Seven local Mexican elections to watch on Sunday

With polls showing that Sunday’s federal elections will be a landslide for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and its presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, we have to look to the state-level elections for any suspense.

Not to be forgotten amid the federal elections, six states and Mexico’s federal district hold elections on Sunday.

The seven elections take place in jurisdictions that are home to over one-quarter of Mexico’s population.  They will occur in some of the richest and poorest states of Mexico, in the north and the south, and in places with robust democratic traditions and in places that have remained corrupt PRI strongholds.  In sum, the seven contests seem to hold at least some good news for each of the three main parties:

  • In the Distrito Federal, Miguel Ángel Mancera (pictured above, bottom), the candidate of the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) is likely to win the race for head of government, a position the PRD has held continuously since 1997.
  • In Jalisco, Guadalajara’s mayor Aristóteles Sandoval, another young and charismatic priista (pictured with Peña Nieto above, top) is likely to take the governorship from the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) for the first time since 1995.
  • The tightest race looks to be in tiny Morelos, where the PRI and the PRD are locked in a tight battle to succeed the outgoing PAN governor.
  • The PAN is expected to hold onto the governorship in Guanajuato, which it has also held since 1995 when former president Vicente Fox first won it.
  • The young, PRI-affiliated Manuel Velasco Coello is likely to win in Chiapas, and the PRI also looks set to retain the governorships of Yucatán and Tabasco.

Here’s a deeper look at each of the seven races.

Distrito Federal: likely PRD hold. Mexico’s federal district, with 8.9 million people, has elected a PRD head of government since the first such election in 1997.  The position is essentially that of mayor of Mexico City but with the powers of a governor.  It has been held by former PRD presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, current presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador and likely future presidential candidate Marcero Ebrard. On Sunday, polls show that the DF’s attorney general, Miguel Ángel Mancera, is almost certain to continue that tradition.

Mancera will govern a jurisdiction that has the highest GDP per capita in the country and a larger population than any Mexican state (other than the state of Mexico itself, which wraps around the DF like a horseshoe).  As such, Mancera will instantly have a national profile and may well have a role in future national politics.

Jalisco: leaning switch from PAN to PRI. Mexico’s third-largest state with 7.4 million people (after Veracruz and Mexico), located on the Pacific coast in central Mexico, Jalisco is home to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city.  As with Guanajuato, the PAN has held Jalisco’s governorship since 1995, and it has been a breeding ground for some of the PAN’s federal cabinet appointments.

Unlike in Guanajuato, where the PAN seems likely to hold on, the PAN’s candidate is languishing in third place, with former Guadalajara mayor Aristóteles Sandoval far ahead in polls.  Guadalajara has seen increasingly tumult and drug violence over the past couple of years, and this race, as much as any other state election, neatly parallels the federal situation — an electorate soured on years of PAN rule is turning to a photogenic challenger from the new generation of priistas.

Sandoval is in many ways, substantively and superficially, a Jalisco-level mirror of Peña Nieto, and he could well become a potential presidential candidate in 2018.

Guanajuato: likely PAN hold.  Mexico’s fifth largest state with 5.5 million Mexicans, this has long been a stronghold of the PAN and a center of Mexican industry and manufacturing.  Fox ran for governor in this north-central state in 1991, and it is widely believed that he lost only due to the PRI’s electoral fraud.  Fox won in a landslide in 1995, however, and the PAN has held the governorship ever since.

The PAN’s candidate, Miguel Márquez Márquez, who has served as the state secretary of social and human development, leads in most polls, although narrowly — in a poll at the end of May, he led with 50% to just 42 % for the PRI’s Juan Ignacio Torres Landa.  Nonetheless, a loss for the PAN in this race would be an incredible embarrassment.

Chiapas: likely switch from PRD to PRI/PVEM.  Somewhat notorious as the heart of the Zapatista uprising in 1994, Chiapas is now a tranquil oasis in the deep south (bordering Guatemala) far from Mexico’s drug violence.  The state, home to many Mayan ruins, has seen an upswing in tourism revenue over the past decade.

