We have some more final numbers for each of the key Mexican races from Sunday’s election, and in each case, it suggests that Mexico was warier than polls suggested about returning the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) — the party that governed Mexico for 71 years until 2000 — to power. Furthermore, the results suggest Mexicans, under the right circumstances, may be turning to the left and, above all, the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) may, like so often in its recent history, have lost a key opportunity to win real power in Mexico.
When you look to the congressional races and the key gubernatorial races too, there’s reason to believe that at each turn, the PRI hasn’t won quite the sweeping victory that it once expected, and in many ways, the PRD and even the center-right, ruling Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) over performed from expectations.
Presidential Election. Enrique Peña Nieto, the PRI’s candidate has won with just 38.15% to 31.64% for the PRD’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). The candidate of the PAN, Josefina Vázquez Mota, trails with 25.40%. Gabriel Quadri de la Torre of the Partido Nueva Alianza (PANAL), won 2.30%. Vázquez Mota managed to win a handful of states in the north-central Mexico (unlike the PRI’s 2006 presidential candidate, whose third-place finish was much more devastating), the manufacturing and industry headland that has always been the PAN’s stronghold. Likewise, López Obrador carried many of Mexico’s southern states and the Distrito Federal.
What is so striking is that Peña Nieto’s lead was not the double-digit lead most polls suggested, but just 6.5%. It suggests to me that the PRD made a colossal mistake in nominating López Obrador, with all of his baggage — voters remained wary of someone they suspected remained an old-line statist leftist and he never quite shook the unpopularity that he developed from the months of protests following his very narrow loss in the 2006 election. It seems unmistakable that the outgoing head of government of the Distrito Federal, Marcero Ebrard, would have presented a much more moderate campaign and may well have given Peña Nieto a real campaign, if not overtaken the PRI’s candidate altogether. It was a clear missed opportunity for the PRD in renominating López Obrador.
Even today, López Obrador has refused to concede defeat amid what he calls more corruption and fraud than in 2006, is asking for a full recount, and is likely already turning off moderate voters in what Mexico’s political elite fear will be a rerun of the months of protests that followed the 2006 election. Although he may have some valid points, notwithstanding his closer-than-expected result, it seems unlikely that a recount could make up 6.5% of the total vote.
Above all, the rise of Peña Nieto indicated more disapproval for the PAN, and the Calderón administration in particular, than any love or nostalgia for the PRI. A modern, competent PRD effort could have well caught fire.
Mancera, who was the attorney general of the DF during the Ebrard administration, may well now become a national star, alongside Ebrard, who is now awkwardly out of a job, but remains the frontrunner, for now, to be the PRD candidate for president in 2018 — what an absolute change from the potential alternative universe where Ebrard would have won the 2012 election. Six years is a long time in any country’s politics, and certainly the PAN will be working to rehabilitate its image over the next six years as well, while the PRI will be working hard to demonstrate that it is trustworthy in Mexico’s fragile democratic system and more effective than under the PAN’s Vicente Fox and Calderón. So there’s no guarantee that either Ebrard or Mancera are destined to emerge as a frontrunner in 2018 — it may well be that Ebrard’s moment was 2012.
Tabasco. The PRI appears to have lost the governorship of this south-central, Gulf-region oil-wealthy Mexican state for the first time in over 80 years is a bit of a surprise, with the current PRI governor already talking about responsible handovers. The PRI had been accused of fraud in 1994 when López Obrador lost the gubernatorial race here to future PRI presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo, as well as in subsequent years; in 2000, Mexico’s federal election tribunal actually annulled the election, so widespread was the electoral fraud.
Despite every expectation that the PRI would continue to steamroll to victory (legitimately or not), the PRD’s federal senator Arturo Núñez Jiménez won 51.3% to just 43.7% for the PRI’s candidate, Jesús Alí de la Torre, mayor of Villahermosa.
Not only was the win a strong showing for the PRD in López Obrador’s home state, but it marked the first time in the state’s history that the PRI will not govern it — a staggering indication that, even while some Mexicans worry that Mexican democracy will backslide with the PRI’s return to Los Pinos, we can also point to the deepening of Mexican democracy far off in the hinterlands where it had previously been less than robust.
Morelos. In this small state just south of Mexico City, the PAN had long been seen as losing its hold on the governorship, which it had held since 2000. But instead of turning to the PRI’s candidate, Morelos has elected Graco Ramírez Garrido Abreu, the PRD candidate, with 43.3% to just 34.7% for the PRI.
In light of the strong PRD national vote, and in light of the Tabasco surprise as well, Morelos provides a counterexample of what might have been in the presidential race had Ebrard been the candidate.
Jalisco. In Mexico’s third-largest state, straddling the Pacific coast along central Mexico and home to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, former Guadalajara mayor Aristóteles Sandoval — like Peña Nieto, a young, photogenic politician from the ‘new generation’ of the PRI, who could wield a national profile by 2018 in his own right — had been expected to win handily, taking from the PAN a governorship it had held since 1995.
Instead, Sandoval won by a narrow margin of 38.8% to 34.1% for Enrique Alfaro Ramírez, another local mayor and a candidate of the PRD-allied social democratic Movimiento Ciudadano, giving yet more hope to the forces of the Mexican left.
Chiapas. No surprise in the far-southern state of Chiapas, however, where the PVEM’s candidate (the PRI’s candidate, in essence), the 32-year-old federal Senator Manuel Velasco Coello, the son of a former governor, won with 67.0%. In one of Mexico’s poorest and most corrupt states, he will succeed Juan Sabines Guerrero, also the son of a former governor, who switched in 2006 from the PRI to the PRD when he failed to win the gubernatorial nomination, and who had perhaps used state funds to boost Velasco’s campaign.
In contrast to the history-making race in Tabasco, the PRI’s candidate for mayor of Villaflores in Chiapas was arrested in June for the assassination of a local PAN activist.
The PAN will continue to hold the governorship here after Miguel Márquez Márquez, formerly Guanajuato’s secretary of social and human development, handily defeated his chief opponent with 48.3% to 40.9% for the PRI’s Juan Ignacio Torres Landa. The win, in a state that also gave more votes to Vázquez Mota than Peña Nieto, will reassure the PAN’s national leadership it can rebound within the next six years.
The PRI won the governorship in 2007 from the PAN, which had won its first gubernatorial race in Yucatán in 2001. The PAN’s candidate won 41.3%, however, to 50.6% for Zapata, a stronger showing than expected, which should give the PAN hope for the 2015 midterms as well.