of the opposition.

Another state where the PRI was extremely successful was the tourism-driven state of Quintana Roo, which has always had a priista governor but voted for the PRD’s AMLO in both 2006 and 2012. The PRD did extremely poorly in the state, losing the resort town of Cancún in a landslide to the PRI, which won all 10 municipalities and all but one of the 15 FPTP districts, ensuring it that it will hold an absolute majority in the state congress.

While both the PAN and the PRI have good reasons to be pleased by the outcome, the PRD came out as a clear loser. To be fair, few – if any – of these states could be considered PRD strongholds (although the party is generally strong in Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Puebla and, until 2010, Zacatecas) and the widespread PAN-PRD alliances blur things up a bit; but in those places where the PRD competed alone – notably in Veracruz – its results fell far short of what it might have hoped for.

The clear winner overall was voter apathy. Turnout was very low in almost every state, particularly the most important ones: 39% in Baja (which usually has some of the lowest turnouts anyway), apparently in the low 40s in Veracruz or 53% in Oaxaca. Turnout usually tends to be lowest in the most violent states (such as Veracruz, Chihuahua or Baja), where the persistent criminal/narco-violence has created a sense of fear and insecurity which discourages voters from actually voting. However, more than insecurity, low turnout also reflects dissatisfaction with all political parties. The number of PAN-PRD deals has further blurred already scarcely visible ideological divisions between parties, and little seems to separate the three main parties (especially when you consider they’re all part of the Pacto). Politics, especially at the state and local level, has become increasingly personalized rather than ideological/partisan.

Furthermore, Mexico has some of the most corrupt political parties in the world – the recent slew of corruption scandals has hurt not only the PRI (which has always been dirty) but also the PAN and the PRD, therefore the recent corruption scandals, rather than helping one party has only fueled voter apathy and reduced turnout. The smaller parties are hardly more enticing alternatives – especially when you consider that the PANAL and PVEM (‘Greens’) are run more like for-profit corporations (the PVEM could easily be considered a family business) than actual political parties. On the bright side, independent candidacies are now allowed in some states, and an independent candidate managed to win a PRI-held municipality in Zacatecas.

What are the national implications of these results? The PAN’s victory in Baja California, as aforementioned, shores up the generally pro-Pacto leadership of the party. As a result, the PAN is generally happy with the results and will probably continue backing the Pacto, although it will simultaneously continue to attack the PRI for being the PRI. Some have read the results as boosting the chances for the fiscal and energy reforms this year, which while somewhat true, is actually much more complicated than that. The election results haven’t made any of those two reforms sure things, especially given that the difficulty for the reforms (as EPN envisions them) will come from the PRD rather than the PAN.

Mexican politics is entering an exciting period, with a President who intends to leave his mark on the country – for better or for worse.

500th post!

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).

Election Preview: Mexico 2012 – There’s more to Mexico than sunny beaches

Federal general elections will be held in Mexico on July 1, 2012. Alongside the President of Mexico, the entirety of both houses of the General Congress will be up for election. Seven states will hold gubernatorial and local legislative elections simultaneously; another six states will be holding municipal and local legislative on the same day.

Quirks of Mexico’s Political System

The President of Mexico is elected by popular vote to a six-year term. The Mexican constitution of 1917 is largely modeled on the American constitution, thus the Mexican President has powers comparable to that of the American President. This has been the case since 1997 or 2000, when political reforms and a sea-change in the nature of Mexican politics rendered the President less hegemonic vis-à-vis Congress and other federal and state institutions.

One of the main principles of Mexican politics, inherited from the Mexican Revolution and enshrined in the 1917 constitution, is that of no reelection (no reelección), which prevents the President of Mexico from succeeding himself. The President may not even serve non-consecutive terms. There have been some major proposals to allow for presidential reelection, but by and large, the Mexican political class holds this principle as a sacrosanct one.

The second peculiarity of the Mexican presidency is that the president is elected by first-past-the-post, with no runoffs. In the 2006 election, the winning candidate won with only 35% of the vote, and the contested and feeble nature of this mandate has led to numerous proposals to switch to a system of runoff voting, though bills to change the electoral system in this regard have not been successful to date.

The General Congress of Mexico is composed of two houses: the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and the Senate (Senado). Both houses, which are directly elected, are equal in their legislative capacities. The principle of no reelection does not only apply to the President in Mexico: deputies and Senators may not seek immediate reelection, meaning that every legislature is entirely renewed compared to the last.

The Chamber of Deputies has 500 members elected for a three-year term. 300 of these members are ‘majority representatives’ elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies. The other 200 members are elected by party-list proportional representation in five super-constituencies which elect 40 members each. Since 1996, there is a rule which places a limit on the size of the majority a party can win: a party cannot get more seats than 8% above its popular vote (hence, a party can win an absolute majority with 42% of the vote) and it can win no more than 300 seats in the Chamber even if it has won over 52% of the vote. One of the Chamber’s main exclusive prerogatives is examining, reviewing and approving the federal revenue and budget.

The Senate has 128 members elected for a six-year term. 96 Senators are elected to represent Mexico’s 31 states and theFederal District, with each state and the DF returning three senators each. 64 of these senators – or two of the three seats in each state – are awarded to the party or coalition which has won the most votes in the state. The remaining 32 seats – the last seat out of the three seats in each state – are given to the party which has placed second in the state. An additional 32 Senators are elected by proportional representation. The Senate has some exclusive powers over foreign policy and diplomacy, and it also has a special responsibility as an agent of oversight on the executive.

Mexican Political History

The dominance of a single party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), for 71 years between 1929 and 2000 has left a profound mark on Mexican politics and has contributed, in large part, to shaping the Mexican party system and forming Mexican political traditions.

Mexico stands out in the post-Revolution era from other Latin American countries for its remarkable political or at least institutional stability in the hands of a single party. Unlike in other Latin American countries whose political history in the past hundred years have been marked by a succession of military coups, authoritarian military regimes, unstable democratic experiments and the general absence of a solid and stable party system, Mexico’s political history since the Revolution has been marked by a remarkable  balance of power between civilians and the military, an absence of military coups against the established political order and the general lack of strong personalist leaders.

The PRI was founded in 1929 by President Plutarco Elías Calles (as the PRN, it became the PRM in 1938 and took its present name in 1946) as a means of entrenching the political power and dominance of the revolutionary elites and ‘institutionalizing’ the goals of the Revolution. What these revolutionary goals were in practice is another matter, given the complex web of factions which fought in the Revolution and the different interpretations of the Revolution’s actual goal. However, the Revolution’s general goal could be described as nationalist, anti-clerical and vaguely leftist (in a non-Marxist and probably non-socialist way). But assigning an ideology to the PRI, at any time in its history, is almost certainly a terrible idea. The PRI was born and remains a party of power, following an eclectic, opportunistic and pragmatic approach to governance and politics. The PRI has tended more to the left than to the right, and it is a member of the Socialist International, but the descriptors left or right do not do justice for a party of power such as the PRI.

The PRI must be understood first and foremost as a hegemonic all-encompassing political machine which, between 1929 and 2000, was interchangeable with the state. 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, preventing an alliance between the urban worker and the rural peasant which, in Latin America, usually threatened the established ruling order. From this system, Mexico has retained a corporatist union structure, with unions historically tied to the PRI and historically dependent on it.

Politically, the PRI was a state-party like few if any other political parties in Latin America. Most parties in Latin Americahave tended to be the personal vehicles of a caudillo-politician or at best a small group of powerful personalities, which are shaped and driven by with their leaders and usually live and die with them. The PRI as an all-encompassing, hegemonic but non-personalist political party is thus quite unique inLatin America. The PRI has certainly had its powerful personalities, but the PRI cannot be said to have been shaped and driven by a particular one of these personalities.

Between 1929 and 1988, Mexico was practically a single-party state. But not quite: the PRI allowed for a semblance of democracy and electoral competition and did not ban outright all opposition parties. In practice, however, with its control of the state apparatus at all levels and through use of vote rigging, the PRI was the only relevant political force. It invariably controlled the presidency, held almost all seats in Congress, controlled all state governorships and governed almost all municipalities. The PRI paid lip service to democracy and turned federalism into a farce.

One of the things which set the PRI apart from all other political parties in Latin Americawas how it tended, as a party, to be above the change of leadership in the presidential palace. The President served his six-year term, and during this term he could count on the subservience and absolute loyalty of the entire PRI and its cohorts of elected officials. At the end of his term, the President, in conjunction with PRI bosses, handpicked his chosen successor (a process known as the dedazo) who went on to win the for-show-only election easily. It was then expected that the ex-President would bow out of politics and remain silent. Thus, the PRI proved above individuals who succeeded one another in power.

