On July 1st, Mexico goes to the polls to choose its next president, six years after Felipe Calderon (PAN) won in a surprising victory.
A current poll by the Reforma newspaper shows Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Pena Nieto leading with over 40 percent. Pena Nieto is followed by his leftist rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (PRD), the former mayor of Mexico City, at 30 percent.
A current surge by Lopez Obrador has some wondering if this election will see an unexpected outcome as happened six years ago. Andrew Selee, VP and director of the Mexico Institute at Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars says that is unlikely.
“You never want to predict with too much certainty but all the polls do show fairly significant margin of victory,” Selee said in a conversation with Air Talk’s Larry Mantle. “I mean all the independent polls, not done specifically for campaigns, show eight to twenty one points, so it does look like a comfortable margin. It would be a huge upset if either of the other candidates was to win.”
The likely victor, Pena Nieto, is from a party (PRI) that held power in Mexico for much of the 20th century. Sam Quinones, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, says Pena Nieto is from one of the great political clans who have governed the state of Mexico since 1940.
“...Their political philosophy, their political style involves the marriage of laissez-faire, a lot of people would say, crony capitalism with kind of authoritarian political side.” Quinones said. “The fact that Enrique Pena Nieto would be the President is to me a sign that reform is going to essentially stall.”
Due to the rise in the drug cartels and political corruption throughout much of the 20th century, Quinones says there is some surprise that a PRI candidate like Pena Nieto would have such an easy path to the top office. Quinones attributes this to a short memory by the electorate and a lack of context from the media.
Under current President Calderon, Mexico’s economy has stalled and the country has been besieged by years of bloody drug wars – nearly 48,000 have died as a result. The drug cartels are certainly on the minds of many of those watching the Presidential race.
“For many Mexicans they approve of what he [Calderon] is trying to do, they give him high marks for doing the right thing, for wanting to do the right thing,” Selee says. “But they don’t think the government has been that effective. You know they haven’t been effective in ensuring public security, violence continues to be very high, even though they approved the policies against organized crime.”
It is unclear, according to Selee, how any of the three candidates would tackle drug cartels. All have been very vague about what policies they would pursue.
However, what is clear is that if Pena Nieto and his party win this election it could be the first time in twelve years that the a President and Congress have been from the same party.
Can either party turn things around? Will Mexico’s new administration bring big policy changes? What’s at stake for U.S./Mexico relations?
Sam Quinones, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and author of “True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx” (University of New Mexico Press)
Andrew Selee, VP and director of the Mexico Institute at Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars