A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.
By David Gaddis Smith
Recent events in San Diego and Tijuana, including a talk at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies and a debate involving presidential stand-ins sponsored by the Mexico Business Center at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, have cast new light on the July 1 Mexican presidential election.
Populist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador is on the upswing in part because three of his main issues, corruption, transparency and social inequality, have tremendous resonance with the Mexican public, Mexican analyst Ricardo Raphael (right) told the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies. But López Obrador likely cannot win unless he can get votes that otherwise would go to the National Action Party, Raphael said. He said the first presidential debate, on May 6, likely helped push López Obrador into second place in the polls past the PAN's Josefina Vázquez Mota. Raphael said the first debate was about "who is second" and the second debate, on June 10, will show whether López Obrador can continue his rise and post an unlikely come from behind victory over front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, who continues to hold a huge lead in the polls. Raphael said a survey shows that the main issues Mexicans are concerned about are confronting corruption (55%), more transparency (36%) and assuring social justice (27%). He said López Obrador has not taken advantage of these issues as much as might be expected, in part because Peña Nieto also has highlighted the same themes as part of his campaign. "Peña Nieto has a really good campaign team," said Raphael, who teaches at the Center for Research and Economic Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico City. Indeed, this week's BGC-Excélsior poll says 41% of Mexicans see Peña Nieto as the best candidate to fight poverty, as opposed to 24% for López Obrador. (Raphael made his remark about Peña Nieto's campaign team before the candidate's May 11 appearance before angry students at the University Iberoamericana, an appearance which has helped precipitate the former Mexico state governor's recent drop in the polls.) If Peña Nieto still holds on to win, Raphael said what may ultimately matter is whether the PRI can win a majority in both houses of Congress, something it (and no other party in Mexico) has had since 1997. A recent poll indicated that the PRI coalition is on target to gain that majority, which can be obtained by legislative vote totals that exceed 42.2%. Peña Nieto said on Tuesday (May 29) that even if he had a majority in Congress, he would try to compromise with other parties. Story in Frontera (PDF). However, the latest Mitofsky poll (see below) has the PRI's congressional numbers falling, and the PRD coalition's numbers in second place for the first time.
|This week's Mitofsky poll||BGC-Excélsior this week||Reforma poll this week||GEA-ISA this week||Combined
|26.2||24.6 (down .2)|
* MILENIO, Excélsior, El Universal, OEM, Uno TV and Mitofsky.
|Mitofsky poll of May 25-27||Percent of vote for Congress||Above what is needed for congressional majority (42.2%)|
Vázquez Mota's fall in polls explained:
Raphael said Vázquez Mota has not gained traction because her campaign team members have been at odds with one another and made terrible mistakes, and because her focus is contradictory. She is seeking to succeed her fellow PANista Felipe Calderón as president, yet her campaign slogan is "Diferente," or different. "She wants to be the candidate of change, and at the same time the candidate of continuity. It is very difficult to be both." This is confusing voters, who are having a hard time figuring out exactly what she represents, Raphael said. He also said eight of 10 Mexicans want a political change, in part because of Mexico's violence. He said Mexico's average annual economic growth of a "mediocre" 1.7% under the PAN is hurting her. Indeed, Raphael said about the only thing going for her is that she is a woman. Columnist Denise Dresser, speaking at the University of San Diego earlier this month, said the only reason that Vázquez Mota's many campaign mistakes had not caused her to fall further in the polls than she had was because of the novelty of her being a female candidate for a major party.
Candidates' proxies debate in San Diego:
In the debate by presidential stand-ins May 16 at the Westgate Hotel in downtown San Diego, López Obrador representative Enrique Collado Heredia spoke animatedly and with a passion that López Obrador needs to recapture if he is to win the election. Collado barely touched on López Obrador's touchstone issue of corruption, however, until he was essentially saved by U-T San Diego Editor Jeff Light's question about the matter. While Collado spoke fiercely against the PRI to a Mexican reporter after the debate, he had a very friendly tone toward his opponents during the debate, almost as if he were replicating López Obrador's "República Amorosa," or "Loving Republic," campaign theme. Raphael said the much-lampooned "República Amorosa" has actually dramatically reduced López Obrador's negatives, giving the populist more political capital to go on the attack. On Tuesday (May 29), Excélsior columnist Leo Zuckermann, citing a BGC-Ulises Beltrán poll, cited a remarkable rise in López Obrador's positives, and noted that the poll was a telephone one, which misses López Obrador hard-core supporters. Zuckermann's column (PDF).
At the debate sponsored by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Vázquez Mota was well represented by the ever-eloquent Gastón Luken, a federal deputy who represents Tijuana for the PAN, although he is not a formal member of the party. Peña Nieto was represented by Arnulfo Valdivia, his special adviser for Mexicans abroad. Debate story, U-T San Diego.
At far left, moderating the debate, was Chamber President Ruben Barrales. The debaters, left to right, were Arnulfo Valdivia, Gastón Luken and Enrique Collado.
|BGC-Ulises Beltrán poll||A year ago||May 2012|
|Sympathize with López Obrador's movement||13%||25%|
|See López Obrador's movement as strong||39% or less||64%|
|See López Obrador as sincere||35%||47%|
Coparmex Tijuana debates:
At the May 24 Senate debate held by Coparmex (Mexican Employers' Association) in Tijuana, PRD candidate Marco Antonio Blásquez also did not focus much on corruption, although he did talk about some social issues, such as how agricultural workers from Mexico's south have been exploited by farming operations in the San Quintín area of Baja California. Blásquez said many of the workers speak indigenous languages and that the state must begin a "castellanización" program to get them speaking Spanish. This debate was much better organized than Coparmex's debate involving Chamber of Deputies candidates the week before. In the Senate debate, all candidates answered the same questions; in the Chamber of Deputies debate, each candidate answered a different question selected at random from a squirrel cage; unfortunately, almost all the questions about education went to the same candidate, Mariano San Román, who showed a tremendous lack of knowledge about the subject. San Román is a member of the Green Party running on the PRI-Green Party ticket for District 5. It was a shame that the coalition's powers that be did not choose PRI District 6 candidate Chris López as their representative for the debate, as he has made education his touchstone issue. Raphael, who has published an acclaimed book on powerful teachers union leader Elba Esther Gordillo, said, "She has a very good relationship, not only with the PRI, but also with Peña Nieto. And I can see an alliance with Peña Nieto and Elba Esther after the election.... and this should worry everyone who is interested in education in Mexico."
