With an estimate of around 37 percent of the votes, Enrique Peña Nieto’s victory in Mexico’s presidential race will be analyzed from multiple angles, including what this will mean with regard to the war on drugs, the economic model in place, relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world, and many other topics.
For the most part, Peña Nieto’s tenure will not imply radical changes in Mexico, for better or worse but the return of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) to power does say a lot about the way Mexico’s society thinks and operates. This electoral process has opened up an interesting window into the Mexican collective psyche. These are some of the lessons from the 2012 election.
Debates are not yet a vehicle for voter decision in Mexico. There were three presidential debates (two official ones and one organized by #YoSoy132 to which Peña Nieto did not attend) during the presidential race. Peña Nieto’s participation in these dialogues was considered lukewarm at best. His rhetoric was empty but his poor performance was not enough to shift voter preference away from him and toward a second viable option.
We still have a long way to go to build political awareness and education. Peña Nieto’s success cannot be attributed to a strong and enriched political platform or to his superiority as a candidate over his competitors. One could not say that he is smarter, better prepared or better equipped to be president than his competitors. Peña Nieto’s success shows that Mexican voters can easily be manipulated (or convinced) through robust campaigning, a large TV presence and looks. As different media showed when they interviewed people at political rallies (for the three major candidates), a large quantity of voters had no idea of where candidates stood on relevant issues. “I trust him,” “He’s cute” and “I’ll vote for him because the other one is crazy” were some of the compelling arguments that gave Peña Nieto a victory on July 1. Sadly, we still have a long way to go to create an informed voter base. The candidate you saw more billboards and TV ads from, is the one that came out on top in voter preference.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Enrique Peña Nieto appears set for victory in Mexico; OAS sends a delegation to Paraguay; Vietnam to build trade ties with Latin America; Julian Assange still under consideration for asylum; and Hugo Chávez and Henrique Capriles Radonski officially begin campaigning ahead of October’s election.
Enrique Peña Nieto Claims Victory: The Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute) quick count gave Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto a nearly 7 percentage point lead when results were announced yesterday at 11:15 pm in Mexico City (12:15 am Eastern). Official results will be announced on Wednesday. Peña Nieto received about 38.2 percent of the vote with second-place candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) candidate of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) winning roughly 31.8 percent. Josefina Vázquez Mota, candidate of the incumbent National Action Party (PAN), received about 25.6 percent of the vote.
Vázquez Mota conceded defeat last night while AMLO said that “the last word still has not been said” but that he would not act irresponsibly—a reference to his protest of the 2006 victory of President Felipe Calderón. “Yesterday's election yet again showed the significant strides that Mexican democracy has made in the last 12 years. The key question for Peña Nieto will be how he works with a Congress where the PRI will likely have the most seats but not a majority to move forward needed labor, financial, fiscal, and energy reforms,” says AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Insulza Heads to Paraguay: Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza arrived in Paraguay last night to try and resolve the crisis gripping the landlocked South American nation that saw its former president, Fernando Lugo, rapidly impeached by Congress and Lugo’s vice president, Federico Franco, sworn in as his successor. Insulza will meet with both Lugo and Franco today and report back to the OAS Permanent Council later this week. He is being accompanied by the permanent representatives to the OAS of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Haiti, and Honduras. Paraguay was suspended last week by Mercosur but not slapped with economic sanctions by the South American bloc. The U.S. will wait for Insulza’s report before rendering an opinion on the Paraguayan situation. Notes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, “After UNASUR and Mercosur have acted, will any OAS action have an impact beyond attempting to get to the bottom of the constitutionality of the impeachment process?”
LatAm-Vietnam Trade: In yet another sign of the growing commercial ties between Latin America and the Far East, a trade and investment forum is taking place on Thursday in Hanoi, Vietnam, titled, “Vietnam-Latin America: Trade and Investment Partners for Development.” Bilateral trade between Vietnam and Latin America has grown seventeen-fold in the past 10 years. Over 16 Latin American nations plan to send delegations.
