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Former Mexico City mayor
fights again for presidency

By Rodrigo Aguilar Benignos, Senior Latin America Correspondent

7 March 2012: The candidates in this year’s Mexican presidential elections are asked to find solutions to a plethora of challenges facing the country. Among the most pressing are a huge young electorate clamouring for opportunities and a society that feels threatened after more than 40,000 killings which took place during the so-called War on Drugs over the past six years.

• The former mayor
• The new face
• The lady
• The curious contender
• Election issues

Tension and political polarization are likely to form the tone of the political campaigns across the country. A corrupt judicial system in some regions that guarantees impunity for the powerful will certainly be an issue as well as the weak electoral institutions that will conduct the elections. Can contenders for office deliver a credible message for change?

On 1 July 2012 more than 83 million eligible voters will be asked to choose a new leader for the country. But, according to most predictions, only 35 to 45 per cent of the electorate will actually vote (between 29 and 38 million people). The two main opposition forces have already registered their political alliances; two options represent the establishment and the other a change that may generate uncertainty in some voters.

The former mayor
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the former Mayor of Mexico City and runner-up in the World Mayor Awards in 2004, narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election over claims of electoral fraud. This charismatic leftist leader is running again for the presidency under a multi-party coalition of leftish political parties such as the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Workers Party (PT) and Citizens Movement (MC). He is also supported by his own social interest group, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA in Spanish), a social movement of more than two million supporters.

Lopez Obrador has a good chance of putting forward an alternative plan for Mexico’s current crisis. He is firm in presenting the ideals of a new republic based upon moral grounds. In a recent television interview he quoted the work on social morality by one of the greatest Mexican philosophers of the twentieth century, Alfonso Reyes. However, the former mayor of Mexico City faces enormous challenges in convincing voters this year. His actions after losing the 2006 presidential election such as blocking emblematic public thoroughfares and protesting for two months against the electoral court and other Mexican institutions were considered by many to be too radical. Such things led to open confrontation with the major television networks and spoiled Lopez Obrador’s image of a politician of the moderate left. National pollsters such as Mitofsky reported: “Lopez Obrador is the only major presidential candidate with a negative approval rating.” He is expected to fight as usual but this time he is moderating his tone.

Lopez Obrador has openly confronted de facto powers such as unions, monopolies and private interests that dominate important areas of the Mexican political economy, and the current oligarchic domination that some Mexican historians have compared to early twentieth century pre-revolutionary Mexico.

Lopez Obrador is backed by the popular Mayor of Mexico City and holder of the 2010 World Mayor Award, Marcelo Ebrard, and other important leftist leaders such as Alejandro Encinas, former mayor of Mexico City. The three of them will probably talk during the campaign trail of their experiences as leaders of one of the biggest cities in the world. Based upon such joint experience, proposals are likely to be advanced for policies to be implemented nationwide should the left win the presidential race.

Critics will attack the achievements of the left, or its lack, in Mexico City. In particular they will focus on Andres Manuel’s so-called radicalism shown by the decisions adopted by him after the 2006 presidential election, such as occupying for more than a month “Paseo de la Reforma”, one of the great emblematic public avenues.

The new face
Enrique Peña Nieto, the widely-known primary candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for 71 years, is hoping to win the election. Mr. Peña is the PRI’s new face that intends to get back into power by taking advantage of the current lack of authority and control in the country. Some political analysts, such as Denisse Dresser, have called this nostalgia for the PRI years as “the Putinization of Mexico” - an allusion to the Russian Prime Minister’s strong hand and regime of full control.

Mr. Peña Nieto has the support of well-known de facto powers. Mr. Peña Nieto gained strong popularity during his mandate of Governor of the State of Mexico with the support of the most influential television network “Televisa” and because of his infrastructure plans in the State of Mexico with nearly 11 million potential voters for 2012.

Mr. Peña Nieto and his team are properly cautious about triumph - since some party members, particularly former Governors, have built solidly bad reputations over corruption scandals, such as the former President of the PRI, Humberto Moreira, the former Governor of the northern State of Coahuila and the previous Governor of the State of Mexico, Arturo Montiel, who was accused of corruption during the 2006 PRI primaries for the presidential election.

The lady
After sometimes ill-mannered primary elections, Mexico’s ruling PAN (National Action Party) nominated Josefina Vazquez Mota, former Minister of Education as its presidential candidate. After 10 years of PAN governments and due to the current unsafe conditions of the country, it would not be surprising if voters go for a change in power. According to recent polls 65 per cent of Mexicans think that the country was heading in the wrong direction. The war on drugs, Mexico’s stagnation on human development, transparency, and competitiveness during Calderon’s presidency, will definitely weigh against Josefina Vazquez Mota.

The curious contender
After breaking the coalition with the PRI, the political party leaded by the powerful teacher’s union: “New Alliance” (PANAL) choose a candidate for president named Gabriel Quadri. An ecologist and businessman with no political experience, Quadri was chosen after having few drinks and jokes with some friends of the PANAL. He accepted to run for president by a political party that has been criticized not only for been just for the interests of Union’s leader Elba Esther Gordillo but also for using public funding for political campaigns.

Election issues
There are many issues to consider for the upcoming presidential election in Mexico. In terms of domestic politics Mexican voters will demand from candidates:
1) A clear message on how to stop drug-trafficking violence. (According to a recent nationwide poll eight out of 10 Mexicans considered that violence worsened during last year);
2) A firm answer on job creation (particularly for the new 10 million young voters);
3) A solid proposal to stop criminal impunity in Mexico not only for the acts of drug cartels but for those of other types of cartel (private oligarchies) which seem to be unstoppable.

Additionally, three main international events will most likely have a certain impact on the campaign trail:
1) The US Presidential election and what candidates propose regarding immigration regulation and cooperation in drug-related issues;
2) The uncertainties of the global economy and the effect on jobs;
3) The impact of international activism by social movements such as Occupy Wall Street on young Mexican voters and social movements.

In conclusion, Mexico is entering its third authentic competitive presidential election in history, which will not only test Mexican institutions but the democratic spirit of millions of voters who will decide whether or not the democratic transition can be completed this time in peace.

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