The Good, The Bad and The Absurd of the Mexico Presidential Election9:14 pm - 03/29/2012
The Mexican Presidential Elections will be kicking into gear in the next few days. “So what?” you might ask.
Well, if history is any guide, the coming months will be filled with intrigue and scandal. The last election led to weeks-long protests by the losing candidate, who is running again, this time against a perfectly-coiffed ex-governor with a mysterious death in his past, and a woman who could round out the Latin American trifecta of female leaders (Brazil and Argentina being the other two countries led by women) if she were to win in Mexico.
But beyond the reality show drama, this year’s election will be particularly interesting because of what is at stake. Mexico’s young democracy is at an important crossroads.
Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, says that with the 2012 election, Mexico will be “deciding if there are common national priorities that people, regardless of party and ideology can rally around –- or if Mexico will continue to lumber along with mediocre growth and rising crime.”
For quite some time, this country of 113 million people has seemed to be on the verge of something extraordinary. In 2000, Mexico finally shed the single party rule that had its grip on the country for more than 70 years. A new optimism took over. The new leaders would finally be able to get Mexico’s act together, by tackling corruption and working towards economic stability and day-to-day security. But more than anything, for the first time, Mexicans felt like their voices were being heard.
Twelve years later –- after six years of Vicente Fox, and six more from PAN president Felipe Calderón –- that optimism is being poisoned by a growing anxiety.
Sure, Mexico seems to have weathered the rest of the world’s economic problems better than many others. In Mexico City, newly opened fine dining restaurants are serving up world-class (and internationally recognized)cuisine, while Walmarts are filled with middle-class shoppers.
But the drug war that President Calderón started in 2006 by using the military to attack the cartels has left more than 50,000 people dead. Drug violence from Ciudad Juarez to Acapulco and the once peaceful Veracruz has the whole country on edge. And even in safer areas, like Mexico City, street crime is still a major problem, and the sense of dread, that the drug war could find its way to their public-art-filled streets, permeates everything.
Meanwhile, the financial gains of a more stable Mexican economy have not been spread equally. During Calderón’s administration, at least 12.5 million people were added to those already living in abject poverty –- making less that $150 a month. About ½ of Mexico’s population is considered poor.
More than anything else, the 2012 election will be framed by these two issues: concern for the economy and crime.
Voters going to the polls on July 1st will choose between three options: Mexicans will either give PAN another shot; return to the PRI, the party of the past that was corrupt but seemingly had better control over security; or voters could go with the leftist off-shoot of the PRI — the PRD (the Democratic Revolutionary Party) –- which, like the other parties, promises to develop democratic institutions, fix the broken justice system, and figure out how to get the 30% of the work force that is currently off the books to pay taxes and help pay for social programs.
But, perhaps more importantly, it remains to be seen how involved Mexicans will be. Some experts fear that the PAN’s ineffectiveness has squandered the country’s initial faith in democracy. There are signs of increased respect for the rule of law and each other -– as more Mexicans line up for buses and stop at stoplights (and believe you me, that is not a given). Yet the question that hangs in the balance is: will Mexicans continue to participate in democracy –- by voting, and building on the cultural and institutional gains made so far — or will their frustration and fears lead the country back toward authoritarian rule in the hopes that it will keep them safer and more stable?
Enrique Peña Nieto
The Good: Considered the front runner, Peña Nieto is seen as the new, younger face of the PRI –- and what a face it is! (Not to mention the hair!) Women swoon at his campaign events and many love the youthful optimism he brings to Mexico’s grandfather party. [lol at his good looks being put before his policy position]
He comes from a political family and was generally considered successful as the governor of Mexico State, bringing public works projects –- like new roads and overpasses — to his state. He’s bragged about keeping crime from spiraling out of control in his state (though Mexico State is far from crime-free) and he has pledged to strengthen local and state authorities while moving away from the unpopular use of the military to fight drug cartels.
The Bad: Let’s face it. The PRI is known more for its corruption and vote-rigging and just has an overall bad-guy image as the party that ruled Mexico with authoritarian gusto for most of the last century – until the PAN took over in 2000. Could Peña Nieto be their first step towards a more progressive, democratic party? Perhaps. But, for all of Peña Nieto’s good looks and good-looking advertisements for his public works projects, there is concern he might not be the brightest bulb in the box. At a recent book fair event he flubbed the author of his supposed favorite book among other gaffes. And to make matters worse, he continually demonstrates his disconnect from the ordinary, often struggling Mexican. When asked how much a kilo of tortillas cost, he couldn’t come up with a number instead saying, “I’m not the woman of the house.” Ouch on a couple of levels. His teenage daughter didn’t help matters when she tweeted that those criticizing her father’s book mistakes were “a bunch of a—holes who form part of the proletariat and only criticize those they envy.” That didn’t go over so well. And even though most Mexicans don’t seem bothered by it, Peña Nieto recently confessed to infidelities while married to his first wife and having fathered children out of wedlock.