Assange Update: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange still remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy to the United Kingdom while Ecuador’s government considers his request for asylum. There may be an update in the coming days—Assange has been confined there for nearly two weeks—although Assange has already refused a police order to leave the embassy.
Venezuela’s Presidential Campaigns Begin: President Hugo Chávez and his main challenger, former Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, officially kicked off their campaigns yesterday for the October 7 election. Chávez already released his first commercial with the hashtag #SoyChávezdeCorazón. Capriles Radonski, on the other hand, campaigned in Venezuela’s southern towns that border Brazil, citing Brazil as a state model he would like to follow. While Chávez leads most polls, Capriles Radonski is counting on Venezuela’s undecided voters—as much as 35 percent of the electorate—to tip the balance in his favor.
Never a dull moment just days before Mexico´s presidential poll on July 1. Two days after candidates concluded campaigning, a number of allegations, counter allegations, false arrests, accusations, and finger-pointing overwhelm already tried and tired campaigners. Making matters worse is intrigue and possible underhandedness encircling the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose Little Jet had an emergency landing in the state of Puebla earlier this week as Nieto traveled to one of his final campaign appearances. Mechanical failure was blamed for the unscheduled landing.
The National Action Party (PAN), which remains in third place behind the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), has been busy trying to win over voters and collect evidence of possible fraud. The charge is that the PRI is providing charged debit cards in exchange for the support of voters in economically depressed neighborhoods. Campaign manager Roberto Gil Zuarth held a full press conference, complete with debit card, to showcase one of his opponents´ tricks in the run-up-to the vote—a tactic that he, and many others concede, is part of the PRI repertoire dating back to the 1930s. Nothing will happen, however, as candidates are rarely sanctioned directly. Mexico´s campaign laws only sanction political parties, and normally after Election Day. If a sanction does take place, a fine is paid and life continues for the party.
While polling companies are easily bought by campaigns and candidates with funds derived from state and municipal coffers, there is an obvious, across-the-board tendency: Enrique Peña Nieto maintains a strong and healthy lead with 44 percent of the intended vote, followed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the PRD with 29 percent, and the PAN´s Josefina Vázquez Mota with 25 percent. Nieto´s 15-point lead is, by all means, difficult to shatter. Notwithstanding, the PRI may need this strong advantage as disenfranchised youth energized by social movement #YoSoy132 take to the polls. They will vote for everyone except Nieto who they label as a young politico in dinosaur cloak who will reintroduce the PRI´s authoritarian and godfather brand of politics into political administration.
#YoSoy132 has been called many things: “the voice of a new generation;” “the Mexican Spring;” and “young people manipulated by the PRD [Partido de la Revolución Democrática, or Party of the Democratic Revolution]” are just a few. Whatever its true nature, this youth movement has left a new mark on electoral processes in Mexico—one which could shape not only the outcome but the aftermath of the 2012 Mexican elections next Sunday.
It all began on May 11 when Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), belittled a group of student protesters that had gathered at the Universidad Iberoamericana to repudiate his presence there. Peña Nieto called them a small group of rabble-rousers, accused them of not being actual students and minimized their protest to opposition made up of only 131 people.
This led to the students uploading a YouTube video showing their university IDs and claiming that their cause was shared by many more young people. The video went viral and the story spiraled into Twitter via the hashtag #YoSoy132 (“I Am 132”). Without a cohesive agenda or clarity with regards to what “being 132” really meant, people sympathized with the students and began retweeting that they too were 132.
The second and final debate between Mexico’s four presidential contenders last night acted in accordance with public polling. Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido de la Revolución Institucional (PRI) succeeded in not jeopardizing his lead. Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), now in second place, held back negative attacks to gain independents’ backing. Josefina Vázquez Mota of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), in third place, pounced on all three opponents in an effort to tie AMLO for second place. And Gabriel Quadri of Partido Nueva Alianza (PANAL), polling in the single digits, continued to draw attention to the PAN, PRI and PRD and their failed policies.
