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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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.

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.

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