Mexico 2012 Election Special Report
Vianovo | Jul 3, 2012
Peña Nieto Claims Victory, Though Not as Resoundingly as Expected
On Sunday Mexicans elected Enrique Peña Nieto as their next president. Some 63% of registered voters cast ballots in the election, slightly above previous elections. The PRI candidate won with 38.1% of the vote. Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD came in second with 31.6 %, and Josefina Vázquez Mota of the incumbent PAN was third with 25.4%. While Peña Nieto has been declared the virtual winner in the race, López Obrador announced late yesterday that he would contest the election because of alleged “irregularities.” But his post-electoral tactics will do little to affect the outcome of the election and will only serve to remind voters of the frustrations local residents felt in July of 2006 when his supporters shut down Reforma Avenue for several months, one of Mexico City’s main avenues, causing traffic paralysis and angering residents.
The outcome of Sunday’s vote surprised no one. For months polls showed Peña Nieto with an average lead of 15 to 20 points over his two main contenders. His margin of victory proved to be about half that in the end, as support for the PRD rose in the closing days of the contest.
As the map shows, the PRI recovered much of the territory it lost in 2000 and 2006, a “stunning reversal of fortunes,” as some observers noted. The PRD, which enjoyed a late surge of support in the closing days of the campaign, maintained its stronghold Mexico City and in several states in the South.
Of interest is the fact that the PRI increased significantly its share of the vote in Sunday’s election compared to its performance in the 2006 presidential contest. In 2006, the PRI received 22.2 % of the vote while in yesterday’s election it got 38.1%; The PRD’s share declined from 35.3% to 31.6%; and the PAN’s share dropped from 35.8% to 25.4%. The PRI certainly drew votes away from the PAN, which was rejected by 8 out of 10 voters on Sunday. But it’s also clear that the PRI was more successful in attracting new voters than were its rivals.
Voters also decided 628 seats in the Congress, six governorships and the post of mayor for the Federal District of Mexico City. Preliminary results on the composition of the Congress show that the PRI fell short of the absolute majority it had hoped to obtain. Final numbers showing the exact composition based on proportional results were not yet available from the Federal Elections Institute at the time of this writing. Preliminary figures that do not include the proportional results show that in alliance with the PVEM (the Green Party) the PRI will have a slight plurality with 232 deputies. The PAN won 118 congressional seats and the PRD-led alliance holds 140 seats. In the Senate, the PRI-PVEM won 57 seats, again short of an absolute majority. The PAN won 41 seats and the PRD-led alliance 29.
In the gubernatorial elections, the PRI won in Jalisco (a former PAN stronghold), Chiapas and Yucatán. The PAN’s only victory was in Guanajuato while the PRD won in Morelos and Tabasco. In Mexico City, the PRD’s Miguel Angel Mancera won the mayoral election, continuing his party’s reign (dating to 1997 when election were introduced) in the Federal District.
The PRI Will Face New Realities in Governing…
Mexico has changed considerably in the twelve years since the PRI last governed. It has a growing middle class that has new aspirations and expectations and that is finding ways to exert its opinions through civil society (witness the anti-PRI student movement that arose in the final month of the campaign). The country’s electorate is increasingly independent, which means that politicians must be accountable for their policies. And Mexico’s institutions, including the press, Congress and the Supreme Court, are more independent and thus reinforce the emphasis on accountability.
Much was made throughout the campaign about whether Peña Nieto’s ascendance would spell a departure from Mexico’s recent democratic achievements. The candidate and his campaign associates staunchly rejected such claims and cast the PRI as an evolved party that knows how to govern effectively.
PRI representatives repeatedly offered assurances that under Peña Nieto the party would not consolidate all power and authority within its own bounds. In fact, the fundamental changes that have occurred in Mexican civil society in recent years makes reduced transparency and the centralization of power remote possibilities.
…and A Host of Challenges At Home and Abroad
Domestically. The two issues that were foremost in voters’ minds on election day were the economy and security. Both will prove challenging for the new president, particularly as the PRI’s failure to win a majority in either house of Congress means that he must negotiate with opposition parties to gain passage of any legislation. It’s a complicated scenario that will test the PRI’s reputation and expertise at political deal-making and negotiation.
The challenges on the security front are pressing. Peña Nieto has pledged to diminish the violence, which will require building on and in some areas expanding (such as professionalization of the police force) the efforts begun by President Calderón. In practically all opinion polls, Mexicans approve by a majority the fight the Calderón government is waging against the cartels. One of the most significant achievements of the current administration is the creation of the Federal Police agency comprised of 35,000 men and women officers who are university educated, professionally trained and better paid. Peña Nieto is likely to draw on the support of the military as it remains one of the most respected institutions in that country.
The economic reform agenda on which Peña Nieto campaigned appears much less certain given the weak mandate with which he was elected. The constitutional changes entailed in his proposals—including reforms to the energy sector—require two-thirds of the votes in each chamber of Congress for passage. Winning that number of votes will be difficult, though the president-elect reiterated his intentions to pursue the reforms in his victory speech Sunday night.
With the US. While few observers expect significant changes in the substance of US-Mexico relations in the wake of Peña Nieto’s victory, the president-elect will quickly be pressed to reassure the US government of its commitment to the security agenda. The past 12 years of deepening cooperation in this arena have led Mexican and US agents to increasingly work together in joint operations throughout the country as well as to share actionable intelligence. Peña Nieto has proposed establishing a 40,000-person National Gendarmerie, a police force similar to those in countries like Colombia, Italy and France, to focus on the most violent rural areas and he has also spoken of increasing Mexico’s defense budget to nearly 5% of GDP.
The US is also looking to the next government to pass the structural reforms that will boost Mexico’s productivity, competitiveness and growth. During the recent meeting of the G20 in Los Cabos, President Obama asked that Mexico be included in the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This, among other things, will assure that the NAFTA partners will continue work together on opening new markets, which will strengthen the Americas region.
With Mexicans Abroad. Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) reported that a total of 40,737 votes were collected from Mexicans living abroad in Sunday’s election. That’s 23 percent more than in the 2006 elections, but still a paltry number given that some 10 million Mexicans live abroad. While changes were made to simplify the process of casting a vote from abroad in this past election cycle, there is clearly room for improvement.
The PRI may want to consider ways to promote greater involvement in the political process and national affairs by Mexican citizens who live outside of the country. Past efforts by the PAN and the PRD have been successful in this regard, and both parties have worked diligently to gain the confidence and trust of those living in the United States. Mexicans living in the United States have been wary of PRI attempts at outreach, however, and have viewed the party with significant mistrust.
Peña Nieto will take the oath of office on December 1st. He faces many hurdles leading up to the inauguration, including putting together a transition team, assembling a cabinet, reassuring the US and other strategic allies of a smooth transfer of power, to name a few. Then begins the hard work of governing, including getting a budget passed through Congress by December 31st.