The PRI taken as a whole hardly had (or has) a solid, consistent ideology to speak of, but individual PRI presidents have shifted the pendulum from left to right and back again. In 1934, Calles placed a local governor, Lázaro Cárdenas, on the throne with the hopes of using him as his tool. Instead, Cárdenas turned out to become one of Mexico’s most well-known and popular leaders, in addition to being one of Mexico’s most left-wing rulers in its history. Cárdenas’ landmark measures – a major agrarian reform which distributed land to cooperative settlements and landless peasants, the nationalization of Mexican oil reserves and the creation of a public oil monopoly (Pemex) – turned him overnight into a nationalist and left-wing hero in Mexico.

But Cárdenas proved to be the exception rather than the rule for the PRI. His successors could be aptly described as conservative (if not reactionary) statist kleptocrats. The 1950s and 1960s were the PRI’s heyday. In these years, the import-substitution model allowed for the development of a strong domestic market, a growing economy, industrialization and social stability in the context of the all-encompassing priista leviathan. However, the first dents in the PRI’s machine were dealt in 1968, under the presidency of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. With the summer Olympics as a backdrop, the government faced major student protests, which it bloodily put down in the October 1968 Tlatelolco massacre.

The 1968 massacre could be considered as the first crack in a long and painful series of cracks which finally led to the crumbling of the PRI machine. His two successors – Luis Echevarría (the man behind Tlatelolco) and José López Portillo – could be considered as more or less left-leaning presidents, but in large part they continued the priista tradition of corruption, graft, patronage, wasteful binge spending and clumsy statist economic policies (fixed exchange rate, subsidies on food, state-owned monopolies, inflationary fiscal policies). All this meant that the Mexican economy would be quickly beset by a series of problems: rising inflation, ballooning deficits, a balance of payments deficit, shortfalls in the output of basic foodstuffs, an overvalued exchange rate (which the government was forced to devalue in 1976) and an economic dependence on oil. A mini-oil boom under López Portillo allowed for an artificial survival until 1982, when the economy collapsed under the weight of rising inflation, falling oil prices and high interests.

1982 marked a turning point for the PRI, which started turning away from its statist traditions and embraced economic liberalism (of sorts). In 1982, López Portillo was succeeded by an Harvard-trained technocrat, Miguel de la Madrid, who immediately implemented austerity measures (strings attached to an IMF bailout) and a program of economic liberalization (privatizations, knocking down old tariff walls). These policies did not succeed in getting Mexico out of the ditch; in fact they created a deep recession and burgeoning social discontent (albeit not on a mass scale).

In their use of the dedazo, successive PRI presidents had usually been careful in allowing the balance to swing back and forth between the PRI’s left and right, as to not alienate any particular constituency. However, in 1988, de la Madrid’s pick of Carlos Salinas, another unpopular right-wing technocrat, led to the first major crack in the PRI coalition and signaled the beginning of the end for the priista machine.

In the past, the PRI’s main also-ran partisan rival had been the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN), a small right-wing and fairly clerical party which had been kicking since 1939, obviously without success. In the 1988 election, the PRI now faced serious competition to its left, in the person of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the son of Lázaro Cárdenas and the leader of the PRI’s left. Cárdenas ran an exceptionally strong campaign to the PRI’s left, posing the first real threat to the PRI’s hegemony over Mexican politics.

Ultimately, Salinaswon the 1988 election, though perhaps only because the government’s computer system used to count the votes mysteriously broke down (se cayó el sistema) and shockingly proclaimed the PRI candidate as the winner when it reopened.Salinas continued his predecessor’s policy of liberalization, with an aggressive privatization policy which lined the pockets of his friends, but most notably with Mexico’s integration into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992.

Salinaswas succeeded by Ernesto Zedillo, a more centrist figure, in 1994. Zedillo immediately faced a major economic collapse as investors fled the country, fearful of an overvalued peso. The new government was forced to devalue the peso and seek the United States’ financial assistance. At the same time, the country faced growing unrest. In January 1994, an uprising in the poor southern state of Chiapasled by Zapatistas shook the country’s stability (though the EZLN never threatened the government’s stability) and drug cartel violence in the north of the country became more preeminent.

Zedillo sped up and completed the slow democratization of the country. He created an electoral commission and electoral tribunal independent from the state (PRI) apparatus, a ground-breaking move which led to the PRI’s slow demise. In the 1997 midterm elections, the PRI lost its absolute majority in Congress. Ahead of the 2000 presidential election, Zedillo and the PRI did away with the dedazo and created an open primary contest between four candidates.

The 2000 election ushered in one of the most important political realignments in Mexican history. For the first time since its creation, the PRI lost the presidency to another party. The victor was Vicente Fox of the right-wing PAN. Fox’ election was accompanied by a wave of enthusiasm and optimism at home and abroad, hoping that the political sea change would lead to major changes and reforms in Mexico and finally assert Mexico as a twenty-first century liberal democracy.

Fox proved to be a fairly popular and mildly successful president, but his sexenio was not the success that he and others had hoped it would be. Economic growth during his six-year term was fairly slow, worn down by Chinese competition after Mexico joined the WTO. Mexicans faced the tough realities of democratic pluralism. The PAN’s efforts at reforms were held back, in part, by a divided Congress (the PAN, unlike the PRI between 1929 and 1997, lacked an absolute majority) and more powerful state governors who affirmed their power and influence.

In 2006, political cards were shifted around one more time. In the PAN primaries, it was an ‘old-timer’ (historic members of the party, as opposed to people like Fox who are more recent members), Felipe Calderón, who came out on top over Fox’s protégé, Santiago Creel. The PRI chose the worst candidate it possibly could: the unpopular party boss, Roberto Madrazo, who was despised by half the party (most significantly the very powerful boss of the teachers’ union) and a lot of voters. Madrazo’s campaign, never strong to begin with, collapsed into a distant third place as a lot of regional PRI bosses, most of whom loathed Madrazo, supported one of the other candidates: the PAN’s Calderón or the candidate of the left-wing PRD, Mexico Citymayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).

The 2006 election was extremely polarized between clear ideological opposites, left and right. AMLO led a rabble-rousing populist, nationalist and staunchly left-wing campaign which won him comparisons toBolivia’s Evo Morales andVenezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Some of his proposals worried Mexican middle-classes, but AMLO, a remarkable ‘messianic’ politician, carried a strong appeal to a lot of poorer, downtrodden voters in southern and central Mexico.

The result was extremely narrow: Calderón won with 35.9% in the end, but AMLO trailed him by a very tight margin, with 35.3% (Madrazo won 22.3%). AMLO subsequently refused to endorse the legitimacy of the election and took to calling himself the ‘legitimate’ president and blocked a major artery in Mexico Citywith humongous protests after the election. AMLO’s attitude after the election proved quite controversial and ended up being a political liability for him. His refusal to recognize what was deemed by all to be a fair election and the legitimacy of institutions scared off a lot of more middle-class voters, and his shenanigans eventually cost him a lot of public support and seriously weakened him.

Calderón’s sexenio will most likely be remembered for the war against the drug cartels, which has claimed upwards of 55,000 lives in 6 years and given Mexico (somewhat unfairly) a bad rap as a lawless war zone. Drug cartels are nothing new in Mexico, and lawlessness in certain parts of the country is not a recent development either. What is new is the dramatic increase in the murder rate in Mexico, which has nearly doubled under Calderón’s presidency; and the use of kidnappings, hangings, beheadings and mutilations of bodies by drug lords. Calderón, in part as a political ploy to give his presidency legitimacy after the 2006 election, deployed the army and declared all-out war on drug lords, the drug cartels and the drug trafficking empire in general. Crowned by some successes at first, Calderón’s war on drugs has grown increasingly unpopular. Voters are wary of bloodshed, they distrust the army and police (both institutions are somewhat corrupt and in parts infiltrated by the cartels, but the idea that the army and police are in cahoots with the cartels is a foreign fantasy) while the drug lords do not fear the army. Calderón’s efforts are, arguably, laudable and courageous, but he was attacking a problem which is way above the state’s head with limited means. The drug trafficking and the drug trade cannot, realistically, be eliminated. The drug cartels and the turf wars between cartels, similarly, are probably too big for the government to eliminate completely.

It must also be pointed out that there are wide regional disparities in the impact of the drug war in Mexico. The situation in the country as a whole is not quite as dramatic as foreign media would have us think: the country as a whole is not a huge war zone, and Mexico’s homicide rate is not (by any stretch) the highest in the world (Brazil and South Africahave higher homicide rates). The northern states, specifically Chihuahua and the border town of Ciudad Juárez, are lawless war zones with some of the highest homicide rates in the world. On the other hand, Mexico City and most of the south of the country and the Yucatan have been spared the worst of the violence and criminality.

