MEXICO ELECTION XII – Peña to the presidency

Mexicans have voted in a general election. This blog is live in the country covering the results

A wide selection of exit polls, including the official one calculated by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), show that Enrique Peña Nieto has won the presidency for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after 12 years in opposition. Voting predictions also paint Mexico overwhelmingly red, for the campaign colour of the PRI, in the local, state and federal elections that have also taken place.

In a televised address at 11.20pm, the head of the IFE, Leonardo Valdés Zurita, said that the more than 49m people who had cast a ballot made this the most ‘voted-for’ election in Mexican history. He gave the preliminary results, based on the IFE’s ‘conteo rápido’ system, as:

Josefina Vázquez Mota, from the National Action Party – between 25-27% of the vote

Enrique Peña Nieto, from the PRI-PVEM alliance – between 37-38% of the vote

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the PRD-PT-CM alliance – between 30-31% of the vote

Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, of the New Alliance party – about 2% of the vote


MEXICO ELECTION VIII – Upset still on the cards

Tomorrow, on Sunday 1 July, Mexico will hold a general election. This blog is covering the vote live from inside the country

If you were to use the opinion polls alone to choose a winner then Enrique Peña Nieto would have romped home even before he officially declared his candidacy. But if you look wider and harder it is possible to catch glimpses of hope for those wishing to knock the former Mexico State governor from his perch. Speaking with a woman last night in Jilotepec, she rubbished the telephone polls, saying that she never gave an answer when prompted by a calling pollster because “el voto es libre y secreto”. Her actions flew in the face of her own advice, as she told me of her belief that the parties know who has said what in each house and they “will punish you subtly if you say you will not vote for them, by cutting your electricity for example”.

Another woman I spoke to also wrote off the voter surveys. She is a PRD local activist though, so it does serve her party to maintain the hope that the race is still open and that their presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador or AMLO, can still land Los Pinos tomorrow. But she accused the PRI of ‘acarreando’ its ‘supporters’, and that is an allegation I have heard a few times over the past days, even in the traditionally PRI, or priísta state. ‘Acarrear’ roughly translates as bussing people to your rally to inflate the numbers. In Jilotepec I am told all the PRI gives you in return for being driven to their meetings is ‘a sandwich and a piece of fruit – and the people only go because they want some free food’.

The PRD activist glows as she describes the big campaign closing events of last Wednesday. She says the governing party’s candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, filled the 49,000-seater Guadalajara Chivas football stadium of people who attended of their own accord. She denounces Peña Nieto for filling up national Aztec Stadium in Mexico City, which can hold 110,000 people, with ‘supposed supporters who were bussed in for free’. And she then visibly lights up as she recounts the PRD event. AMLO filled the capital’s massive central square and many side roads as well with more than one million people, all still believing that the man affectionately known as ‘Grandpa’ can swipe the presidency from under Peña Nieto’s nose. She firmly denies the PRD would ever ‘acarrear’.

She says many of the protesters in the #YoSoy132 movement have yet to decide who to choose. The activist gets excited by her own calculations – saying that the race is not over and that there could still be one of the biggest surprises in political history tomorrow. However, I found one reservation that some students in Mexico State have about their colleagues and the #YoSoy132 campaign. They are worried that the movement is being manouevred by hidden vested interests working behind the scenes. That may be true; with anti-PRI pro-PRD interests being the most likely to be involved in any such allegations.

But Mexican politics has functioned in a similar way before and even here in such a príista place the actions of the PRI in its 70-year rule as an autocracy – when election results were massaged – are not quickly forgotten. Some quarters see the coronation of Enrique Peña Nieto as imminent and inevitable and it is still likely that he will win. But you cannot deny that there is simmering belief that the PRI can be defeated once again, even if such a result is unlikely. Hasta mañana.

