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Column 052812 Wall

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mexico's Ruling Party Presidential Candidate Sinking in Polls

By Allan Wall

The Mexican election campaign continues, with voting scheduled for July the 1st.

Leading in the polls is Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional).  In second place is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known by the initials AMLO, of the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática).  In third is Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate for the Partido Acción Nacional, the PAN, and the party of the current President Felipe Calderon.

And way down, trailing in single digits is Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, standard-bearer for the Nueva Alianza, or PANAL, a party which has only existed since 2005.

Peña Nieto has been leading, and Quadri has been at the bottom, during the entire campaign thus far.

The second and third ranked candidates have changed their places during the campaign.  Josefina Vazquez Mota was running in second place and AMLO in third, but AMLO has passed Josefina to take second place, and she is now in third place.

Josefina has a lot of political experience, she won the PAN's internal competition, and she is commonly regarded as a smart and savvy operator. So why isn't she doing better?

Maybe the question to ask is why is Peña Nieto doing so well?  The PRI candidate has thus far dominated the polls.

All three of the major candidates, Peña Nieto, AMLO and Josefina, have plenty of political experience and connections.  As for Josefina, how much of her apparent lack of success is her fault, and how much is her party's?  Or is this just a bad year for her party?

It's also worth considering the historical roles of the PRI and the PAN.                        

The PRI is Mexico's oldest party, having been formed (albeit under another name) in 1929 by the clique that was already running the country in the period following the Mexican Revolution.  The PAN was formed in the late 1930s, as an opposition political party.  The PRI on the other hand, ran the country as a one-party state.

The PAN struggled for years against the PRI's monopoly of power.  My wife's family supported the PAN through many years, when it was not advantageous and could even be dangerous to do so.  Yet the PAN continued the struggle, and slowly but surely the PRI began to lose its grip on power.  In 1989 the PRI lost its first state governorship, and in 1997 it lost control of the Mexican Congress.

Meanwhile, opposition parties were gaining power and, in the transition to Mexican pluralism, the PAN played a key role.

In the historic election of 2000, PAN candidate Vicente Fox, who did not behave like a typical Mexican politician, won the presidential election and took office as Mexico's first non-PRI president in 71 years.  It was an historic transfer of power.    

Six years later, in the bitterly-contested election of 2006, PAN candidate Felipe Calderon barely edged out AMLO, who to this day has never acknowledged defeat.

Twelve years after Fox's 2000 triumph Josefina is the PAN standard-bearer, but she has now dropped to third place.

There's something anachronistic about her approach and her campaign.

In effect, Josefina is running in the past.  For example, she has railed against "authoritarianism."  But what "authoritarianism" is she opposing?  After all, her party has been in power for the past 12 years.  

Another example, in the presidential candidates' debate Josefina called for the establishment of a new federal police force.  And Peña Nieto, with an astute retort, asked her why the PAN hadn't already done so?

Of course it's not rare for politicians to be stuck in the past.  In the United States, black politicians and their allies still campaign as if it were 1962, with official segregation still intact, when today's problems are very different.  But the old civil rights narrative is just so powerful they continue to use it.

Likewise, in Mexico the PAN just can't shake the old anti-establishment posture, even when it is the establishment!

What worked for Vicente Fox in 2000 is not working for Josefina in 2012.  This year it's no longer credible for the PAN candidate to run as an opposition candidate.

Not only that, but in Peña Nieto and AMLO Josefina faces two formidable candidates.   Plus, the Mexican public is weary of the drug cartel violence and people are open to putting a different party into the presidency.

Has the PAN run out of steam?  Does it need some new ideas, maybe some new blood?   Or is this year's election just not the PAN's election to win?


Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at

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