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Mexico Facing A Crucial Election And Fundamental Change

Presidential Candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador

Mexico is now facing one of the most crucial elections in decades. It is the largest one in the country’s history, with more than 18,000 seats being contested at the local, state and federal level. Depending on the outcome, voters will either endorse fundamental and dramatic change or support continuity.

In addition to the presidency, the 88 million Mexicans eligible to vote, will be choosing 128 senators, 500 deputies in Congress, 9 governors, 1,600 mayors and who will occupy thousands of local and state offices. It is important to note, that for the first time in a century, the deputies and senators can be re-elected.

Mexico has the second largest economy in Latin America, after Brazil. The country is a major oil exporter,which has provided a major impetus for growth, over the years. However, oil prices have been volatile, and reached exceptional low prices, over the past decade.

After years of government directed industrialization with an export focus,far too many Mexicans remain poor. More than 40% of the population remains impoverished.

GDP by State in US Dollars (2008)

The Mexican peso has fallen dramatically against the United States Dollar (USD). The downward movement has accelerated recently, due to trade tensions, with its northern neighbor the United States.

The threat made by the American President not to maintain NAFTA the (North America Free Trade Agreement) has been quite damaging to both the Mexican economy and stock market. The United States is Mexico’s most important market, with 80% of all exports being sold there.

The electorate has tired of the political establishment complacency, with widespread crime and ongoing corruption. Over 150,000 people have been killed over the last 12 years and thousands more are still missing. Mexican law enforcement and the judicial system seem to be inadequate and totally overwhelmed, with these rather dismal statistics.

Banner supporting López Obrador in front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Out of desperation, a sizable portion of the population in Mexico, now seems willing to gamble on electing someone, who may well undo the hard won democratic reforms of the 21st century.

Polls show that former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, will likely win the presidential election on July 01. The most recent projection have him an average of 20 points, ahead of his three political rivals. He has the approval of at least 50% of the electorate.

Obrador is from the far left in his philosophy,as well as being a nationalist and populist. He is leading the leftist Regeneration Movement known as Morena (founded just four years ago), into the election and unlike previous occasions, has an excellent chance for success this go around. This is his third bid in running for the presidency.

National Regeneration Movement
Political party

A number of political analysts are also now predicting that Morena may well win a majority of seats in the Congress. This of course, would strengthen Obrador’s hand, when he begins working on the reforms he has promised.

As a clear indication of the fraying institutions of democracy in Mexico, at least 130 politicians including 48 electoral candidates, have been murdered, since the start of the campaign season last September.

The mass kidnapping of the 43 students in Iguala on September 26, 2014 triggered a nationwide protest

Assassinations have been carried out in 22 out of 31 states. It is no wonder that, around 600 individuals have abandoned their candidacies, in the face of the rising mayhem.

The wave of non-stop violence, is due to the influence of various organized crime syndicates, many of which are involved in the drug trade, attempting to manipulate and exert control over local governmental officials.

The murder rate in Mexico was the highest on record last year, with 29,168 homicides, according to government data, which many suspect is understated. This has given the nation a bad reputation for rampant crime.

In addition to the rising violence, tens of thousands of ballots have already been stolen or destroyed.

Institutional Revolutionary Party
Partido Revolucionario Institucional

The democratic institutions of Mexico can be traced back to 1928, when President Calles created the Institutional Revolutionary Party or P.R.I. The authoritarianism would continue, but would be limited to individual six year terms. Henceforth, the way to the power was through winning favor with the outgoing president and his circle of associates.

This system survived for the next 70 years. Other political parties would arise, but since the government held the elections and counted the votes, as well as holding the patronage of state and local positions, the political monopoly was strictly maintained by the P.R.I.

The end of the 20th century, brought a number of economic and political crises. Mexican voters finally rebelled. In the elections of 2000, a candidate from the center right National Action Party or P.A.N. put an end to P.R.I. ascendancy. After a six year term, President Vicente Fox would be followed by Felipe Calderon.

