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!

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Posted on July 10, 2013, in Mexico, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I like the summary on EPN, because he is a personage that I find detestable at first sight, but the impression that give the first months of his presidency is exceeding previous expectations. Nevertheless, there are many contradictions around EPN, the PRI and Mexican politics in general. I think the summary reflect them pretty well. Also, it seems that PRI always plays with advantage and changes (to better or to worse) are impossible without the ‘natural party of government’.

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