Mexico: 3 months away from the election of Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexico’s Presidential Election is less than two months away, and it appears that Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will be the winner. Peña Nieto is a young, charismatic former Mexico State governor. His competition for the Mexican presidency is Josefina Vásquez Mota of the National Action Party (PAN) and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). The election will most likely be more of a two-candidate race, pitting Peña Nieto against Vásquez Mota, with Lopez Obrador garnering some support but not posing a viable threat to either of the current front-runners.

The PRI, which dominated the presidency for 71 consecutive years until 2000, has a good chance of returning to power. In 2000, the PAN’s Vicente Fox defeated the PRI’s Francisco Labastida to break the PRI’s hold on the presidency. Fox was elected on a platform that sought to end government corruption (for which the PRI is infamous), strengthening law enforcement and justice systems, and combating Mexico’s chronic poverty. Felipe Calderon won the 2006 election, defeating Lopez Obrador by a slim margin, on a platform similar to Fox’s that also included fighting the influence of Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) in Mexico. However, after 12 years of PAN rule, it does not appear that the woes of the Mexican people have been satisfactorily addressed.

While Fox’s election was widely celebrated throughout Mexico and was thought to be a watershed moment in Mexican history, the PAN’s track record has been marked by major failures to keep campaign promises. Fox had very little success prosecuting former PRI officials for past abuses of power, and Calderon has not fared much better. In fact, some might argue that under Calderon’s administration the PAN has been guilty of corruption of similar abuses. Many Mexicans, PAN members included, are furious that the PAN mayor of Monterrey has not been expelled from the party or prosecuted after a videotape showed his brother receiving cash in a Monterrey casino whose owner had made allegations of extortion. Furthermore, Fox struggled to strengthen the country’s law enforcement. As evidenced by Calderon’s decision to deploy the Mexican armed forces to combat the growing influence of DTOs. This decision has been controversial because of a death toll that has climbed past 50,000 since Calderon began an offensive against the DTOs shortly after he was sworn into office. The weakness of the Mexico’s judicial institutions is also still an issue. To their credit, Fox and Calderon have been able to maintain a stable economy despite a persisting global economic crisis. However, poverty is still a widespread problem, with more than half of the country’s population living in poverty.

Not surprisingly, there are many Mexicans unhappy with the PAN’s leadership. As a result, Vásquez Mota’s campaign slogan is “diferente” (different), an attempt to distance herself from the other candidates, and, probably more telling, current Mexican President Calderon. Vásquez Mota is an economist, devout Roman Catholic, and mother of three who provides a family-oriented and friendly image to voters. Nevertheless, she still trails Peña Nieto by double digits in the polls. Part of this can be attributed to her campaign’s weak and disorganized infrastructure. Another contributing factor, in my opinion, is that the PRI’s influence never left Mexican politics. Even though it lost its grip on the presidency, the PRI has governed most of Mexico’s states, and currently holds 19 of 32 governorships. I believe that the presence of Lopez Obrador actually hurts Vásquez Mota’s chances. Lopez Obrador is a fiery leftist who has handled his 2006 defeat poorly, and I think that if he were to drop out, many of his supporters would be more likely to back Vásquez Mota than Peña Nieto.

There are no signs that Lopez Obrador will leave the race, or that he will form an alliance with Vásquez Mota to prevent a Peña Nieto and PRI victory. The PAN, which faces an electorate that has soured on its policies after its failure to deliver on its campaign promises from the past two elections, is seen by many as responsible for unprecedented levels of violence and has not translated economic growth to the 62 million Mexicans that live in poverty. Therefore, I am confident that this week’s poll results by the Reforma newspaper will be an accurate portrayal of July’s election outcome: 45% of those surveyed support Peña Nieto, 32% Vásquez Mota, and 22% Lopez Obrador.

– Max Rava

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