Still the poorest Mexican state, however, Chiapas has a population of 4.8 million, including around 15% of Mexico’s entire indigenous population.  The current governor, Juan Sabines Guerrero, himself the son of a former governor, was a member of the PRI until the 2006 election, when he switched to the PRD after the PRI denied him the gubernatorial nomination.  In office, he has pursued his predecessor, the priista Pablo Salazar, who is currently in prison on charges of embezzling almost $9 million.  Nonetheless, it is fair to say that Sabines is a PRD governor in name only.

The leading candidate to win the governor’s race on Sunday is Manuel Velasco Coello.  Velasco, technically a member of the PRI-allied Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), is just 32 years old, but he has served in Mexico’s Congress since 2003 and as a member of the Senate, in particular, since 2006.  Not surprisingly, he is also the son of a former PRI governor of Chiapas, Manuel Velasco Suárez.  With the left currently split, some supporting the official PRD candidate and others supporting Velasco, and with Sabines supporting Velasco as well, he faces no serious challenge on Sunday.

In fact, the race has been overshadowed by a local controversy — the PRI’s candidate for mayor of Villaflores was arrested earlier this month for the assassination of a local PAN activist — belying the fact that Chiapas has developed less than robust democratic institutions.

Tabasco: leans PRI hold.  With over 2.2 million Mexicans, Tabasco is nudged between Veracruz and the Yucatán peninsula at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.  Despite recent oil wealth, the state remains poorer than average, and its governorship has never been relinquished from the PRI, although the PRD has mounted strong challenges in the past.  Those challenges have often been thwarted by a local PRI willing to engage in shameless electoral fraud.

Roberto Madrazo, the PRI’s 2006 presidential candidate, defeated López Obrador in a controversial 1994 race here.  Likewise, the PRI’s victory in 2000 in Tabasco was so controversial that Mexico’s federal election tribunal annulled the election, the first such annulment in Mexico’s history.  In the ensuing 2001 election and in 2006, the PRI managed to win with narrow margins, despite the left’s accusations of continued electoral irregularities, including in the current campaign.

A poll in El Universal showed the PRI’s candidate, Jesús Alí de la Torre, mayor of Villahermosa, leading the PRD’s candidate, federal senator Arturo Núñez Jiménez by a narrow 51% to 46% margin, although the campaign has been marked mostly by resignation and indifference in a state that has not kept pace with the democratic pluralism of other Mexican states.

Yucatán: likely PRI hold.  This state of 2 million Mexicans, more Caribbean than traditionally “Mexican” in many ways, has been governed by the country’s only current female governor, Ivonne Ortega.  The PRI won this governorship back from the PAN in 2007, which had first won a gubernatorial race in Yucatán in 2001.  Polls show that the PRI’s candidate in 2012, Rolando Zapata, is well-placed to succeed her.  Zapata served as the secretary general of government in Ortega’s administration from 2007 to 2009. The state is only middle-income by Mexican GDP per capita standards — much of the region’s tourism income goes to the state of Quintana Roo, where the “Riviera Maya” coastline is located, but Zapata has campaigned on developing Yucatán’s tourist potential — the state is home to many famous Mayan ruins.

Morelos: leaning switch from PAN; tossup between PRI and PRD.  Home to the picturesque Cuernavaca, Morelos is a small state in south-central Mexico just south of Mexico City, with just 1.7 million people.  Held by the PAN since 2000, it’s an odd state for the PAN to have found such success, given that it’s relatively poorer, with an economy based on agriculture and domestic tourism, and located in the rural PRI-PRD heartland.  As such, it is not surprising that the PRI’s candidate, Amado Orihuela Trejo (pictured, further right), a former federal deputy from 2006 to 2009, and the PRD’s candidate, Graco Ramírez Garrido Abreu (pictured, closer right) have traded leads in recent polls, with the PAN’s candidate mired in third place.  One recent poll in El Universal showed the PRI with 43% to 36% for the PRD.

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