Mexico’s economic outlook is not that bad when compared to some Eurozone countries, but there is frustration about the slow pace of economic growth since the 2009 recession and high levels of unemployment. Mexico’s economic growth recently slowed down to about 3.5% or so, and predictions portend similarly slow growth in the next few years.

Mexico faces a great many challenges, besides the drug cartel crisis and the international issues of economic growth and jobs. One of the key issues concerns the future of energy and the oil industry in Mexico, which remains in the hands of Pemex, the state-owned oil and gas monopoly.  Pemex, through the royalties and taxes it pays to the federal government, is a major source of revenue for the government. However, these outflows of revenue have left Pemex saddled in heaps and heaps of debt, hence making it unable to invest in new technologies and further exploration (to speak nothing of the corruption in Pemex). Added to Pemex’s woes is the fact that Mexican oil production has declined quite dramatically in recent years, which in the long run could threaten to turn Mexico into an energy importer.

Pemex remains something of a sacred cow in Mexican politics, with a lot of constituencies in the PRD and PRI holding out attachment to Pemex as a public monopoly. However, the question of private investment in Pemex has become a major and pressing political issue. Calderón and Fox both tried and failed to make significant reforms in Pemex, blocked by the PRD and/or the PRI’s congressional opposition. Calderón was able to push through a mini-reform, which allows Pemex to hire private and foreign firms to explore and produce, but private investment remains forbidden.

Education is another key question in Mexican politics. The public education system in Mexico is largely acknowledged to be a complete and utter mess, in large part because of the muscle and influence of the main teachers’ union, the SNTE, a corrupt but extremely powerful union led by La Maestra – Elba Esther Gordillo. Most of the state spending on education goes towards paying teacher salaries – a lot of those salaries are paid, in reality, to union officials and their friends who aren’t teachers but still receive a teachers’ salary without working. Successive governments, most recently Calderón, have tried to put in place some quality measurements for teachers to help fix the problem, but in almost all cases they have found their efforts frustrated by the SNTE and forced to maintain a status-quo viciously defended by the SNTE and La Maestra.

The SNTE, formerly one of the unions allied to the PRI in the old corporatist structure, has deep political influence. It now controls a little political party and a wider caucus of congressmen are close to La Maestra. Politicians and presidents know better than to cross La Maestra (who holds grudges), preferring instead to keep her on their side and prevent a confrontation. The SNTE thus has the power to block almost all major attempts at education reform in Mexico.

The Mexican party system

The PAN is pretty clearly a right-wing, conservative party, especially in the Mexican context. The PAN is not really a clerical or religious party, though it has a clerical history and that tradition probably informs, in part, the PAN’s staunch social conservatism. In economic terms, while the PAN does have certain liberal leanings, certainly more than the two other parties, true-blue economic liberalism (or neoliberalism) is hard to find in Mexican politics. The PAN still has some Christian left influences which leads the party to have some sympathies towards more interventionist economic policies. In a way, the PAN could be described as being slightly Gaullist or Peronist in its attitude towards economic interventionism.

The PRI, now as in the past, cannot really be placed consistently at any point along the ideological spectrum. It is particularly amusing to see the foreign media’s attempts at assigning ideological labels to the PRI: some have described it as centre-right, others as centre-left, some as ‘pro-business’ and others as left-wing. The PRI’s political orientation, deep down, has not really changed since 2000. Its first goal remains political power, and to win it, the PRI is a master at pragmatism, opportunism, equivocation and speaking in platitudes. One could say that the PRI’s right-wing neoliberal phase of the 1980s and 1990s is definitely history, because the ‘technocrats’ and business have (in part) decamped to the PAN (as some had started doing by the 1970s), but the PRI still remains a fairly pro-business party (and its relations with business leaders are still quite good). If one insists on a label, I guess ‘centre-left’ might be the least worst guess, but assigning an ideology to the PRI is a foolish idea.

Mexico’s ‘third’ major party is the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD). The PRD was founded in 1989 by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (and others), the left-wing candidate in the 1988 presidential election. As a party, the PRD was an alliance of two factions. On the one hand, the priista left, whose ranks included Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas but also Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO); and the other hand a handful of small old left-wing parties (including the Communist Party) which sacrificed their electoral registration to the PRD. Between 1988 and 2006, the main figure of the PRD remained Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1994 and 2000 (winning 16.5% both years, placing third).

Internal divisions and power squabbles heightened after the 2006 election, with a fair number of the PRD’s cadres eventually disapproving of AMLO’s antics. The PRD was increasingly divided between pro and anti-lopezobradorista factions. The latter faction, led by Jesús Ortega, eventually won a very bloody and acrimonious internal contest in 2008. More recently, the most important schism of sorts within the PRD has been between AMLO and Marcelo Ebrard, the outgoing mayor of Mexico City who succeeded AMLO as mayor in 2006. Ebrard was fairly neutral or pro-AMLO in the 2008 battle, but, benefiting from his popularity in Mexico City, he has emerged as a major rival to AMLO’s leadership of the PRD. The two men represent two different visions of the PRD. AMLO remains an old style Latin American leftist, with nationalist and left-populist close to that of Morales or Chávez. Ebrard, on the other hand, certainly gives the image of a more ‘modern’ left-wing leader, more social democratic or at least closer to the ‘moderate’ leftists ofSouth America: Dilma, Lula or Cristina Kirchner. On social issues such as gay marriage or abortion, AMLO remains closer to the traditional social conservatism of Mexican politics on those issues while Ebrard is socially liberal – he legalized gay marriage in the DF as mayor.

There are four other registered political parties – three of which are basically affiliated with larger parties. Parties must win over 2% of the vote in an election to maintain their registration or else they lose all their registration (but they may reregister) and the financial advantages that come with it. Therefore, while small parties are useful commodities, they are tough to maintain so there is a very big incentive for the small parties to ally quasi-eternally with one of the big three in order to be kept on life support, vitam aeternam.

The only fairly independent minor party is the New Alliance (Nueva Alianza, PANAL), founded in 2005. PANAL is hard to define or pin down ideologically. On the one hand, it certainly does give the impression (superficially?) of being a centre-right liberal party, which is both liberal on social/moral issues (abortion, gay rights, drug legalization – which are all quite out of sync with the overwhelming social conservatism of Mexican politics) and on economic issues (favouring private investment in Pemex and energy). But on the other hand, the party was basically created in 2005 by La Maestra herself after her very public break with Madrazo and the PRI, and in the 2006 election she used PANAL as a front for her campaign of destruction against Madrazo. PANAL appears to have a liberal front, but in the shadows it seems like it is nothing more than a personal vehicle for La Maestra and the SNTE’s various vendettas against the politicians who have dared cross La Maestra.

The Mexican Greens (Partido Verde Ecologista de México, PVEM) are a bit of an oddball party. At the crux of it all, the PVEM is not a green party – it is a family business. The PVEM was founded in 1986 by Jorge González Torres, a former priista and a wealthy businessman. In 2001, he was succeeded by his son, Jorge Emilio González Martínez (el niño verde). The PVEM doesn’t seem to actually care about the environment or such matters, an attitude which, combined with its conservatism (it supports the death penalty), has won it the enmity of international green organizations (the Global Greens). The PVEM has also gotten mixed up in a few corruption scandals. Most significantly, el niño verde was shown being bribed by a developer in Cancún (a major tourist resort on the Riviera Maya). In 2000, the PVEM allied with the PAN, but it broke this alliance in 2003 and since then it has been a fairly loyal ally of the PRI (to the point where, 9 years later, the PVEM is indistinguishable from the PRI).

The two other small parties – the Labour Party (Partido del Trabajo, PT) and the Citizens’ Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano, MC) – are similarly so closely connected to the PRD that they are, in everyday practice, basically indistinguishable from the PRD. I don’t know much about both parties in detail. The PT appears to be a fairly far-left party, probably to the PRD’s left, while the MC – the old Convergencia – appears to be more social democratic. In almost all cases, the PT and MC are fairly solid allies of the PRD. In the 2008-2009 PRD civil war, both the PT and Convergencia were solidly lopezobradorista and AMLO backed PT and Convergencia candidates in the 2009 midterm elections.

The 2012 Election

The 2012 presidential contest is, after all, not that interesting. Unlike the very closely disputed and polarized 2006 election and the protracted mess which ensued, this year’s presidential election is almost won in advance.