MEXICO ELECTION III – The 132 countdown

On 1 July Mexico will hold a general election. This blog will cover the vote live from inside the country. This is the third build-up post; click here for the first article and here for the second

On 19 June the student protest movement, known as #YoSoy132, held an unofficial third presidential debate. This has never occurred before and showed the power of youth co-ordination. Thousands of students have been rallying and demonstrating during these closing weeks of the long presidential campaign, calling for change and publicising their discontent with modern, sheltered politicians, a perceived lack of honest concern for the ordinary Mexican and ongoing links with the shadier side of politics. As explained in the previous MEXICO ELECTION post, the ’132′ is designed to stand for any person who allies themselves with the sense of dissatisfaction more widely (Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo addressed a ‘132’ concert in Mexico City recently) but particularly those who are rebelling against the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and their likely winner in the presidential race, Enrique Peña Nieto.

The former Mexico State governor declined to take part in last week’s debate, and his absence was represented by an empty chair. The three other presidential candidates, PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota, the PRD’s Andrés López Manuel Obrador and PANAL’s Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, answered questions vetted by students. There is growing support for the political dissatisfaction and desires for change embodied by the movement but while it could be said that Peña Nieto was out-of-touch and complacent not to feel the need to turn up to the debate, it is also true that the atmosphere was already skewed against him and his policies.

It is a sticky situation for all concerned:

– the students want a new politics to come to the fore and rightfully want more openness, less winking and nodding to vested interests and clear, truthful policies that start at the bottom and work up, not the other way around.

– the politicians each desire and support different ideas: Enrique Peña Nieto is fighting against the corrupt memories his party stirs up but is leading the race by a mile and offers a youthful, populist replacement; Josefina Vázquez Mota, the government’s candidate, is stained by her predecessor’s messy deployment of the military to battle the gangsters and the continuing violence; Andrés Manuel López Obrador is still criticised for the mass demonstrations he led that crippled the capital in the months after he lost the 2006 presidential race by 0.5%; and Gabriel Quadri de la Torre is fighting respectfully but fruitlessly against the other three political giants with his small coalition.

– the people are embittered by many issues, especially the brutality visited upon them by the ongoing battle of ‘gangsters v armed forces v gangsters v police’ and the chaotic gap between the US-educated elite and the (often) indigenous language-speaking rural poor.

Mexico recently hosted the G20 summit and is building on its position as one of the top economies in the world. It is a regional leader and second only to Brazil in Latin American influence. It is a big, powerful country that is tearing itself up internally at the moment. The countdown to Sunday’s election has begun and there will be widespread celebrations if Enrique Peña Nieto wins. There will also be popular discontent and the student protests will probably grow. Not all 115m Mexicans will vote for the PRI but they will all remember the 70 years of uninterrupted power the party once enjoyed. Mr Peña Nieto must try to build on his words of ‘transparency and clarity’ and bring a sense of security to the country. If he does win he will not be able to relax: there are now campuses full of restless students examining his every move.

MEXICO ELECTION II – One last hurdle for PRI

On 1 July Mexico will hold a general election. This blog will cover the vote live from inside the country. This is the second build-up post; click here for the first article

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governs 20 of Mexico’s 32 states. It has 48% of the seats in the lower house of Congress and has the second-biggest number of senators. In the latest presidential poll, published today for national daily Reforma, its hot-seat candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, had a comfortable 12-point lead over his nearest rival. Ever since the 1997 general election when the PRI lost its lower-house majority for the first time and the 2000 presidential vote, when they relinquished the top job as well, the political behemoth has been chipping away at the opposition in an incessant aim to reclaim its position at the head of Mexican politics. And now it is on the verge of sitting astride the national eagle once again.

But it is not just the survey out today that seems to show the the PRI juggernaut is heading unstoppably back to the top of the country. Enrique Peña Nieto was winning the polls even before he declared his candidacy and has held double-digit leads for many months. But despite the seeming inevitability about the PRI’s return to the steering-wheel, it has not been a problem-free drive. There have been widespread student protests against what is perceived to be Peña Nieto’s backing for big business and media interests and a lack of empathy with the ordinary Mexican on the street.