Among the electorate, Mexicans from all corners left nothing to chance on debate day. An estimated 90,000 protesters from youth movement YoSoy132 tied up downtown Mexico City as well as Guadalajara where the debate took place. These university students protested against Peña Nieto and honored the fallen on the 41st anniversary of the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971 when government-sponsored paramilitary soldiers killed more than 100 students in Mexico City during anti-government protests. House arrest and formal charges against ex-President Luis Echeverría (1970-1976) for homicide and genocide would follow, but the Supreme Court eventually lifted the house arrest and exonerated Echeverría citing statute of limitations precedents.
Enrique Peña Nieto arrived tanned and fresh, but became tongue-tied as he spoke of more efficient government with independent citizen candidacies for federal office, introducing referenda for all Mexicans and offering a leaner congress with fewer legislators. He also lamented Mexico’s violence and poor security, which caused a decline in Mexico’s international standing; he showed a graph placing Mexico only above El Salvador on citizen security issues and declared Mexico’s security situation impedes economic growth and allows competitors like Brazil a disproportionate amount of foreign investment. Peña Nieto led few attacks, but did place on display PAN’s and PRD’s false pretenses of ideological purity by reminding viewers that both parties forged electoral alliances in recent years to win state and local elections against the PRI. The candidate constantly reminded voters his only mission as president will be to ensure “Mexicans win.” He promised better-paying jobs, economic growth, universal health coverage, free school utensils for all public education students, and to purge hunger from student rolls.
With 24 days remaining until election day, Mexico’s National Action Party (PAN) has been unable to manage its public relations faux pas with former President Vicente Fox (2000-2006). Over the weekend, Fox said the nation will need to unite behind the winner on July 1—referring to Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) who maintains an 18-point lead over his three rivals.
Days later, at a speech before the Monterey Chapter of the Harvard Club, Fox repeated his claim that Peña Nieto is above in the polls and likely to become Mexico’s next president. While Fox maintains his allegiance and affection to the PAN, he said his comments are a reflection of his party’s inability to do its homework in the past six years.
Fox’s comments angered both his party’s leadership and leftist presidential contender Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). The former said Fox´s comments are insulting and ungrateful to the party that helped him become president. The latter dismissed Fox as “riff-raff” and attributed his comments to a fear that AMLO is only four polling points from the PRI frontrunner. (The figure has been questioned by pollsters, experts and other seasoned campaign consultants since the statement was made earlier this week.)
This is not the first time the former president has spoken positively of the PRI, the PAN’s lifelong nemesis. In April, Fox told reporters the PAN’s nominee, Josefina Vazquez Mota, needs a “small miracle” to win the presidency. Outcry from panistas ended when Vázquez Mota and Fox met to discuss campaign strategy and later posed for pictures with the media.
Vazquez Mota and Fox have a long history: she served as his social development minister for all six years of the Fox administration, a job she executed with high integrity and total devotion. Vázquez Mota worked 18-hour days to reverse the ministry’s traditional politico-electoral operation to support pockets needed to win local, state and national elections. She carried out a census to truly determine how many poor lived in Mexico and brought monitoring and evaluation metrics to the ministry. The relationship, however, was not always friendly due in large part to the First Lady Marta Sahagún and her interference with Vázquez Mota’s decision-making; the first lady wanted the ministry to promote her political agenda as a preamble to her running for president in 2006.
PAN President Gustavo Madero says the party will have to consider sanctioning Fox. But such a move could further wound the party. Former PAN Party President Manuel Espino (2005-2007) was both sanctioned and expelled from the party in 2010 after criticizing President Felipe Calderón both publicly and through two published books. Three weeks ago, Espino, a lifelong panista from Durango, held a large gathering alongside Peña Nieto to announce his support for the PRI in next month’s elections. In Mexico, expelling one´s once loyal party leaders comes at a high cost.
Should the PRI win the presidency in July, the PAN will have a leadership vacuum among its most senior ranks. If defeated, Vázquez Mota seems unlikely lead the party; Calderón’s appointees will have no moral or political fuel left to reconstruct the party; and the party’s current leadership will lack the clout necessary to carry out any significant changes.
Thus, it may be up to individuals like President Fox and a handful of state governors to set new standards and lead the PAN. While Fox’s comments are unfortunate, the party may have to think long-term before making any rash decisions about one of its most respected leaders.