Ken Barbie or Mexico’s JFK? (source: Zimbio)

The frontrunner, who has led in basically every poll for over a year, is the priista candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. After the priista rout in the 2006 election, Peña Nieto, the young and handsome governor of the state of México (Edomex, the most populated state in the country after the DF) between 2005 and 2011, became the figure of the PRI’s reconstruction. Peña Nieto is a wealthy career politician, whose father was a PRI stalwart for years and whose uncle was his predecessor as governor (Arturo Montiel, the leader of the anti-Madrazo faction in 2006). He does not appear to be a particularly talented politician and he has often been dismissed as an intellectual lightweight (but Mexican politicians have rarely been the sharpest knives), but he has proven to be a very successful campaigner and something of a Teflon politician.

Some people have compared him to Ken Barbie. In a way, I find that this is a fitting portrayal of Peña Nieto. In terms of personality, Peña Nieto is a fairly young, handsome and charismatic man with a womanizer macho style which isn’t entirely a disadvantage in Mexico. His first wife died in 2007 – he had already been cheating on her and fathered two children out of wedlock – but he married Angélica Rivera, a popular soap opera star in a flashy prince-and-princess Disney wedding in 2010. Mexico doesn’t have royalty, but its politicians often act as pop royalty. In this way, Peña Nieto has been something of a pop star since 2005 and the political impact of his good looks should not be laughed off.

His whole political career, including his tenure as Governor of Edomex, has been carefully staged and managed. In fact, nobody really knows who he is as a politician or statesman. His record in Edomex seems to be mixed, neither a disaster nor a great success; and how successful his tenure was is clouded by the fact that he has the media behemoth Televisa in his pocket and shockingly receives rave reviews and heaps of praise in Televisa’s political reporting. A good part of his governorship was spent performing staged photo-ops and fulfilling micro-promises (building a road here, doing something else there). At any rate, his chosen successor as governor in Edomex won a landslide in the state elections last year.

Peña Nieto faces three other rivals. The PAN candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, is the first woman candidate for a major party in Mexico. She is not very well known when compared to her two major opponents. A PAN parliamentarian, she served as Secretary of Education between 2006 and 2009 under Calderón. Her confrontation with La Maestra and the SNTE probably cost her that job. Vázquez Mota won the PAN primary on February 5, taking 53% of the vote against 39% for Ernesto Cordero, the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit, backed by President Calderón and only 6% for Santiago Creel.

A retread from 2006, Andrés Manuel López Obrador – AMLO – is running for a second time for the PRD. The PRD’s nomination – which was decided by a series of opinion polls commissioned by the party – was closely disputed between Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City and the unofficial leader of the PRD’s more social democratic/social liberal factions, and AMLO. In the end, AMLO came out ahead of Ebrard, who graciously accepted his defeat. It may be that Ebrard is looking ahead to the next elections, in 2018, and understood that AMLO would probably have run any way (with the PT and MC) if he didn’t get the PRD’s nomination.

AMLO has expressed regrets for his post-electoral shenanigans six years ago, and has attempted to reinvent himself as a more moderate, centrist and consensual figure (he has said that he would not raise taxes or scrap existing private oil contracts). But despite attempts at rebranding himself, AMLO remains a controversial and polarizing love-or-hate figure. Critics contend that AMLO and his version of the Mexican left remain far too mired in the old nationalism and statism of the 1970s and have been unable to present themselves as an acceptable option for middle-class voters.

The fourth candidate is Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, an economist and environmentalist who was drafted by PANAL after the party broke off a short-lived alliance with the PRI. Quadri is running a right-wing campaign (by Mexican standards), proposing to privatize 49% of Pemex and favouring a trade deal withChina. On social issues – drugs, gay rights, abortion – he is very liberal (and left-wing) by Mexican standards, but economic matters usually trump moral questions in Mexican politics. I’m not sure what La Maestra is doing with him, or what she has planned, but it is quite possible that she, as always, is using Quadri’s liberal image as a vote-winning front to allow PANAL to keep its registration.

Peña Nieto might be an intellectual lightweight and a mediocre politician, but the reality is that he will likely win on July 1 by a comfortable margin. In part, the PRI’s resurgence after the 2006 rout speaks volumes about the weakness of the PAN and the PRD.

Vázquez Mota is a weak candidate and she ran a very poor campaign, hesitating between emphasizing the incumbent government’s successes or attempting to define herself as somehow different from her own party. She has chosen to emphasize herself as ‘different’ – in fact she made that word her campaign slogan – but it has not really worked. She is a fairly low-caliber candidate, and she doesn’t really stack up to charismatic giants like AMLO and Peña Nieto. The incumbent government and President Calderón are not extremely unpopular, but there is a general fatigue with the PAN after twelve years of rather uninspiring governance which failed to live up to the great hopes which accompanied the PAN’s original victory in 2000. The drug cartel war has claimed lots of lives and Mexicans are tired of so much bloodshed. Jobs are hard to come by and the economy remains fairly weak. There has not been a lot of progress in rooting out corruption since 2000. A lot of voters think the country is on the wrong track, and they are tired with PAN.

Vázquez Mota being forced to define herself as ‘different’ than her predecessors highlights the nature of the climate which the PAN faces this year. She has attempted to run as something of an anti-PRI candidate, both against Peña Nieto but also AMLO who is a former priista himself.

On the other hand, AMLO’s problem is not that he is a low caliber candidate or anything of that kind. He is a very strong campaigner and a charismatic – a lot have described him as messianic – rabble-rouser. His problem is that, despite a very strong base of support, he remains a controversial and polarizing figure with high negative ratings. His supporters would argue that AMLO is a forceful spokesperson for Mexico’s marginalized impoverished masses and a powerful opponent of the ‘neoliberal order’. His opponents would argue that AMLO is a dangerous radical, a sore loser who has little respect for democratic institutions and probably a grubby power-hungry leader. AMLO is a former priista and he is certainly not immune from using the PRI’s old tactics and for a lot of his critics, his real goal is the recreation of the PRI’s old semi-authoritarian political machine. After all, one of AMLO’s main allies and a PRD candidate for Senate this year is Manuel Bartlett, the former priista interior secretary who was behind the famous se cayó el sistema in the 1988 election.

AMLO is a love-hate figure, regardless of his slightly goofy attempts at a ‘peace ‘n love’ rebranding this year. Even though AMLO ran a strong campaign and his likely second-place finish will show how he has been able to lift the PRD back out of the abyss it was in back in 2009, I would contend that AMLO is probably unelectable in the wider realm of things. Even faced with the potential return of the priista dinosaurs, a lot of panistas will never vote for AMLO even as a devil you know or least worst option.

Faced with a PRI resurgence in a lot of state elections in 2009, 2010 and 2011; the PAN and PRD – ideological opposites – allied against the PRI in a lot of state elections and, in a few places, its alliances were pretty successful. Such an alliance at the top level would have been much more difficult, but it would have been the only way to stop the PRI. Marcelo Ebrard, despite a social liberalism which could cause the PAN’s Catholics to run away, would probably have been able to give Peña Nieto a race for his money. Ebrard is viewed by PAN voters as an acceptable anti-priista option, and if he had been nominated over AMLO, it is quite possible that a lot of panistas would have voted strategically for him to stop the PRI, even in the absence of a formal PAN-PRD deal.

But it would unfair to style the PRI’s likely victory as a win-by-default. Peña Nieto must certainly have done something correctly. As mentioned above, his image and personality works in his favour. He has good looks, a pop star wife and he is charismatic. His image has been carefully groomed and managed, and he has – with two exceptions – avoided major faux-pas. He ran into trouble only back in December at a book fair in Guadalajara (where he could not cite three books which had had the biggest influence on him), a PR disaster worsened by a tweet from his 15-year old daughter who branded those who criticized her father as jealous proletarian idiots; and more recently in May at a university in Mexico City when he was heckled by anti-PRI student (whom he branded as lopezobradorista left-wing stooges). Otherwise, he has been a great Ken Barbie candidate – image perfect, clean and brushed up.

His campaign has certainly not been big on the details of what he would do as President, meaning that we’re probably no closer to knowing what a Peña Nieto presidency would be like than we were six months ago. He has run on platitudes, vague catch phrases and open-ended promises. His main creed is an “efficient state”, which can mean just about anything. He has proposed a few things like a tax reform, mini political reforms to increase presidential powers, or universal social security. He would not do a full 360 from Calderón’s drug policy, but he would likely soften it a bit and shift gears to focus on reducing violence and kidnappings while being more lenient on drug cartel civil wars and the drug trade. He has, however, shown himself surprisingly keen on a major energy reform which would open Pemex to competition and partial private investment (in shale oil and gas, refining and petrochemicals).

