By RICARDO CASTILLO
Just five months away from Mexico’s July 1 presidential election, the contending hopefuls are pretty much well-defined.
Nevertheless, it’s worth a recap on the ongoing procedures as outlined by the National Electoral Institute (INE) to know the order of things and the rules of the game at hand.
The INE programed the electoral calendar to take place in three stages. Today, Jan. 29, we’re still pretty much in the first stage of the contest, which started last Dec. 14 and will finish next Feb. 11. In this process, political parties nominate their “pre-candidates” in a primary of sorts which in the end is not a primary at all, but a process that allows political parties to align with each other forming blocs.
During the second period, the parties will have from Feb. 11 until March 30 to confirm their candidates. This is, of course, redundant as the leading candidates are already confirmed. But the game must be played by the rules. A third period of “real campaigning” will come starting from April 1 through June 27, when all campaigning will stop and there will be a lull before the July 1 election day.
As it stands now, all the major political organizations have opted for a formation of blocs that is working out quite well, with three different groups making up three different coalitions that back up three different candidates.
The coalition leading in the polls is formed by the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), the Labor Party (PT) and the Social Encounter Party (PES), all of which support pre-candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO.)
The second and runner-up group is made up of the National Action Party (PAN), the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the Citizens’ Movement Party, who back Ricardo Anaya.
And the third group, that’s lagging behind in the polls, is President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) along with the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM) and teachers’ bastion National Alliance Party (PANAL, all of whom back José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, a former Foreign Relations and Treasury secretary who claims he’s running as a man without a political party, but who everyone knows was handpicked by Peña Nieto himself.
So, that’s. in general terms. the outline of the presidential election. Remember that this is a general election and at stake are also both houses of Congress. with 500 Chamber of Deputies members and 128 Senate seats changing hands.
But again, it is the presidential election that’s at center stage, and pundits all over don’t know how it may change over the course of the competition. But for a sense of what is to come, let’s take a look at the 2000, 2006 and 2012 elections and the trends that indeed changed the course of each election.
In 2000, or Y2K as we used to call the turn of the century, for many it was clear that PRI candidate Francisco Labastida would get elected and the PRI would preserve its 71 year-old hegemony of being a monolith one-party political system. Yet people were fed up with the PRI – just the way they are now – as then, as now, the party boasted a most cynical cadre of corrupt politicians. PAN candidate Vicente Fox then launched a most demagogic career, vowing even the promised land of wellbeing to most poor Mexicans. By April that year, the trend of the vote shifted for the first time from the PRI to the PAN, and Fox finally won in a come-from-behind race that rocked the political foundations of the nation. It was said then that in the end those who voted for Fox were simply casting a vote against the PRI, not for the PAN.
In the 2006 election. between front-runners AMLO of the PRD and Felipe Calderón of the PAN, the polls showed a “technical draw” between the two since December 2005. By February, the draw became more obvious, but again, the real changes in the Calderón campaign came in April and May. During June of 2006, most polls could not distinguish any noteworthy difference between the two candidates. In fact, in the end, Felipe Calderón won by a mere 0.06 percent difference in the vote. The electoral authorities took several days to declare Calderón the winner. In that election, President Fox meddled in favor of Calderón, later wreaking havoc as AMLO and the PRD invaded downtown Mexico City for four months and Calderón was declared by the loser as “the spurious president.”
In 2012, AMLO ran again for the PRD, this time against Mexico’s current president, Peña Nieto, and this time he lost by a 6 percent difference. It was an election in which the PRI used every trick in its ample manual of election-rigging. This time around, AMLO did not contend the election, but, then again, he never conceded.
It the scenario of this background that makes the coming five months most interesting for Mexicans, because, even though Meade and Anaya are lagging behind, it is clear that the majority of voters will make up their minds between April and May.
It’ll be then that we can make an intelligent guess of a foreseeable winner.