Mexico’s upcoming elections: The candidates, the issues

On July 1, Mexico will hold elections for president and for the 128 seat Senate and 500 seat Chamber of Deputies.  It seems clear that the presidency will be lost by the candidate of the currently ruling National Action Party (PAN).  What is to be decided is whether the candidate supported by most of the left, including independent trade unions and social movements, can come from behind and beat the candidate of the old, formerly ruling Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI).

The current president, Felipe Calderon, of the PAN, was elected by a tiny margin in 2006 over former Mexico City “mayor” Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) and the “For the Good of All” Coalition. Lopez Obrador, whom friends and enemies alike call “AMLO”, and his supporters insist that the election was stolen, which seems highly likely.

For Calderon, the last six years have been a disaster. Economic problems have worsened, and the sense of security of the Mexican people has been badly shaken by a drug war that has killed at least 50,000 people. President Calderon’s solution for the problem of criminal narco cartels has been to declare “war” on them, and to put the armed forces, heavily subsidized by the United States through the “Merida Initiative“, onto the streets of cities.

The result has been no letup in the violence of the cartels, but a great increase in complaints about violations of human rights. The elimination of top and intermediate level drug lords has set off violent turf and leadership wars in which dismembered corpses are piled at public intersections as warnings to rival gangs. There have been numerous killings of newspaper reporters trying to cover the drug war. Central American immigrants traveling through Mexico on their way to the United States are kidnapped; sometimes dozens at a time, and either held for ransom or forced to help the cartels. If the ransom is not paid or the migrants refuse to cooperate, they are massacred.

In these circumstances, the PAN candidate for the presidency, former Secretary of Education Josefina Vazquez Mota, finds herself far behind the candidate of the formerly ruling Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) and the Green Ecological Party (a right-wing party in Mexico), State of Mexico governor Enrique Peña Nieto. She has now also dropped behind AMLO in the polls.

Peña Nieto is a media candidate: He is as young and handsome and has a Desi Arnaz coiffure. But as governor of the huge State of Mexico he ran a repressive regime. Furthermore, the PRI was ousted from the presidency in the 2000 presidential elections because voters were sick of its corruption and abuse of power.

The AMLO campaign, carried on via united front called “MORENA,” is working to remind voters of the PRI’s history, but is hampered by media bias in favor of Peña Nieto. AMLO supporters accuse the TELEVISA network and others of sabotaging the first presidential debate by scheduling coverage of an important football match to conflict with it.

AMLO has the support of most, but not all, of the left, of the independent labor unions and social movements and many other sectors, based on his support for working class interests, but the PRI still has a massive patronage machine at the state and local level, controlling 19 governorships and hundreds of municipal governments. This and the media bias is a daunting challenge for AMLO and his allies running for Senate and Chamber of Deputies seats.

Progressive young people appear to be trying to make up lost time, using the same social media communications techniques that have mobilized so many in the “occupy” movements around the world. On Wednesday May 23, there was a massive youth protest in Mexico City, which was billed as opposition to Peña Nieto and to media bias instead of support for AMLO, but clearly was progressive in tone. There have been demonstrations in many other places. This past weekend, there was a rally in the historic Tlatelolco Plaza, site of a massacre carried out by the Mexican army and police against demonstrating students in 1968.

Mexico does not have a runoff system for either the presidency or the legislative seats (though it does have proportional representation in legislative elections), so the name of the game now is for AMLO, a powerful campaigner, to try to catch up with what most, but not all polls show as a substantial lead by the PRI standard bearer.

Peña Nieto appears to be a lightweight who has to be carefully guided by his handlers not to spout embarrassing bloopers (he was asked about rising food prices, a big issue in Mexico, and revealed that he knew nothing about it, giving the excuse that he is not the person who does the food shopping in his household).

If Peña Nieto wins, many believe he will cut deals with the drug cartels. He has also promised to deal with the problems of the state owned oil monopoly, PEMEX, by partial privatization that many think is the foot in the door for full privatization.

He has promised to promote “labor reforms” that resemble the right wing policies of Calderon, and that would seriously harm collective bargaining rights that are already severely damaged in practice by heavy handed repression against those unions, like the Electricians and the Mine and Metal Workers, who do not bow to government and management demands. AMLO wants to build up PEMEX without privatization, expand the rights of workers and unions, and defend Mexican national sovereignty.

Photo: Presidential candidates Enrique Pena Nieto (PRI), left, Josefina Vazquez Mota (PAN), second from left, Gabriel Quadri (PANAL), third from left, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Democratic Revolution Party and Workers Party, PRD,PT), participate in the first presidential debate in Mexico City, May 6. AP



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.