Senate debate coverage in Frontera (PDF). Congress debate coverage in Frontera (PDF). Jump.
Student protests / Peña Nieto democracy manifesto, appearance before journalists:
Part of López Obrador's opportunity has to do with a student movement that has been hounding Peña Nieto since his May 11 appearance at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. The nationwide reaction of students against Peña Nieto and Mexican TV coverage caused him to issue a manifesto guaranteeing freedom of expression, freedom to gather and democracy under his presidency. The protests also apparently caused him to go on the Televisa interview program, "Tercer Grado," or "Third Degree," last week. Although he did get the third degree from a panel of journalists, whose skepticism appeared to be readily seen in their facial expressions and folded arms (Televisa journalist Denise Maerker ("Punto de Partida" said that she, like the protesters, feared the return of the PRI), Peña Nieto got across his point that he is in favor of dialogue and debate "in this democratic process" and lamented that there have been physical confrontations between protesters and his supporters. Peña Nieto noted that the PRI governs 20 states (the number actually is 22) and has been "renewing itself." Televisa news anchor Joaquín López-Doriga asked how Mexicans could be asked to believe in a new PRI when the list of at-large candidates who are assured of election is full of Old Guard PRIistas. Peña Nieto acknowledged that the old PRI is mostly known now for the errors of its previous hegemonic ways, but also said it had accomplished much during its 71 years in power at the presidential level from 1929-2000. "Mexico has changed," Peña Nieto said, "and Mexico cannot suppose or imagine that the patterns (of government) that happened in the past will be those of the future." He said his manifesto for a democratic Mexico was directed at members of his own party as well as at protesters and the rest of the country.
Photo taken from television shows Televisa journalist Denise Maerker clasping her hands after telling Peña Nieto she fears the return of the PRI on the show "Tercer Grado."
Return to authoritarianism if Peña Nieto wins?
PRD-PAN alliance against PRI at national level not seen as likely:
Raphael, in his May 9 talk, said almost every important reform legislation that has been passed occurred when the PAN and PRD have acted together. But he said their uneasy alliance of sorts was torn apart by the 2006 election narrowly won by Calderón over López Obrador. Raphael said that while the parties still patched together some electoral alliances for state races in the intervening years in a temporary marriage of convenience against the PRI, it does not appear the PAN and PRD can come together at a national election level now, just as they could not in 2000. But in 2000, the PAN's Vicente Fox won in part because many left-oriented voters cast their ballots for him because they knew he could beat the PRI candidate and that PRD candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas could not. Raphael said he thought the better candidate for Mexico's left this election would have been Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard (right), who lost the nomination to López Obrador. (Raphael said Ebrard would have been better despite his closeness to teachers union leader Gordillo.) Raphael said López Obrador's wave of protests against the 2006 election results so lowered him in the estimation of the Mexican public that he was not able to take advantage of the weakness of the PAN this election cycle and move to the top of the polls. "The fracture between the PAN and the PRD was costly for the president as well as for López Obrador," Raphael said. He added, "Maybe Peña is the product of this fight after the fracture between Calderón and López Obrador... and the more these two parties took distance (from each other), the more the PRI recovered.... Peña became the best option to say no to the PAN." Raphael said that even if Vázquez Mota remains mired in third place, she will continue to campaign hard to try to get the PAN as many seats in Congress as possible.
Who is Peña Nieto?
Who is Peña Nieto? "We don't know," Raphael said. He did say Peña Nieto would like to set things up so the country returns to more of a two-party system that is more manageable or predictable. Raphael called the vote tendency for the PRI a regression resulting in part from the disappointments over the last 12 years under PAN presidents. "I think Peña Nieto is a protest vote," Raphael said. He also said Peña Nieto also has been tremendously aided by favorable TV coverage when he was governor of Mexico state, although he said this was just one of many factors in Peña Nieto's ascendancy.
Can López Obrador wrest the rich-poor argument back from Peña Nieto?
Over the weekend, Raphael was back in the border region to present his new book, "El Otro México," at the Tijuana Book Fair. He expressed hope that in the month remaining until the election, López Obrador could move past Peña Nieto in the polls. He had said earlier in the month that if the most important question of the election is change versus continuity, then "Peña Nieto is the best product." But he said that if the main question can become honesty versus corruption, or poor versus rich, there is an opening for López Obrador. "Corruption is the main issue for most Mexicans," Raphael said. But what would change the campaign narrative? While a corruption scandal did engulf Peña Nieto's mentor and predecessor as governor, Arturo Montiel, Montiel was never charged, and no similar scandal has hit Peña Nieto.
Mitofsky in its May 23-25 also asked voters about their strategic voting. Which party would you like to see win and which party or parties do you not want to see win. The PAN had the most negatives, followed by the PRD and then the PRI.
|Mitofsky poll||Who do you want to win?||Who do you want to lose?|