With less than a year remaining before Mexico’s next presidential election, to be held July 1, 2012, not much is settled other than the front-runnership of the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto. But the political parties have not yet launched their official campaigns, and there is still plenty of time for the landscape to shift. So from this vantage point, here is our view of the lay of the land.
The six year administration of President Felipe Calderón of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) has been one of the toughest in recent times for Mexico, beginning with a highly disputed election and beset by severe recession, the swine flu crisis, drought, flooding and a drastic increase in violence from warring drug traffickers. With this backdrop, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), still stewing over loss of the presidency to the PAN in 2000 following 70+ years of uninterrupted rule, appears to view its return to power next year as a foregone conclusion. The PRI has not yet formally selected its candidate, but Mr. Peña Nieto, currently Governor of the State of Mexico, is widely expected to be chosen. The only other visible candidate, playing Washington Generals to Peña Nieto’s Harlem Globetrotters, is Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones, who trails by a lengthy margin in early polling. Peña Nieto is no maverick, but rather represents the customs and methods of the old PRI, and in fact he is related to various high profile PRI figures from the past. In place of a clear public policy platform, Mr. Peña Nieto has a much more formidable and possibly invincible ally: The slobbering support of the country’s largest television network, Televisa.
While much of the media may be handing over the keys to the PRI already, the other two leading political parties are proceeding full bore in preparation for their respective campaigns. Even as the PAN reels from the collective black eye it has received over the past five years, an abundance of candidates clambers to obtain the party’s candidacy. First in line is Senator Santiago Creel, whose smug confidence was unexpectedly dashed to atoms by dark horse Felipe Calderón late in the race last time around. President Calderón’s own apparent choice is Finance Secretary Ernesto Cordero, with Federal Deputy Josefina Vázquez Mota and potty-mouthed, rosary-brandishing Jalisco State Governor Emilio González Márquez also loudly campaigning for selection. Dozens more aspirants are lined up behind the top five pre-candidates, but the outlook is bleak for the PAN. While Creel, González Márquez and Vázquez Mota can each lay claim to a certain degree of personal charisma, it is difficult to imagine any of the three winning it all under current circumstances. Creel’s aristocratic appearance and demeanor fail to connect with the hoi polloi; the appeal of González Márquez’ smirking swagger and promotion of the Catholic church is not broad based; and Vázquez Mota is fighting an uphill battle against the highly conservative PAN hierarchy. Ultimately, Vázquez Mota’s condition as “something completely different” may well be the PAN’s best bet, but it’s still unlikely to put her over the top in the national race and may not even be enough to win the party’s nomination.
If the PAN is paddling upstream, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) is snagged on a rock underneath the falls. With two clear candidates vying to become the candidate of an alliance of left-wing currents and minor parties spearheaded by the PRD, the party is struggling to keep from splitting into smoldering shards and total collapse. The two pre-candidates are former Tabasco State gubernatorial candidate and Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador (commonly referred to as AMLO) and current Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard. López Obrador approximately tied Felipe Calderón in the last presidential election and proceeded to fight the decision for months after Calderón was declared the victor by a PAN-dominated electoral tribunal. Ebrard, ever the wily crocodile, has long professed support for AMLO’s cause, all the while working feverishly behind the scenes to shore up his own support base within the party in detriment to his former mentor. Internally, the PRD is severely split between two principal currents, one of which supports AMLO for the candidacy while the other supports Ebrard. The party is further riven amongst numerous sub-factions weaving in the venomous political waters like so many ribbons of ideological seaweed. Adding to the chorus of oaths are two small independent parties, the Partido del Trabajo (PT) and the Partido Movimiento Ciudadano (PMC, formerly Convergencia), who provide their support, such as it is, unconditionally for AMLO.
While both AMLO and Ebrard have labored to create a perception that they will each accept the results of a mutually agreed candidate selection mechanism, neither looks likely to turn his support over to the other for an ultimately unified candidacy of the left. This past weekend’s PRD party congress appears to have agreed in principle to determine the candidate through a series of polls of public opinion in general, rather than consulting only party members. This mechanism was promoted by Ebrard and its adoption appears on the surface to be a tactical victory by the capital’s mayor over his rival. If AMLO somehow comes out ahead in the polls, however, Ebrard would theoretically be obliged to eat his hat. In reality, of course, the chivalrous agreement to respect the poll results could easily go up in smoke once the results are announced in October.
One final note: the topic of whether or not to enter into electoral alliances with other parties (usually referring to the rightist PAN) for state level elections earlier this year has been highly divisive within the PRD. Ebrard generally has supported the strategy, while López Obrador and his followers are staunchly against. The possibility that Ebrard becomes the PRD’s presidential candidate has raised speculation that he might seek an unprecedented PRD-PAN alliance in a massive push to prevent the PRI from returning to power. While such an exceedingly-strange-bedfellows alliance would make for delicious political entertainment, the stumbling blocks appear to be insurmountable in reality. For our part, may truth turn out to be stranger than fiction.
NOTE: There is an update to this post here.