Enrique Peña Nieto 57th President of Mexico

The presidency would then be recaptured by the P.R.I. in 2012, with the election of Enrique Pena Nieto. At the time, Nieto was seen as a relative newcomer. He advocated for accountability and transparency. He had managed to beat the runner up Obrador, quite easily.

The past six years has seen a steady erosion, in the popularity of President Nieto. When he was elected, he was at a 54% approval rating. By the beginning of 2018, his support had dropped to just 17%, due to rumors of scandal. This cast a long shadow on the P.R.I. and has likely doomed its electoral prospects.

Jose Antonio Meade, a former finance minister, is the candidate representing the P.R.I.. He is well behind in the polls.

Democracy in Mexico although under strain, is still functioning. The Congress is comprised of various parties, with rather diverse constituencies. Freedom of expression is far more prevalent than in the previous century, as evidenced by the public awareness of the extensive corruption.

The Supreme Court remains independent and various national entities like the Mexican Central Bank and the National Electoral Institute, operate in a far more professional manner, than would have been possible in the 20th century.

2011 Mexican protests against cartel violence and government disregard.

The growing frustration on the part of the electorate is understandable, given the lack of government progress on perennial issues, that continue to plague the country.

Along with the corruption, that seems to permeate throughout the society,Mexican voters are dealing with rising violence, that is making a large segment of the society feel quite insecure.

Some private companies have even pulled out of a number of areas around the country, due to the lack of civil order.

The ruling elites have also failed to deliver on promised economic growth. Inequality and general poverty are consistent problems, that seem insurmountable in many parts of Mexico.

Citizens might be far more tolerant of government malfeasance in efficiency and honesty, if the economy was growing at a pace, where there was an obvious improvement in the standard of living.

Governments in Southeast Asia for example, have provided far more rapid economic growth, so the populace has been more tolerant, of the lack of accountability and openness, in the how public officials conduct business.

Ricardo Anaya President of the National Action Party.

Ricardo Anaya is the P.A.N. candidate and is in alliance with the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution and Movimiento Ciudadano. Anaya is still trailing Obrador by double digits, in the most recent polls.

Anaya insists that a populist like Obrador, is a type of political rebel, that cannot really be trusted to manage the economy. In response, Obrador accuses both the P.R.I. and the P.A.N. of being part of the same mafia of power.

The electorate is also dealing with inaccurate and dishonest news, coming from social media. In one video, there is a supposed connection between the Venezuelan government and the Obrador campaign.

Over 100 polling stations will not be open for voting across Mexico, due to various forms of social unrest and violence.

Obrador has campaigned on defending the poor and disadvantaged in Mexico.

Although at the same time, there has been criticism directed at him, for his on-going shifting positions on a number of issues.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (center) in San Baltazar Chichicapam, Oaxaca

Although fighting corruption is the central tenement of the Obrador platform, he is promising a better wage structure and to double the senior pensions. He is pledging additional aid to both farmers and students.  These will not be achieved easily, given the present state of Mexican finances.

Obrador also seems to want things both ways. He states he supports NAFTA, but at the same time, insists the country will be fine without it. He is already calling for substituting agriculture and energy imports from the United States, with more homegrown ones.

Obrador is also giving mixed messages on investment. He says he wants to encourage more private and foreign investment, to replace government spending.

Mexico on a global map

However, conversely he is calling for a review of recent energy and public works contracts, given to both domestic and international companies. This will include the $9 billion USD airport, being built outside the capital of Mexico City.

In addition, the candidate is calling for a tougher stance in dealing with the United States. Such an approach may well endanger the cooperation with Americans on border security, crime prevention, immigration, environmental concerns and most importantly trade.

There also remains the concern that an Obrador Presidency, will look to further consolidate power in executive hands, as a way to better push through his reformist agenda.

This will over time lead to resistance, where the new President may well be tempted to further limit personal freedoms and the independent powers of other government entities and businesses. Allowing a stronger opposition, has been a facet of the new Mexico beginning in 2000.

Will Obrador continue this tradition? Or will he begin to dismantle, the very democratic institutions he is supposed to defend? The one true check on his power, is the single six year term. A word of caution for impatient reformers everywhere, these constitutional limits are being abridged in many countries on a global scale.

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