The Credibility Vacuum: Mexico’s 2012 Presidential Race

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “The Credibility Vacuum: Mexico’s 2012 Presidential Race” , published on Nov 28th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

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No matter the outcome, Mexico’s next president will not have the needed credentials to effectively run this country and neither will the majority parties that compose Congress. Mexico’s political system has entered a credibility vacuum.

These first lines sound fatalist but the real intention here is to prepare and alert the Mexican citizenry of the ever-present need of their active involvement in placing the country on the right track. It has always been simplistic to leave this up to the government and now more than ever, it will be futile to think they would be able to at a federal level.

The 2012 presidential race in Mexico will have three relevant frontrunners: Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) and if the most recent polls stay the same until February, Josefina Vázquez Mota for PAN.

Vázquez Mota is facing an upstream battle. Of the three, she is the candidate with the least experience, the least media exposure and she has never occupied a publicly-elected government position. Moreover, she carries with her allegiance to a party which in the eyes of many, has failed to capitalize on the democratic transition. The political cost of Vicente Fox’ dormant presidency and Felipe Calderón’s war on drugs-related fatalities puts her in the worst position to win the race. Recent state elections in Estado de México, Coahuila, Nayarit, and Michoacán where the PRI came out victorious, foreshadow PAN’s likely inability to maintain the presidency after 2012. On the off-chance that she could pull it off, Vázquez Mota would govern with a PRI-majority Congress, which most likely would hinder her ability to put forth any relevant changes (same as what happened to Vicente Fox). Vázquez Mota may be the right woman for the job, but she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Though López Obrador’s abandoning of his divisive rhetoric from 2006 gained him a second attempt at the presidency from leftist parties (against my forecasting, I might add), today his flip-flopping positions make him the least credible candidate. His impeachment when he headed the Mexico City government, his irresponsible indebting of the city for his populist gains and his sketchy financing for the past five years make his track record and his current platform incompatible. Moreover, those with a bit of memory will not forgive his utter disregard for the rule of law during the last post-electoral period. 

In the last elections Calderón was able to beat López not because of votes for the PAN candidate but because Calderón was perceived as the “useful vote” for people who wanted to keep a radical López out of the presidency at all costs.  Ironically, with the PAN’s current weak position and López’ confrontational delivery toning down, in 2012 he will likely be the recipient of many anti-PRI votes, possibly enough to get him to power.

If this is the case, Mexico will have yet another demagogue as president; one who has promised too much to too many divergent interest groups in order to try to get a critical mass of support; he will face a real challenge in being able to deliver. His bold statements on creating “a Republic of Love,” getting the armed forces off the streets in six months and creating 4 million jobs in six weeks have been called irresponsible by respected analysts. Add to this the fact that like Vázquez, his every move would most likely be blocked by a PRI Congress.

The third player is Enrique Peña Nieto, the custom-built candidate from the PRI. Called out by López as a “junk-food candidate,” he currently has the favored standing position to win the presidency, though it will most likely end up being a very close race.

Peña’s slick young look and his recent marriage to soap opera star Angélica Rivera equate the couple to the Ken and Barbie of Mexican politics. But what does Peña represent? For one, the return of a party where over 70 years of absolute rule is considered by many the root cause of the current organized crime proliferation in the country. PRI has been gaining ground at a state and municipal level under the banner of “we did know how to govern” and “we controlled (co-opted) the narcos” because citizens have not been able to grasp the benefits of a transition in power and they are tired of the war on drugs.

Related to this, President Calderón has been candid in warning Mexico of the possibility of collusion between drug lords and the PRI should they regain power. As recent allegations of organized crime intrusions favoring PRI in elections in Michoacán show, Calderón’s warnings may not be so far-fetched. Peña Nieto’s candidacy is also tainted by the fact that he will run under a coalition with the PANAL (Partido Nuevo Alianza) supported by Elba Esther Gordillo, president of the SNTE, the combatant teacher’s union and one of Mexico’s most despised political characters.  Rumors of Carlos Salinas de Gortari backing Peña’s candidacy and accusations of Peña’s involvement in the death of his first wife, Monica Petrelini, also warn us of the return of the PRI of old. In addition, TV media moguls and other oligarchs will side with Peña Nieto in order to push him into Los Pinos.

In laymen’s terms Mexicans will have a choice in 2012 to vote for the woman who can’t win, the demagogue who can’t deliver or the pretty boy with shady friends.  In Mexico we are used to voting for the lesser of evils but this time it might be the hardest choice of all.  Given the current scenario, the real challenge will be for the rest of the relevant actors (private enterprise, NGOs, special interest groups, media, universities, trustworthy state and municipal authorities, etc.) to build and achieve progress in spite of the credibility vacuum at the top of the government… and hope for a better race in 2018.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

One thought on “The Credibility Vacuum: Mexico’s 2012 Presidential Race

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