The Absurd: Univision viewers are no strangers to the appeal of telenovela stars and the Mexico presidential candidates are no different. After his first wife Mónica Pretelini mysteriously died of an epileptic episode (Was it a seizure, a drug overdose, a murder? The rumors are endless. He, of course, has insisted her death was nothing but a blameless tragedy.) Peña Nieto found love again in the form of Angelica Rivera, a popular Televisa telenovela star known by her character name of Gaviota, the seagull. They were married in a late 2010 fairytale wedding after their engagement was blessed at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI himself. Many say the union is a publicity stunt promoted by the telenovela’s network Televisa, a strong supporter of the PRI and Peña Nieto. Could Mexico’s most powerful network be selling a fairytale to the Mexican voting public in the form of popular wedding?
Josefina Vázquez Mota
The Good: Josefina Vázquez Mota could be the only hope for a party that is suffering major PR problems thanks to over a decade of squandered opportunity and a raging drug war that has led to over 50,000 deaths. She is the first female presidential candidate for any of the major political parties, but has been working in politics since Vicente Fox named her Secretary of Social Development after his victory in 2000. The year before she had burst onto the scene with the book, “Dios Mio, Hazme Viuda Por Favor” or “God, Please Make Me a Widow,” about the trials and tribulations of being a woman, mother, economist, and Panista in no particular order. While she won’t be breaking many stereotypes with her conservative, family values brand of politics, with women voters becoming stronger and more active, she just might have a chance at narrowing the significant lead now held by the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto.
The Bad: So far, Vázquez Mota has been vague on how she’d be different than the current PAN administration or her fellow nominees. And although she is no stranger to the Mexican political scene – she was the first female Secretary of Social Issues and Education Secretary – some are skeptical she has enough heavy duty political experience to be an effective leader. While the fact that the current president, Felipe Calderon, didn’t endorse her nomination could actually be an asset in her case, she seems to have butted heads with many of her supposed political allies. She also may have a bit of an enemy in Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of the unbelievably powerful teachers union who may see a successful Vázquez Mota presidential bid as a threat. The two went head to head in 2006 as Vázquez Mota failed to negotiate union reforms putting the 1.5 million strong voting bloc up for grabs. And of course, even if she gets Gordillo back on her side, the simple fact that she is a woman could make it difficult for the male dominated politic elite to support her and take her seriously.
The Absurd: While “girl power” might be helpful in many ways, Mexico is not exactly known for its feminism or gender equality. Machismo reigns heavy here. After her nomination, one analyst compared her to a quinceñera doll who is always smiling. So despite the many mistresses, illegitimate children and social gaffes that her main opponent may make, with Mexico’s chauvinistic history, it will be very difficult for Josefina Vazquez Mota to get ahead of Enrique Peña Nieto.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador
The Good: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO as he is known, was the wildly popular mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005 who is credited with spurring the restoration of the historic center, the building of a two-level highway system to ease the city’s traffic and with holding daily press conferences and open office hours to hear the complaints and comments of his fellow chilangos. He even brought in Rudy Guiliani to consult on a zero tolerance crime fighting plan. He is the only politician to have visited all 2,438 municipalities in Mexico and people still rush up to him with hugs and folded-up request notes they pass on to him at political events. He implemented social reforms including programs that gave cash checks to single mothers, the elderly and disabled. His party talks big about institutional and democratic reforms that will reduce poverty and inequality which probably had a lot to do why he so narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election to Felipe Calderón.
The Bad: The major problem for leftist López Obrador is that even well-informed, liberal Mexicans can’t quite decide if he is more like Brazil’s populist but pragmatic Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Venezuela’s blustery socialist, Hugo Chavez. While he promises to be an honest, progressive reformer for democratic ideals, many fear that he would become the other kind of populist – the kind that would try to change the constitution and take on a more authoritarian streak. He says he is a man of integrity and told Jorge Ramos, “Yo no busco el poder por el poder.” (I’m not looking for the power to have power.”), but this is Latin America and we’ve heard that all before. Is Mexico willing to take a chance on a man who, every chance he gets, still calls the previous presidential election he lost by just a half of a percentage point a “fraud”?
The Absurd: Sure there were some political scandals while he was mayor – for example, the 2005 impeachment attempt that may or may not have been an effort to keep him from running for president in the 2006 election – but the real obstacle is that he is basically perceived as a sore loser. When he lost the 2006 election to current president, Felipe Calderón, in an extremely close race, AMLO led huge protests that essentially shut down parts of downtown Mexico City for weeks. And he just wouldn’t give up. He was finally able to rebuild his base of support during Calderón’s administration, but the fact that he was seen as such a cry baby has taken years for people to forget and some haven’t completely.
Nice lightweight reading
BTW does anyone know of a way to make a post and for it to actually look like the way you intended in edit mode?