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El Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) - Explainer

Alexandra Helfgott

Founded in 1939 by Manuel Gómez Morin, the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party), more commonly referred to as the PAN, is a center-right political party created in direct opposition to the then-ruling party’s (PRI) socialist agenda under President Lázaro Cárdenas. The party traditionally has been associated with the Catholic Church in many social positions (i.e., abortion, gay marriage, etc.) while also being a staunch defender of free-enterprise and free markets in the traditional economic ideological spectrum. 

Though the PAN won its first deputy races in the 1940s, the party remained on the fringes of the political scene until the mid-1980s, when its candidates started winning important mayoral offices in several larger cities in northern Mexico. By 1989, the PAN reached its first milestone, becoming the first party, other than the PRI, to win a gubernatorial race with Ernesto Ruffo’s election in Baja California. That victory propelled the PAN forward, and the party won other governorships throughout the 90s, such as Vicente Fox’s victory as governor of Guanajuato. However, the party’s most significant electoral victory came in 2000, with Fox’s election as president - the first opposition candidate to win the presidency of Mexico, thus ending the PRI’s hegemonic, 71-year-long rule. The PAN retained the presidency in the 2006 election when Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) defeated the then-Mexico City mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).  Calderón’s term was marked by moderate economic growth and a war on drugs, leading to 100,000 deaths, of which 40,000 were related to cartel wars over six years. In 2012, Calderón’s PAN sought Presidential reelection but lost to the then-former governor of the State of México, Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI).

During the Peña Nieto administration, the PAN was instrumental in approving much of the president’s reform agenda, including the education, telecommunications, and energy reforms. However, since the 2015 midterm elections, the PAN has opposed the PRI, rallying against the incumbent government in its multiple corruption scandals. 

Currently, the PAN holds 16% of the seats in the Senate (20 senators in total), nearly 16% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies (79 positions in total), 328 mayorships, and five out of 32 governorships (Aguascalientes, Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Querétaro, and Yucatán).

About the Author

Alexandra Helfgott

Alexandra Helfgott

Office of VP of Strategy and New Initiatives
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Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more