Juan Manuel Henao is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is a consultant based in Mexico City and former Mexico Country Director for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington DC-based not-for-profit democracy promotion organization.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Mexico’s presidential candidates debate; Dilma and the forestry law; Humala and Santos travel to Asia; and Venezuela proposes an alternative to the IACHR.
Challengers Hammer Peña Nieto in Presidential Debate: The leading presidential candidates in Mexico held their first debate last night, and frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) was the biggest target of attacks from candidates Josefina Vázquez Mota (Partido Acción Nacional) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Partido de la Revolución Democrática). Peña Nieto’s challengers painted him as a corrupt politician who oversaw a poor economy in Mexico state. During the debate, Peña Nieto noted that Vázquez Mota and López Obrador “seem to have come to an agreement… they’re coming with knives sharpened.” However, political analyst Jorge Zepeda opined that “Peña Nieto survived…I don’t think the debate will have a big impact.” Adds AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak: “Without a clear winner in last night's debate, look for the campaign to turn increasingly hostile as candidates seek to make up ground against Peña Nieto.” Now that the candidates have squared off in their first debate—the next one will be held in June—look for how the Mexican electorate responds on the campaign trail.
Dilma May Partially Veto the Forestry Law: In a political setback to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s legislature approved a controversial forest code on April 26 at the urging of the powerful farmers’ lobby. The code gives way for further deforestation of the Amazon and provides an amnesty from being fined for illegally clearing trees. Rousseff is now being pressured by environmentalists to veto the law, especially ahead of next month’s Rio+20 global summit on sustainable development. Advisors in Brasilia are now indicating that the president may issue a partial veto to two particularly controversial clauses: one on amnesty from prior deforestation and another on reducing vegetation on the margins of the rivers. Look for news this week.
Humala to Asia: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will make his first official trip to Asia this week, aiming to sell his country as a trans-Pacific destination for trade and investment. Humala arrives in Japan tomorrow for trade talks with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Emperor Akihito, then continues to South Korea where he will sign a declaration of strategic association with Prime Minister Lee Myung-Bak. “Coming on the heels of nationalizations in Argentina and Bolivia, Humala will likely use the trip to exhibit the stability for investments in Peru,” notes AQ’s Jason Marczak.
Santos in Singapore and China: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos landed in Singapore yesterday for a six-day trip to Asia that will also include a state visit to China. Santos is accompanied in Singapore by a business delegation and his ministers of commerce, mining, transport and agriculture, and foreign affairs. He lands in China tomorrow to build “a much closer framework of cooperation between the two countries,” according to Xinhua and will depart on Saturday.
Venezuela Proposes IACHR Alternative: After suggesting last week that his country should withdraw from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his administration have proposed an alternative human rights body for Latin American states that would exclude the United States. Chávez has accused the IACHR, under the aegis of the Washington-based Organization of American States, of being a tool of the U.S. government. However, the informal proposal of an alternate commission issued over the weekend in Cartagena, Colombia, by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro should bring cause for concern that Venezuela is flouting its international commitments. The move has been criticized by Venezuelan human rights groups and the United Nations. Look for formalized proposals going forward.
The 2012 electoral process is the most uninspiring we’ve seen in recent history. Therefore it’s no surprise that Mexican society is increasingly disenfranchised with the political system. In fact, trust in the political elite is at an all-time low. Where interest groups saw possibilities of working hand in hand with the government in 2000 and 2006, the division between those governing and those being governed grows day by day.
The age group most alien to the electoral process this year will be young adults. A recent UNDP-sponsored study carried out by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) posits that 7 out of every 10 voters ages 18-29 will not turn out to vote due to “disenchantment with Mexican democracy.” Enrique Cuna Pérez, the head of the sociology department at the UAM, points out that Mexican adolescents do believe in democracy but not in the way it is implemented in the country. “Young people are not shying away from democracy as a system, they are shying away from Mexican democracy. They consider themselves as democratic people. They understand the importance of voting but they are not willing to participate in Mexican democracy as it stands today,” says Cuna.