In fact, tonight the #YoSoy132 movement is holding an unofficial third presidential debate. The campaign has its roots in 131 students at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City who heckled Peña Nieto at a conference. The politician accused them of being “manipulated youth from outside the university” but the demonstrators do actually all study at the institution and showed off their matriculation documents in a video response. The ‘132’ is designed to reflect all other Mexicans who are dissatisfied with the former Mexico State governor. The anti-PRI fervour has been inflamed again as Enrique Peña Nieto has declined to take part in tonight’s debate, leaving the three other presidential candidates, PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota, the PRD’s Andrés López Manuel Obrador and PANAL’s Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, to battle it out without the favourite in the race.

This is not the first controversial coming together the candidates have had on the campaign trail and the first debate between the four of them was overshadowed when the production team selected a well-endowed model to help the politicians choose who got to speak first. But the two debates they have had were lacklustre. In the most recent one, on 10 June in Guadalajara, the student protests – which could have been a real problem for Peña Nieto – were not raised by the opposing candidates when they could have been tapped into to heap more pressure on the PRI man. Instead, he floated through without entering into any damaging mud-slinging.

Mexico is on the international stage at the moment as it hosts the annual G20 summit during its year as the head nation of the bloc. But far away from the global chit-chat in the beautiful resort of Los Cabos, the stage has been set for a very different kind of summit: an unplanned, student-led debate with the contenders for the top job. And Enrique Peña Nieto has decided not to show, giving himself an unnecessary hurdle on his coast towards power, when he could have seized the opportunity and really given his supporters a political belief to cherish, not just a telegenic smile to accept passively.

MEXICO ELECTION I – Back to the future

On 1 July Mexico will hold a general election. This blog will cover the vote live from inside the country

If the polling situation remains the same then the old political beast, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), will get their man back into the hot-seat on 1 July. There is hardly any electoral evidence or think-tank forecasting to suggest that the presidential landscape will undergo an upheaval (and it would have to be a breath-taking shift) that will shove the favourite, the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto, off course. As the polls stand, and as they have stood for a long time, the National Action Party (PAN) incumbent Felipe Calderón has low approval ratings (and cannot stand for a second term under the constitution anyway) and Enrique Peña Nieto is racing ahead in first place.

There are three other candidates for the top job but they are floundering away well below Mr Peña Nieto. He is closing in on securing 50% of the votes, putting him securely into the head of state’s residence, Los Pinos, later this year. Pretty much tied for second place are the PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota and the Party of the Democratic Revolution’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who interchange second and third place and both are on about 25%). López Obrador was the runner-up last time round, in 2006, to Calderón, (by an incredibly small margin, and one which he disputed for months afterwards, camping out in the capital and rallying his supporters). Back then it was the old opposition, the PRD and the PAN, slugging it out for the presidency, having finally ditched the PRI from the country’s leadership in 2000 after 70 years of running Mexico as a one-party state through a mix of corruption, fiddling results and a sprinkling of rhetoric.

But it seems that the nation is looking backwards for its next step forwards. The PRI may have been missing from the top job for the last twelve years but they have always been there or thereabouts in Congress. They have a healthy majority in the Cámara de Diputados lower house heading into the 1 July vote. After two successive presidencies of the conservative PAN, it seems the electorate is ready for a change. And they do not want the PRD man to be the new jefe de estado.  They want the old guys back.

Has the PRI changed? Does it even matter? Josefina Vázquez Mota has not been able to secure the votes of women happy at the chance to give their country una presidenta. That would certainly be a sign of progress, shaking the old scourge of machismo and following many neighbours with female leaders. In fact, it is Peña Nieto who has the lead in women voters, many of whom openly admit being seduced by his dashing good looks rather than his policies.

Finally, there is the PANAL candidate, Gabriel Quadri de la Torre. He knows what his problem is: particracy. He has openly acknowledged his is fighting an uphill contest against the three big parties that tend to gobble up all the votes. He presents himself as a fresh choice for an embattled country but he is wobbling around at the bottom of the polls. Maybe he is too much of an unknown, risky punt for the voters. But then even the liberal PRD are finding it tough electioneering, not to mention former cabinet minister Josefina Vázquez Mota, tainted by links to criticised President Calderón. Maybe the only option then is to go back to what you know: a handsome young man from an old, somewhat less clean-shaven party.