Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Elections in Mexico: A Primer

article from May 9, 2012
by Julie R Butler

A brief political history of Mexico

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, by its Spanish initials) came into power in Mexico in 1929. It began as a leftist revolutionary organization, but by institutionalizing itself, became conservative of its own power through corruption and election fraud. The PRI dominated Mexican government at every level for 71 years, with large majorities in the Federal Congress as well holding all of the state governorships.

The National Action Party (PAN) was founded in 1939 by Roman Catholics and other conservatives hoping bring an end to continued post-revolutionary violence and chaos through political representation of the opposition to the PRI. But in order to do this, an agreement was made with the PRI that left them with little real political power until 1979, when President López Portillo allowed official registry of opposition parties and created positions in the lower chamber of Congress for them to be able to participate in governance of the country. Vicente Fox was the PAN member who finally broke the long presidential reign of the PRI in 2000. He was succeeded by the current president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, also of the PAN, in 2006.

The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), founded in 1989, was begun by former PRI members and other left-wing and center-left politicians as a coalition that included communists, socialists, and workers. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was a former PRI member who had dared to challenge the party’s habit of allowing the president to handpick his successor; and upon being expelled from the party, he ran as an opposition candidate in the 1988 elections. He is believed by many to have won the presidential election, but after the electronic election system mysteriously shut down, PRI candidate Carlos Salinas was declared the winner. In 2000, Cárdenas came in third place.

Newer Mexican political parties are the Labor Party (PT), the Green Ecological Party (PVEM), the New Alliance Party (PNA), representing the National Union of Educational Workers, and the social democratic Convergence for Democracy, which was re-formed as the Citizens’ Movement in 2011.

The 2012 elections

Currently, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI is the frontrunner, with the ruling party’s candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) coming in second and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, representing a coalition of leftist parties led by the PRD, in third place. In the last presidential elections in 2006, López Obrador lost to Calderón by the slimmest of margins – just over half a percentage point – resulting in large protests that occupied Mexico City’s Zócalo from July until the Federal Election Tribunal declared the matter settled in September.

Unlike in many other Latin American nations, there is no runoff election if no one wins more than 50% of the votes. Rather, it is like in the United States, where whoever (supposedly) gets the most votes wins.

So the idea that the PRI, which Mario Vargas Llosa called “the perfect dictatorship” in 1990 (yes, this is the same Mario Vargas Llosa who so famously compared the 2011 Peruvian presidential candidates to the choice between cancer and AIDS), is a welcome change from the current government is rather surprising. But even former President Vicente Fox has acknowledged the major changes in the politics of Mexico that Peña Nieto represents:

“Today, we have a different Mexico,” Fox said. “We have a legislative branch and a judiciary that each day give us examples of independent postures and rulings. So against that (old) PRI is this new democratic reality of Mexico. It gives me confidence. It gives me peace of mind.”

One of the main motivations for change is, of course, Calderón’s War on Drugs and the extraordinary level of violence that is fatiguing the nation, leaving many Mexicans longing for the days when the government was more in bed with the narcotraficantes than at war with them.

Despite the distrust that many Mexicans hold for the PRI, their new candidate seems to be succeeding at projecting a new image of the old, corrupt, institutionalized party. New blood is bringing in new ideas, including the possibility of opening Pemex, the state-owned oil company that was the golden cow for the PRI for much of its reign over the country, to private investment.

The general elections will be held on Sunday, July 1.

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler