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Column 042312 Wall

Monday, April 23, 2012

An Always Talkative Fox Meddles in Mexican Presidential Race

By Allan Wall

There is something to be said for a former president, of whatever country, to keep a low profile -- especially for the first few years after his term ends.  A classic example is Lyndon Baines Johnson, who after leaving office in 1969, retired to his Texas ranch and seemed to lose interest in politics. At the other extreme there's Bill Clinton, who won't keep his mouth shut.

Mexico has a long tradition of former presidents keeping a low profile. It goes back to the 1930s, when President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940) had former President Plutarco Elias Calles escorted out of Mexico for attempting to control his presidency.  During the years of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) state, former presidents kept a very low profile and would often leave the country when they left office.

That's not the case with Vicente Fox, of the National Action Party (PAN), who won the 2000 election and served as president from 2000 to 2006.

Upon leaving the presidency in 2006, Fox promised one year of silence.  But, considering Fox's personality and his habit of speaking his mind even when it wasn't prudent, that might've been too much to ask. Within a few days of Felipe Calderon having taken office, Fox was already talking to reporters.

Fox entered Mexican politics, and eventually became president, largely on the basis of his reputation as a "straight talker." His discourses were a breath of fresh air, especially in comparison to the vague and dull speeches of many PRI politicians.  The downside though, is that Fox often speaks without consideration of the consequences and shoots himself in the foot.

Mexico-watcher Professor George Grayson has described Fox as "politically tone-deaf."

Therefore, it's not surprising that Fox has ruffled feathers in his own political party by making a prediction that is probably true -- but quite unwelcome in the party.

Mexico's presidential election is scheduled for July 1st, and the campaign officially began on March 30th.  The candidates are Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) and Green Party; Josefina Vazquez Mota of the PAN (Partido Acción Nacional); Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known by the initials AMLO) of an alliance of parties led by the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática); and Gabriel Quadri de la Torre of PANAL, the Nueva Alianza.

Recently, Fox predicted that Peña Nieto is going to win the election.  This got the former president into hot water with some PANista leaders.

For example, Carlos Medina Plascencia, a prominent PANista and, like Fox, a former governor of the state of Guanajuato, pronounced that the former president had lost his compass.

Fox, however, did not back down.  And in fact, his statements were quite rational.  Fox made it clear that he supported the PAN candidate -- he just predicted that the PRI candidate will win. 

And looking at the polls, a Peña Nieto triumph is looking quite likely. 

It's not impossible that Josefina might win the election.  Even Fox admits that, though he says it would take a miracle. 

There could be some sort of game changer to help the PAN win, but it's looking less and less likely if you go by polling.

Now, whether it was politically prudent for Fox to say such things is another question entirely.  It could be considered giving aid and comfort to the opponents of the PAN candidate.  If PANistas lose hope, fewer of them would show up to vote, thus hurting their chances of electing more senators and representatives to Congress.    

But Vicente Fox, after all, has redefined the role of the former Mexican president, and it's highly unlikely that the PAN is going to shut him up. 

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info/.


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