This an interesting essay about the recent elections (2009) in Mexico and the political future in the country. This text is published with authorization from the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
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THE PRI MAKES A COMEBACK IN MEXICO
by George Grayson
July 9, 2009
George W. Grayson is the Class of 1938 Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary, an associate scholar at FPRI and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. His next book, Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State will be brought out later this year by Transaction Publications.
THE PRI MAKES A COMEBACK IN MEXICO
by George Grayson
The once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) staged a thundering comeback in Mexico’s July 5 congressional and state elections and appears poised to dominate the next Chamber of Deputies in league with Mexico’s Greens (PVEM). In the heated race for the Chamber of Deputies, the self-proclaimed “revolutionary party” garnered 36.7 percent of the ballots cast compared with 28 percent for President Felipe Calderon’s center-right National Action Party (PAN), 12.2 percent for the leftist- nationalist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), 7 percent for the PVEM, and just over 10 percent for a farrago of small parties. The PRI also captured five of the six gubernatorial races, including the PAN strongholds of Queretaro and San Luis Potosi.
The fractured Left did well only in Mexico City, where the PRD and the Workers’ Party won 12 of 16 borough presidencies and 28 of 40 directly elected seats in the Legislative Assembly, the Federal District’s version of a city council.
Of Mexico’s 71.5 million registered voters, 44.7 percent participated, although an unprecedented number of citizens voided their ballots to punish a political system that is blatantly unresponsive to them.
This essay analyzes (1) factors in PRI’s success, (2) the lack of accountability in Mexico’s political system, (3) the significance of Sunday’s voting on the 2012 presidential showdown, (4) the impact of the elections on the nation’s drug war, and (5) the prospects for Calderon during the remainder of his term.
In the spring of 2009, the PRI watched its double-digit lead shrink until pre-election polls showed that it registered only 39 percent support vis-a-vis the PAN (34 percent) and the leftist-nationalist PRD (10-11 percent). Moreover, momentum seemed to be with the PAN.
On Election Day, the PRI, which governed the country from 1929 until 2000 in Tammany Hall fashion, outpolled Calderon’s party by 8.7 percent and captured 237 deputies, according to preliminary figures provided by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). If the PRI maintains the support of its corrupt alliance partner, the Greens, which picked up 21 seats, the PRI and the Greens will control the 2009-2012 Chamber of Deputies, which convenes on September 1. PRI veterans should be able to find ways to crystallize a pact with the Greens, which is more a family business than a political organization. The PAN (52 seats) continues to enjoy an advantage over the PRI (32), the PRD (26), the PVEM (6), and small parties (12) in the 128-member Senate, none of whose members were elected on July 5.
Several factors gave rise to this stunning victory. To begin with, PAN President German Martinez (who resigned the day after the July 5 defeat) mounted a blistering, no-holds- barred attack on the PRI for its legacy of mismanagement, corruption, and involvement with drug cartels. Such charges fell on deaf ears to many young voters who do not remember the economic debacles of Luis Echeverria (1970-76), Jose Lopez Portillo (1976-82), and Carlos Salinas (1988-94). Martinez also had to contend with “friendly fire” among PAN activists in the gubernatorial campaign in San Luis Potosi, as well as an extremely unpopular outgoing governor in Queretaro who has accumulated more frequent flier miles than a UN secretary-general. In the final analysis, a deep recession trumped all other considerations.
For its part, the revolutionary party excoriated Martinez for mudslinging and offered fuzzy proposals encapsulated in the innocuous slogan, “Proven Experience–A New Attitude.” Meanwhile, PRI president Beatriz Paredes Rangel; its eighteen governors; and uber-Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones worked tirelessly to grease and repair the creaky machinery of the PRI, which–unlike competitors–brandishes a presence in the 31 states and the Federal District.
Given the blows that Mexico has suffered–a recession inherited from the U.S., falling remittances from Mexicans living abroad, the swine flu epidemic, the collapse of the tourist industry, sagging oil prices, and at least a 5.5 percent decrease in GDP in 2009–it is amazing that the PAN’s losses were not greater.
In addition, Mexico State PRI Governor Enrique Pena Nieto launched his 2012 presidential campaign by barnstorming on behalf of PRI nominees. Not only did he make personal appearances, but he showered resources and volunteers on his party’s candidates for governor in Campeche, Colima, Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, and San Luis Potosi–all of whom won. Differences between the Mexico State chief executive and his PRI counterpart in Sonora meant that the “Golden Boy” (as the movie-star handsome Pena Nieto is known) did not participate in the gubernatorial donnybrook in that border state. The PAN eked out a victory, probably because of the deaths of 48 children in the ABC day-care center a month before the voting.
Meanwhile, after former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attracted nearly one-third of the vote in the controversial 2006 presidential showdown, the Mexico’s Left has once again demonstrated skill in forming firing squads in a circle. The messianic Lopez Obrador has not resigned from the PRD; however, much to the chagrin of PRD leaders, he has accepted the presidential nomination of two small, opportunistic leftist groups: the Workers’ Party and the Convergencia Party. In various areas, including the Federal District’s largest borough of Iztapalapa, Lopez Obrador helped a Workers’ Party standard-bearer defeat his PRD opponent. In view of this disarray, many PRD voters opted for the PRI, the party from which many of them had migrated.