In order to examine the current political landscape in Mexico and the implications for the 2012 presidential elections in both Mexico and the United States, Wilson Center on the Hill and the Mexico Institute co-hosted a conference on Tuesday, June 28, 2011. After introductions from Elizabeth Byers, Program Assistant for Wilson Center on the Hill, Eric Olson, Senior Program Associate of the Mexico Institute, and Andrew Selee, Director of the Mexico Institute, shared their expertise on U.S.-Mexico relations.
Olson opened by discussing the procedural aspects of the Mexican elections. He emphasized that the constitutional provision preventing presidential re-election is fundamental to the electoral process. Olson was careful to emphasize that the presidential election is not the only game in town; 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, 128 senatorial seats, the mayoralty of Mexico City, and the governorships of ten states will also be up for election. Olson suggested that local and state elections held prior to the national elections may serve as an important predictor.
Olson then shed light on Mexico’s history of institutional reform. He noted that Mexico was ruled by one party for 71 years, until 2000, through a controlled electoral apparatus. The system changed in 1996 with the establishment of an independent electoral Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), to oversee elections. It is currently world-renowned in its capacity to issue fraud-resistant voter cards, to handle a transparent voter registration process, and to monitor party expenditures.
While IFE has brought real progress, Olson also noted the imperfections of the current system. Olson argued that the governing board of the IFE has become increasingly vulnerable to political attacks as rival parties seek to exert their influence over the institution. Olson expressed concern that a strong electoral system may be undermined by the fact that it does not have a full contingent of electoral counselors to oversee the process. He added that IFE’s key responsibility going forward should be to avoid improper influence and to ensure free and fair elections.
Selee spoke next and, in addition to discussing the U.S.-Mexico relationship, provided an overview of the major issues and candidates going forward. Selee suggested that there are two major issues— the economy and public security. On the economic front, though Mexico last year rebounded very well from the financial crisis with an overall growth in GDP of roughly 5%, Selee suggested that the Mexican electorate remained somewhat pessimistic. As for public security, he pointed out that there has been a slight increase in violence due to the fragmentation of the drug cartels. However, Selee believes this violence may be plateauing and argued that there is likely to be a turning point in the near term that could have profound effects on next year’s elections.
Selee then discussed the electoral landscape ahead. He explained that there are three major parties: National Action Party (PAN), Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), and Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). PAN is the center-right party and is currently in power. Although there is no clear candidate for PAN, two possible candidates are Ernesto Cordero, the current finance minister, and Josefina Vázquez Mota, the former Secretary of Education. For the center-left PRD, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the losing candidate from 2006, and Marcelo Ebrard, the current mayor of Mexico City, are the leading contenders. Selee pointed to Enrique Peña Nieto, the governor of the state of Mexico, as the leading candidate for PRI, with Manlio Fabio Beltrones, the current president of the Senate, also garnering attention. Selee stressed that the current government’s performance in the year ahead will likely determine the outcomes of next year’s presidential elections.
As for U.S.-Mexico relations, Selee argued that the competing campaigns will affect the relationship between the two countries. He singled out the immigration debate in America as one which may affect the tone of the campaigns. However, Selee argued that election outcome will not fundamentally change U.S.-Mexico relations. Both countries have strong incentives to continue their cooperation regarding security issues and this is unlikely to change regardless of the party in power. Selee stressed that he would like to see the relationship between nations move beyond security to trade, energy, development, and improved border control.
By: Hyun Kyong Lee
Kent Hughes, Director, Wilson Center on the Hill