There are many reasons for this. For one, people are finding it harder to believe in and rally for the different candidates. The turn that political campaigns have taken—toward destructive criticism, finger-pointing and whining—is far from inspiring. Since the actual political platforms and proposals show nothing new, candidates are focusing on projecting their persona, trying to get people to believe in them, but they are doing it by saying “you can’t believe in the other candidates” as opposed to showing the country why they are fit to lead.
Last weekend Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota officially launched her election campaign, as did the other two primary contenders, Enrique Peña Nieto and Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The media have focused on whether Peña Nieto can convince voters that he represents a new Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, the governing party for 70 years until the election of Vicente Fox in 2000), and if López Obrador (of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático—PRD) can make a comeback after narrowly losing the 2006 election. As for Vázquez Mota, the candidate of the incumbent Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), one central question has been whether she can become the country’s first female president.
The Vázquez Mota candidacy is a symbolic victory for feminists. Globally, women are disproportionately less represented in politics (making up only 17.2 percent of national legislatures), and only a handful of world leaders are women. Mexico in particular is known for a deeply-rooted culture of machismo, which pervades politics and business as much as it does society at large. Only 6 percent of Mexico’s mayors are women, although 25 percent of its national legislators are (thanks to a law that requires at least 40 percent of a party’s candidates to be women). No major company is led by a female CEO. Only one, Grupo Modelo, has a female board chair—and that because her father passed it on to her when he died without a male heir in 1995.
Vázquez Mota, in contrast, has risen to the candidacy on her own merits; the 51-year-old mother of three is a trained economist, former congresswoman and ex-cabinet minister (in each of the last two administrations). While Vázquez Mota has embraced her gender head-on since Day 1 (in accepting PAN’s official nomination, she declared, “I will be the first woman president of Mexico”), it remains to be seen whether the candidate of the socially conservative, Catholic PAN will campaign—and potentially govern—with a large focus on women’s issues.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Calderón and Harper at the White House; FARC releasing its remaining hostages; the Mexican presidential campaign officially underway; Good Friday declared a holiday in Cuba; and Brazil’s currency hits a six-month low.
Harper and Calderón in Washington: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and U.S. President Barack Obama are meeting today for the North American Leaders’ Summit. According to a White House press release, the meeting will have a “particular focus on economic growth and competitiveness, citizen security, energy, and climate change.” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini says, “President Obama has met with these two leaders more than any other world leaders; it makes perfect sense given our levels of trade and the importance of both countries to our security, though this fact has escaped attention.”
FARC Releasing Hostages: After announcing in February that it would release the 10 remaining hostages in its custody, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) will begin doing so today and later this week. The FARC has also announced that it will stop kidnapping civilians for money; asks Sabatini, “Could this be the end of the FARC?”
Campaign Season Underway in Mexico: On Friday the three leading candidates launched their presidential campaigns in a bid to succeed incumbent Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) President Felipe Calderón, who is term-limited from seeking re-election. Expect much attention to be paid to the first full week of official campaigning among the candidates—Enrique Peña Nieto (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD), and Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN). AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes, “Although much of the campaign will focus on security policy, the next three months will also be crucial for further defining visions of other important issues, namely energy reform, competition, education, and fiscal policy. These issues must get their due attention as well.” Mexico votes on July 1.
Good Friday in Cuba: Pope Benedict XVI proffered during his visit to Cuba last week that Good Friday be declared a holiday in the island nation; over the weekend the Cuban government granted the papal request. This is particularly interesting for Cuba, which has a small Catholic population relative to other Latin American nations. Could this mean a growing influence of the Church in Cuba? Sabatini observes, “Religious space—any space—is important in Cuba. I hope, though, that the Pope’s trip helped produce more than this.”
Brazilian Currency Hits Six-Month Low: Bloomberg has reported that the value of the Brazilian real dropped to its lowest level since September 2011. How will President Dilma Rousseff respond? Despite much global fears about slowing growth in China, Rousseff expressed frustration with what she termed a “monetary tsunami” on the part of developed economies including the United States. Given that President Rousseff will hold a bilateral meeting with President Obama next week, pay attention to how currency discussion unfolds in the coming days.