The very high chance of a priista return to Los Pinos 12 years after its 71-year stranglehold on power ended has sparked major concerns and fears about the vitality of Mexican democracy in the future. A lot see Peña Nieto – the Ken Barbie candidate – as a little Barbie doll for the PRI’s infamous dinosaurs (old corrupt political bosses), who would return to power with a President Peña Nieto. Many fear that the old priista dinosaurs would come back, neuter democracy, and stifle the free press. I’m not sure, but fears of a major regression or anti-democratic reaction seem overblown. Mexico has changed a lot since the PRI lost power in 2000. Even though the PRI could very well hold a majority in Congress – it is likely to win one in the Senate and probably could win a majority in the Chamber too – and still controls the vast majority of Mexico’s 32 states, the political atmosphere is much more democratic. There is a very strong base of anti-priista sentiment in Mexico, which, even if it won’t prevail on July 1, is quite vocal. The #YoSoy132 student-led protests against the PRI and its cozy relations with Televisa are a good example of this. The judiciary is fairly powerful and certainly independent. Despite the allegations that Televisa and the PRI are in cahoots, the media is not entirely rigged in the PRI’s favour.

Peña Nieto’s links with Televisa and old priista dinosaurs, including his predecessor in Edomex, Arturo Montiel (the guy who owned an unexplained property empire abroad) worry. But Peña Nieto, for all his faults, still seems closer to the new(er) brand of priista politicos groomed to operate in a democratic political setting. Being surrounded by American-educated technocrats, Peña Nieto is similar to the last PRI president, Ernesto Zedillo, a centrist technocrat who reformed the system and opened Mexico to real democracy. Furthermore, even if the PRI does win an absolute majority, a lot of the major reforms which the PRI will/could want to pass would be constitutional amendments requiring a two-thirds majority – hence it will still need the support of other parties, probably the PAN which could have some political interest in working with the PRI.

In terms of polling, the last polls before the ‘reflection’ period which bans polls, gave Peña Nieto about 44-46% of the vote against 26-28% for AMLO and 22-25% for a hapless Vázquez Mota. Quadri performed well in the first televised debate, which boosted his numbers from irrelevance into 3-6% territory but he now polls 2-4%. The campaign was remarkably static. Peña Nieto maintained fairly large leads throughout, and despite a very slow downwards trend in the past few months, has always kept high polling numbers. AMLO moved ahead of Vázquez Mota, and the real fight here is probably for second place.

Gubernatorial elections will be held in Chiapas (PRD), Guanajuato (PAN), Jalisco (PAN), Morelos (PAN), Tabasco (PRI) and Yucatan (PRI). The Federal District will also renew its head of government (mayor) and its legislative assembly. The PRI will certainly hold Yucatanvery easily and will probably fend off a tough PRD challenge in Tabasco, which has yet to elect a non-PRI governor. It also likely to pick up Jalisco, a state which the PAN has governed since 1995 (Vicente Fox was the first PAN Governor there). The PRI candidate in Jalisco is Aristóteles Sandoval, the young priista mayor of Guadalajara and a Peña Nieto look-alike. While the PAN should hold on in Guanajuato, which it has governed since 1991, it will almost certainly lose Morelos, which it has governed since 2000. The PRI and the PRD are fighting for the win. In Chiapas, however, the PRD will probably lose this state which was first won by a PAN-PRD alliance in 2000 and held by the PRD in 2006. The incumbent governor is, in reality, a peredista in name only – he’s a former priista and in this election he is backing Manuel Velasco, a PVEM senator (backed by the PRI) and son of a former PRI governor. Velasco is probably the favourite.

In the DF, however, things are shaping up for a PRD landslide of epic proportions. The PRD has held the DF’s directly-elected head of government position since it was created in 1997 (Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas won in 1997, then AMLO in 2000 and Ebrard since 2006) but in 2006, Ebrard won with ‘only’ 46.4% of the vote. This year, the PRD’s candidate, Miguel Mancera, is polling nearly 60% in opinion polls. He will easily destroy Beatriz Paredes, the former secretary-general of the PRI who had placed third (21.6%) in the 2006 election in the DF.

There has always been a wide political gulf between the fairly well-off, cosmopolitan and left-liberal metropolis of Mexico Cityand the rest of the country, but this year the gulf could become an ocean. While the rest of Mexico ‘moves backwards’ with a PRI president, the DF will elect a PRD mayor with a phenomenal margin. What this could mean in political terms for a President Peña Nieto and the PRI, I’m not too sure, but it will be a fairly significant event.

These elections may not prove to be the most exciting elections in Mexican history, far from it, but they remain fairly significant elections in an important country. Their results may not surprise, but I feel as if this election will end up, when history is being written, as being fairly significant. Could these elections be the second alternance in a democratic Mexico since the PAN’s historic victory in 2000, or will they be the elections which set back the clock for Mexico?

Gubernatorial elections in Argentina and Mexico

While I was away on vacation, a series of important gubernatorial (state) elections were held in three Mexican states and Argentina’s federal capital of Buenos Aires. In Mexico, the states of Coahuila, México and Nayarit held elections for governor on July 3. In Argentina, the federal capital and independent city of Buenos Aires held elections for head of government (the local mayor or governor), half of the local legislature and elections to 15 new local councils called communes.

Mexico (July 3)

Three Mexican states elected new governors on July 3, including the all-powerful state of México which, as Mexico’s most populous state with over 15 million inhabitants, accounts for 13.5% of the country’s population. Coahuila and Nayarit (respectively 16th and 29th out of 32 in terms of population) weren’t as crucial.

Coahuila, Mexico’s third largest state by area, is a large sprawling state in northern Mexico bordering Texas. It is largely arid and poor. Politically, Coahuila remains largely priísta, having been the PRI’s strongest state in the 2009 midterms and having been ruled only by PRI governors. But like most of northern Mexico the PAN remains strong, its candidates having carried the state in the 2000 and 2006 elections.

México is relatively small in terms of area, but is the country’s most populous state. It surrounds the Federal District on three sides, and is geographically marked by a contrast between the flat Valley of Mexico (the heart of Aztec civilization) and the mountainous region south of the state capital of Toluca.  México is somewhat of a microcosm of Mexico, with heavy urbanization on the outskirts of Mexico, an old industrial base in Toluca and agriculture in rural areas. As such and thanks to its size, the state is something of a major prize in Mexican politics. The PRI has governed the state uninterrupted for countless decades, but the PAN won it in the 2000 presidential election and the PRD’s AMLO won it in the 2006 presidential election where the PRI placed third in the state. The state was all the more crucial this year as it is held by the outgoing governor Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) who is to date the runaway favourite to become Mexico’s next president in 2012.

Nayarit is a small state with a small population on the Pacific coast of Mexico isolated by the rest of the country by the Sierra Madre Occidental. It is located just north of the tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, whose place as a booming tourist and industrial centre has opened markets for Nayarit. Nayarit has been ruled by the PRI since 2005, when its candidate Ney González Sánchez narrowly defeated a PRD candidate seeking to succeed Antonio Echevarría Domínguez, a former priísta elected governor on the PRD banner in 1999. Likely due to Echevarría, the PRD has been strong in the state while the PAN has been very weak (only 19% for Calderon in 2006).

In Coahuila, the PRI nominated federal deputy Rubén Moreira Valdez and the PAN nominated senator Guillermo Anaya Llamas. The PT and Convergencia ran independently of the locally irrelevant PRD with former deputy Jesús González Schmal. In México, the PRI nominated Ecatepec de Morelos mayor Eruviel Ávila, the PAN nominated former party president Luis Felipe Bravo Mena. The PRD finally nominated Alejandro Encinas, the well-known former caretaker mayor of Mexico (between 2005 and 2006). The PAN and some factions of the PRD including Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard fumbled around in the quixotic hope to form an electoral alliance like those PAN-PRD tickets which had proved so fruitful in 2010 and even earlier this year in Guerrero. But Encinas is a close ally of the PRD’s defeated 2006 presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who lost the PRD’s leadership narrowly in 2008 to AMLO rival Jesús Ortega. Ortega’s faction, to which (2012 contender) Ebrard is increasingly close to, favours such PAN-PRD alliances but Encinas-AMLO’s minority faction opposes such alliances. Finally, in Nayarit, the PRI candidate was Tepic mayor Roberto Sandoval Castañeda, the PAN candidate was PRD federal deputy and Echevarría Domínguez’s ex-wife Martha Elena García. Yet the PRD also nominated a candidate, Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo.

The most significant aspect here was the absence of any PAN-PRD alliances like those which had triumphed in three big states in 2010 and earlier this year in Guerrero. Only a last-ditch PAN-PRD coalition was put up in some municipalities in Hidalgo (which held local elections), where a PAN-PRD alliance had narrowly lost the gubernatorial contest in 2010.

Here are the results for the three states:

Coahuila México Nayarit
PRI and allies 59.96% 62.52% 48.8%
PAN and allies 35.23% 12.38% 38.1%
PRD and allies 0.97% 21.17% 10.9%
PT-Convergencia 1.52% w/ PRD 0.9%
Votos nulos 2.32% 3.7% 0.2%
Others 0.23% 1.1%

The three elections were all major victories for the PRD which managed to comfortably hold all three states up for grabs (though it was the defending party in all three). The most significant of the three was of course Eruviel’s landslide win in the most important of them all (México) where he won a smashing 62.52% which is one of the PRI’s best result in any statewide election in a very long time. The PRD saved face in México where Encinas ran a good campaign, but the PAN did not save face at all in that state where it ended up getting hammered into a very poor third with only 12.4%. Nonetheless, the PAN put up a good fight in Coahuila and most significantly Nayarit whereas the PRD did badly in both of those states including Nayarit where it has had a base of strength since the late 90s. The PAN even managed to win one more municipality (10 out of 20) in municipal elections held simultaneously in Nayarit. The PAN-PRD alliances in Hidalgo’s local elections worked more or less well, allowing some modest PRI loses.

At any rate, Eruviel’s win cements Enrique Peña Nieto as the PRI’s candidate, which has basically united behind him. However, the PAN’s poor showing might hurt the chances of one of the three top PAN contenders, former education secretary Josefina Vázquez Mota who was touted as a PAN candidate in México state and is seen as supporting a PAN-PRD alliance. The other top two contenders are Santiago Creel, an unsuccessful candidate for the 2006 nomination (where he was the candidate of then-President Vicente Fox); and finance minister Ernesto Cordero who is apparently the president’s favourite.

Argentina (July 10)

The latest in a string of 22 Argentine provinces which are due to elect governors this year, the federal capital and autonomous city of Buenos Aires elected its head of government (aka, governor or mayor) on July 10 alongside 30 out of the local parliament’s 60 seats and local councils in 15 new communes each electing a council of seven members.

The Argentine capital with a population of nearly 2.9 million, Buenos Aires has long been the capital of the country’s affluent and educated intelligentsia. In the nineteenth century, Buenos Aires’ free-trading elitist liberals feuded with the authoritarian protectionist rural caudillos of the pampas. This dichotomy of sorts between the capital and the rest of the country has existed to this day, with important political repercussions. In a distant past, the city’s educated elites which included the likes of Domingo Sarmiento, railed against the barbarian gauchos and the authoritarian caudillos such as Juan Manuel de Rosas. In a less distant past, Buenos Aires’ educated affluent population disliked Peronism and in recent years has been a bastion of opposition to the Kirchner’s centre-left variant of Peronism (also styled Kircherism).

In 2007, Mauricio Macri, a wealthy businessman and former president of the country’s most popular football club, was elected head of government at the helm of Republican Proposal (PRO), the country’s main (openly) right-wing alliance which he co-founded in 2005. Macri, who had been narrowly defeated in 2003 by incumbent head of government and Kirchner ally Aníbal Ibarra (forced to resign in 2006), won 45.76% of the vote against 23.75% for Daniel Filmus, then-education minister and candidate of Kirchner’s FPV coalition. Incumbent Jorge Telerman, a centre-leftist who took office in 2006 won 20.68%. Macri crushed Filmus with 60.9% of the vote in the runoff at the end of June 2007. Macri has been popular as mayor, establishing a new local police force and enjoying local economic growth. He has also often feuded with President Fernández, widow of former President and towering political figure Nestor Kirchner. His right-wing supporters have always hoped that he harboured national political ambitions, but the cautious Macri dropped a doomed October 2011 presidential bid in May.

Instead of a quixotic presidential bid, Macri ran for reelection. He was opposed, again, by Daniel Filmus, now a senator. Endorsed by Kirchner and the FPV, Filmus attacked Macri for abuse of power (the police boss is investigated for phone tapping), delays in the construction of the subway, crime and poverty. Filmus was joined by Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas, a left-wing filmmaker and the most prominent figure of the small local socialist Proyecto Sur party. Solanas was formerly allied to the Socialist Party of governor and presidential candidate Hermes Binner but that alliance has since been broken in most provinces though seemingly not (yet) in the city of Buenos Aires. Also-ran candidates included notably senator and Bolivian-born journalist María Eugenia Estenssoro from Elisa Carrió’s dwindling Civic Coalition (CC), federal deputy Silvana Giudici of the liberal UCR, former head of government Jorge Telerman, federal deputy Luis Zamora of the left-wing Autodetermination and Liberty and finally former finance minister and economist Ricardo López Murphy, a right-winger whose political career has been collapsing since his 2003 presidential bid where he won 16% (and winning overall in the city of Buenos Aires).

Results are:

Mauricio Macri (PRO) 47.08%
Daniel Filmus (PJ-FPV) 27.78%
Fernando Pino Solanas (Proyecto Sur) 12.82%
María Eugenia Estenssoro (CC) 3.32%
Silvana Giudici (UCR) 2.06%
Jorge Telerman (FPBA) 1.76%
Luis Zamora (AyL) 1.47%
Ricardo López Murphy (Autonomist Party) 1.41%
all others below 1%

Macri will need to wait until a runoff on July 31 before getting consecrated with a quasi-certain victory. Macri’s quasi-certain win is certainly a major success for him, but the FPV has reason to cheer as well. Daniel Filmus won a result considerably better than what he had garnered in 2007, and his result is in the high range of the FPV’s vote share in the city in recent years. Certain observers in 2007 thought that Macri’s win over Filmus that year was some sort of proof that “Argentina wasn’t so left-wing” and that Kirchner might not win that easily after all. I can’t help but think some fools will write the same thing this year. In reality, Macri’s win in Buenos Aires doesn’t indicate much aside from the fact that Buenos Aires remains markedly to the right of left-wing Kirchnerista Argentina. Buenos Aires has always been a right-wing city, at least in recent years, and is a poor indicator of the political mood of the entirety of Argentina. The only thing that it indicates is that Kirchner won’t win the city of Buenos Aires in October even if she wins big nationally, but we already knew that.

Macri did best in the wealthiest neighborhoods in the north of the city, notably Recoleta (comuna 2) where he won nearly 60% of the vote. Conversely, Filmus did best in the south of the city most notably in comuna 8, the city’s poorest district, where he took 38% to Macri’s 42%. Solanas did poorly both in the affluent north and poor south, doing best instead in the middle-class areas in the centre of the city.

City elections played out slightly differently, but not much. 30 out of 60 seats were up, the other having been elected in 2009 (PRO had won 11, Proyecto Sur 8, CC-UCR 6, FPV 4 and another slate won one).

Alianza PRO 44.96% winning 16 seats 
PJ-FPV 14.06% winning 5 seats
Proyecto Sur 12.89% winning 4 seats
Progressive and Popular Front (FPP) 6.64% winning 2 seats
New Encounter 6.48% winning 2 seats
CC 3.96% winning 1 seat
UCR 2.10%
FPBA 1.88%
AyL 1.53%
all others below 1.5%

The most significant aspect of the result is the FPV’s considerably poorer result, with only 14% of votes cast for the official FPV slate headed by Juan Cabandié, the boss of the virulent Kirchnerista youth. A lot of Filmus voters voted for two maverick Kirchnerista-lite slates, the FPP and New Encounter headed respectively by former mayor Ibarra and Gabriela Cerrutti. All in all, the PRO apparently picked up 2 seats, the FPV picked up one, the Proyecto Sur gained 3 while CC lost one. In communal council elections, PRO won 45.7% and 60 out of 105 seats, the FPV took 27.1% and 30 seats while Proyecto Sur won 15 seats and 13.7%. 15 communes composed of one or more barrios elected seven members to those new local councils, created to decentralize basic decision making in the city which is heavily centralized.

Some sort of larger and more detailed preview post for the presidential ballot including other gubernatorial elections in Argentina since January will be posted sometime in August or September.

Elections in two isolated places

Instead of covering the two recent votes of interest in the world in two separate posts, despite the fact that both these places have little in common besides being relatively isolated places few people know much about. These places are Baja California Sur in Mexico and Cape Verde.

Baja California Sur

As mentioned last week in a post on another Mexican state election in Guerrero, Baja California Sur held gubernatorial and local elections on February 6. These are the last ones before the exciting slew of state contests on July 3. Baja California Sur, which covers the southern end of the Baja California peninsula (and includes the touristy spot of Cabo San Lucas), is a sparsely populated, in fact the least populated, state in Mexico which is largely arid and desert. For some reason, the state has been a stronghold of the PRD for at least the last ten years or so, and has had a PRD governor since 1999. In contrast, Baja California (which covers the north of the peninsula) has been a PAN stronghold for ages, making the peninsula one of the few regions where the PRI is exceptionally weak.

Given that weakness, there was no incentive here for a PAN-PRD alliance of the like of the similar alliances cropping up in other states. The PRD candidate was Luis Armando Díaz, supported by the PT. The PRI-PVEM candidate was Ricardo Barroso Agramont. The PAN candidate was Marcos Alberto Covarrubias Villaseñor, a federal deputy for the PRD who left the PRD when he didn’t get their nomination. There was also a Convergencia and PANAL candidate.

Marcos Covarrubias Villaseñor (PAN-PRS) 40.35%
Ricardo Barroso Agramont (PRI-PVEM) 33.52%
Luis Armando Díaz (PRD-PT) 21.41%
Blanca Meza Torres (PANAL) 1.66%
Martín Inzunza Tamayo (Convergencia) 0.5%

This victory is not as much a victory for PAN as a personal victory for the “PAN candidate” who likely took a lot of votes away from the PRD, which finished third, but also from the PRI which had won 36.1% in 2005. The PRI’s result is perhaps the only one which can be interpreted from a partisan viewpoint without being too much off the mark, and from that standpoint the PRI result is certainly disappointing for them. The PRI’s great success in national polling for 2012 is hardly seen at the local level, last week in Guerrero and this week in Baja California Sur. This could mean that the PRI’s support even nationally is quite fickle.

In legislative elections, the PAN won 9 of the 16 direct seats with the PRI-PVEM taking 4 and the PRD 3. Seemingly, the remaining six PR list seats haven’t been distributed but all participating slates (which line up with the five participants of the gubernatorial contest) have passed the 2% threshold. In terms of share of the vote here, PAN has 31.87% against 28.24% for the PRI, 23.77% for the PRD, 9.1% for PANAL and 3.82% for Convergencia. The PAN’s success hasn’t been replicated in local elections, where it has only won one of the state’s five municipalities (Comondú) with PRD and PRI sharing the remaining four (PRI took the capital, La Paz).

Cape Verde

Legislative elections were held in the African island of Cape Verde on February 6, and come a few months out from a presidential election likely to be held this summer. Cape Verde is one of Africa’s democratic success stories, having had a slightly surreal peaceful transition of power from one party to another and more importantly from authoritarianism to democracy following free elections in 1991. Since then, governments have peacefully alternated in power and elections are free and also exceptionally close, with a 21-vote margin in the 2001 presidential election.

Two parties dominate the political life of this archipelago of dry and wind-swept islands off the coast of west Africa. The incumbent government is formed by the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), which is the post-1980 name of the PAIGC. The PAIGC, founded by Amilcar Cabral, was a Marxist party fighting for the independence of Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea and which got what it wanted in 1974 when Cape Verde and Guinea became a single independent entity. The Cape Verdean domination of the state didn’t please the mainland, which separated in 1980 but which surprisingly didn’t bother dropping the ‘and Cape Verde’ from the PAIGC’s name like the PAIGC did with the ‘Guinea’ part in Cape Verde. The PAIGC re-branded as PAICV ruled Cape Verde until 1991 as a one-party officially Marxist state. The Cape Verdean economy was (and is) pretty bad and the country, despite its communist rhetoric, was isolated and interestingly befriended apartheid South Africa as an unlikely ally. The PAICV was wiped out in free elections by the liberal Movement for Democracy (MPD) in 1991, but returned to power narrowly in 2001 (by 21 votes in the presidential contest) through former Prime Minister Pedro Pires (who was PM from 74 to 91) who was reelected with a narrow albeit slightly wider majority in 2006 over former MPD Prime Minister Carlos Veiga. Broadly speaking, the PAICV is a socialist party with an “African” orientation while the MPD is a more liberal party, supporting free trade and various other liberal measures. There is also a third party with legislative presence, the centre-right Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union (UCID) which remains weak.

PAICV 51% winning 37 seats (-4)
MPD 41.9% winning 33 seats (+4)
UCID 4.9% winning 2 seats (nc)

The MPD seems to do best in non-agricultural areas dependent on salt, while the PAICV does best in traditionally agricultural areas or in dense urban areas such as the capital, Praia. I don’t know how the electoral system works, but seemingly MPD has gained seats despite polling slightly less percentage wise than in 2006 (41.9% vs. 42.8%) with most lost votes going to the UCID who got 2.6% in 2006. There are also 6 diaspora seats, which split 3/3 between both main parties. Barely anyone voted for those seats, which means that Cape Verdeans abroad (of which there are a lot, especially in the US) either don’t vote or don’t have Cape Verdean nationality.

President Pedro Pires is not running again in the presidential election, instead incumbent Prime Minister José Maria Neves will be the PAICV’s candidate, once again facing Carlos Veiga. It’s hard to tell how these will go, but they’ll certainly be close given that the PAICV seems to do better in legislative elections than in presidential elections. Furthermore, party support has basically been the same since 2001 with the PAICV having a tad more support than the MPD but the country basically split down the middle 50/50 between both parties.

Guerrero (Mexico) 2011

A gubernatorial election was held in the Mexican state of Guerrero on January 30. The incumbent and term-limited Governor is Zeferino Torreblanca of the left-wing PRD, who ended decades of PRI rule with a victory in 2005.

Guerrero is one of Mexico’s poorest states, and has the highest Afro-Mexican population of the country in addition to a sizable indigenous minority. For western tourists, Guerrero includes the touristy spots of Acapulco (a resort on the Pacific) and Taxco (an old mining city). Traditionally a stronghold of the PRI, the PRD’s win in 2005 seems to have been followed by a strengthening of the PRD in the state, which now means that Guerrero can be counted as a PRD-leaning state. Guerrero has been the focal point of much drug cartel-related violence and killings, to which the state government’s response has been largely incompetent. The general failure of the outgoing PRD administration added on to the national swing in favour of the PRI gave the PRI hopes for a pickup in a state which it had held rather easily until 2005. The PRI candidate was former Acapulco mayor Manuel Añorve Baños, and was supported by the PVEM and PANAL. The PRD candidate was Senator Ángel Aguirre Rivero, an incumbent senator and former governor who was a PRI stalwart until he scrambled to join the PRD in 2010 when Añorve got the PRI’s nod. He was supported by the PRD’s traditional partners, the PT and Convergencia. The ruling centre-right PAN, traditionally very weak in the state, at first nominated a candidate who later backed out and in no uncertain terms endorsed the PRD candidate. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of Mexican politics since the PRI’s 2009 midterm win and the supposed inevitability of its victory in 2012 has been the rapprochement between the PAN and PRD. Although both parties are divided by ideology, they are united by the memories of a common struggle since 1988 against the formerly hegemonic PRI whose 2000 defeat to the PAN ended seventy years of quasi-single party rule by the opportunistic and ideologically heterogeneous PRI. Faced with a PRI machine which has everything going for it, the PAN and PRD see their alliance as the only way to prevent a PRI win in 2012. In Guerrero, it seems to have dashed PRI hopes:

Ángel Aguirre (PRD-PT-Convergencia[-PAN]) 55.92%
Manuel Añorve (PRI-PVEM-PANAL) 42.74%
Marcos Efrén Parra (PAN, dropped out) 1.34%

Obviously, one will ask how the PRD and PAN could get along considering the response by the PRD’s 2006 candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), to his narrow defeat. For reminders, he refused to accept the legitimacy of the results and formed a shadow government which to this days refuses to accept the legitimacy of President Felipe Calderón. The answer is an internal fight since 2008 or so within the PRD, which resulted in AMLO’s internal rival, Jesús ‘Chucho’ Ortega, winning the party’s presidency. Chucho, who barely conceals his contempt for AMLO, favours an alliance with the PAN and the PRD and this anti-AMLO faction is pushing the candidacy of Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard for the 2012 election. It remains to be seen if the Christian democratic PAN, which lacks a clear frontrunner, will come around to supporting a PRD candidate who got headlines for legalizing gay marriage in Mexico City. Supported by the PRD’s sidekicks, PT and Convergencia, it is noteworthy that AMLO may still run even against Ebrard, who despite not being enrolled in Chucho’s faction, has recently moved away from AMLO.

Baja California Sur, a PRD stronghold governed by the party since 1999, goes to the polls on February 6. There, the PAN candidate (a former PRD member) has a significant lead over the PRD. In a state where the PRI is not a threat, there is thus incentive for a PAN-PRD alliance. However, the 2011 electoral season will heat up only July 3 when the states of Coahuila, Nayarit and most importantly México will elect governors. The PRI is on the defensive in all three states, and crucially the outgoing governor of México, Enrique Peña Nieto, is the frontrunner for the 2012 presidential election despite a general lack of talent or charisma. Coahuila and Nayarit seem safe enough for the PRI, but if the PRI were to lose México it would seriously hurt Peña Nieto’s ambitions for 2012. Yet, a PAN-PRD alliance in México seems unlikely, given that the PRD could very well nominate Alejandro Encinas, a former mayor of Mexico City and close ally of AMLO (and thus an opponent of an alliance with the PAN). Yet, the PRD leadership and Ebrard (as well as the PAN) still favour an alliance with the PAN which could still win the day, though at the cost of Encinas bolting from the PRD and running as a left-wing with the PT’s support, and possibly that of Convergencia. The PAN-PRD definitely want to recreate their 2010 alliances which cost the PRI the governorships of its longtime strongholds of Puebla, Oaxaca and Sinaloa.

Mexico 2009

Firstly, I apologize for a big error in last day’s post: the Senate was not up for re-election, only the Chamber was. Anyways, these elections saw one of the largest victories for the formerly ruling PRI since the advent of real democracy in around 1988. The governing PAN had a bad night, but the very divided Mexican left (PRD) had an awful night.

PRI 36.68% winning 137 FPTP
PAN 27.98% winning 71 FPTP
PRD 12.20% winning 39 FPTP
Green 6.50%
PT 3.56%
PANAL 3.41%
Convergencia 2.36%
PSD 1.03%
PRI-PVEM candidates 0.41% winning 50 FPTP
PT-Convergencia candidates 0.24% winning 3 FPTP
Write-ins (non-registered parties) 0.18%
Blank and null 5.39%

Mexico 2009

The PR seats haven’t been allocated yet, but here is what I’ve been seeing as to final composition with the PR seats. I’m not sure if they have broken down the PRI-PVEM common candidates in the FPTP vote by the party of the winning candidate, because I’ve also seen 21 for the Greens and 237 for PRI. I think they counted all PRI-PVEM common candidates as PRI.

PRI 241 (+137) or 237 (+131)
PAN 147 (-59)
PRD 72 (-54)
Green 17 (-2) or 21 (+2)
PT 13 (-3)
PANAL 9 (nc)
Convergencia 6 (-10)
PSD 0 (-4)

PRI+Greenies (PVEM) have an absolute majority (258), but if the Greenies, which is nothing more than an object to buy, put their votes up for sale and the non-PRI parties have a good price for the PVEM, then an anti-PRI coalition would be possible (though unworkable and useless).

This election is comparable to the 2003 mid-terms or the 1997 mid-terms, both of which were won by the PRI. Though, as you can see, three years later, those victories turned into defeats (especially 2006).

In state elections; the PRI has held Campeche, Colima, Nuevo León (fending off a strong PAN challenge in one of PAN’s historical bases). It has gained Querétaro and San Luis Potosí. However, it seems that Sonora has bucked the trend by dumping the incumbent PRI in favour of PAN. Overall, +1 net for the PRI and -1 for PAN.

In the Federal District, the PRD has kept the absolute majority. Overall, the Lopezobradorista faction has emerged the strongest in the DF. For example, in Iztapalapa (discussed in the preview post), the PT candidate endorsed by Lopez Obrador won 31.2% against 22.1% for the PRD candidate (a member of the anti-Lopez faction).

Election Preview: Mexico 2009

Mexico is holding mid-term elections today for half of the Mexican Congress – the Chamber of Deputies are up for re-election. In addition, there are a number of gubernatorial and state/local elections also being held. These are the first nationwide elections since the election of President Felipe Calderón in the disputed 2006 election.

Mexico is ruled since 2000 by the conservative National Action Party (PAN), a social conservative Christian democratic-type party. It’s generally free market, but it doesn’t seem to place as much emphasis on economic liberalism compared to other conservative parties in the world.

PAN was founded in 1939 and became one of the major opposition parties to the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), Mexico’s ruling party and institution between 1929 and 2000. The PRI, despite the appearance (it’s a member of Socialist International), is not much of a left-wing party. It’s a collection of bureaucrats, technicians, power-hungry officials and family dynasties whose ideologies range from left-wing nationalist (Lázaro Cárdenas) to rightist NAFTA-IMF liberals (Carlos Salinas). Unlike other one-party states, Mexico between 1929 and 2000 was not a show party for an autocrat (like ARENA was for the military in Brazil) but rather a very structured official institution. The PRI made sure that no one person became too powerful and became the institution himself. For that reason, Mexican Presidents, despite having power similar to Obama’s power in the US, are elected for 6 years but they cannot run for re-election. Under the PRI system, the incumbent President chose his successor at the end. The PRI regime laid its foundations on a carefully-crafted and carefully-worked network of peasants, workers and “populars” (middle class).

No left-wing opposition to the PRI was able to impose itself as viable alternative to the PRI’s omnipotence until 1988. In 1988, the labour unions, formerly a rather solid part of the PRI coalition, showed its displeasure with the choice of free-marketer Carlos Salinas as the PRI’s candidate. The party’s left, led by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the son of President Lázaro Cárdenas (who governed on the left), formed the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) with the support of the PRI’s left and smaller perennial left-wing groups such as the Mexican Communist Party (PCM). Unlike the PRI, the PRD can be classified as left-wing. It’s economically left-wing and quite liberal socially. The PRD declined after winning 31% in 1988 to around 15-20% of the vote. Until 2006, that is. In 2006, the PRI’s presidential candidate, Roberto Madrazo, was opposed by a large faction in the party which turned to the PRD candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. As you all know, the PAN candidate, Felipe Calderón, won 35.89% of the vote against 35.31% for López Obrador.

López Obrador never accepted the result and installed a parallel government. He built a Broad Progressive Front (FAP) with two smaller left-wing party, the Labour Party (PT) and Convergencia. Both the PT and Convergencia have grown closer to López Obrador. However, the PRD descended into open war between López Obrador’s United Left faction (the PRI’s old left) and the New Left faction (those who came from smaller left-wing non-PRI parties) opposed to him. The New Left’s candidate won the party’s chaotic leadership election, though the Lópezobradoristas control the PRD’s wing in Mexico City (a PRD stronghold).

For example, in the capital city’s borough of Iztapalapa, the United Left candidate narrowly defeated the New Left candidate, though the electoral commish forced the PRD to name the New Leftist as candidate. López Obrador was rabid and endorsed the PT candidate. Not out of love for the candidate or the PT, he ordered the candidate to resign if elected so the Mayor of Mexico City (loyal, kind of, to the United Left) could appoint to United Left’s primary candidate. The official PRD leadership is now openly rabid too. They’ve made it heard that party members who support candidates of other parties are supposed to be expelled from the PRD. López is ready to go, with his supporters, if forced. Thereby destroying the party. The electoral situation in Iztapalapa is extremely confusing: it was too late to reprint ballot, so the United Left’s candidate will be on the ballot, but votes for her will go to the New Left PRD “official candidate”. Despite having her name on the ballot, if you want the United Left candidate, you should vote for the PT candidate who will resign in the hope that the Mayor will appoint the United Left candidate.

Other parties include the nominally liberal New Alliance Party (PANAL), which is owned by the powerful teacher’s union and/or a former ally of Roberto Madrazo within the PRI; the Ecologist Greens (PVEM), a corrupt very right-wing green conservative party; and the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a socially liberal and economically centrist party.

Now to the elections. The Chamber of Deputies has 500 members, 300 of which are elected in single-member electoral constituencies and the remaining 200 in a nationwide constituency using 2% proportional representation.

Here are the 2006 results, data from the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE)

Chamber of Deputies (FPTP)

PAN 33.39% winning 137 seats
PRD+PT+Convergencia 28.99% winning 98 seats (PRD 90, Convergencia 5, PT 3)
PRI+PVEM 28.21% winning 65 seats (63 PRI, 2 Green)
PANAL 4.54%
PSD 2.05%

Results by FPTP constituency

Results by FPTP constituency (source: IFE)

Chamber of Deputies (PR)

PAN 33.41% winning 69 seats
PRD+PT+Convergencia 28.99% winning 60 seats (PRD 41, Convergencia 11, PT 13)
PRI+PVEM 28.18% winning 58 seats (41 PRI, 17 Green)
PANAL 4.55% winning 9 seats
PSD 2.05% winning 4 seats

Chamber of Deputies (Overall)

PAN 206
PRD 126
PRI 104
Green 19
PT 16
Convergencia 16
PANAL 9
PSD 4

Gubernatorial and state legislative elections are being held in Campeche (PRI incumbent), Colima (PRI), Nuevo León (PRI), Querétaro (PAN), San Luis Potosí (PAN), and Sonora (PRI). Local elections in the states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, México and Morelos. Also notable are the borough elections in the Federal District, and the confusing race in the borough of Iztapalapa between the PRD and PT (PRD).


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