By RICARDO CASTILLO
Independent presidential candidate Margarita Zavala finally gave up on her aspirations of becoming the first woman president of Mexico. Last Wednesday, May 16, she made the announcement during a TV talkshow where she was featured as the only interviewee.
Her resignation caught nearly everyone off guard as the National Electoral Institute (INE) made it plain and clear to all candidates that if anyone had doubts they had until last May 8 to drop out. Needless to say, her announcement came a week too late since the INE began printing the ballots last week and her name will still be on the list of candidates. The INE has already announced that all votes for her on July 1 will be voided.
“I’m withdrawing from the contest due to a principle of honesty, a principle of congruence,” she said. “And also to set free those who generously supported me.”.
That may sound like a fine excuse, but reality is raw and the real reason for her quitting the presidential race is that she ran out of money. And in the last Mitofsky poll, she ranked in last place of the five-candidate competition, with just 2 percent of the total vote, 27 points behind unsurmountable frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), dropping by 3 points from the previous poll, when she netted 5 percent of potential voters. Two good reasons to quit.
She also told her potential voters to feel free to vote for their candidate of choice. That means that those votes will surely go to second-in-the-standings Ricardo Anaya or third-place José Antonio Meade. Margarita, however, did not award those votes to either.
Her resignation also meant last-minute changes in the format of the upcoming debate on the evening of Sunday, May 20. So far, it’s not been decided what to do with the 20 minutes she had been allotted in the two-hour-long confrontation. The organizers will either award the other four candidates the time in equal shares or outright cut the debate down by 20 minutes.
With Margarita out of the way, the second presidential debate will certainly resemble the first one in one sense: The three other candidates will once again gang up against front-runner AMLO. In the original format, Margarita was going to be the first to speak and independent candidate Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez the last. The new order has not yet been announced by the INE.
Definitely, AMLO will arrive as the adversary to beat, not just because he’s ahead in the polls, but because he represents a real alternative to Anaya and Meade. As AMLO says in each of his speeches that he’s going to clean up the fetid Mexican corruption swamp “the way you clean up stairs, from top to bottom.” He contends that if the president in turn is corrupt, corruption leaks downwards to governors, Congress and bureaucratic officers.
However, even if AMLO is way on top in the poll standings, with as many as 15 percent points over second-place Anaya, it is expected that in this debate he will try to get the vote of businessmen who will have people in the audience asking questions. The select audience will be made up of 42 guests with six of them asking questions.
The subjects at hand will be foreign trade, investment and migration, subjects in which Meade, as both former Foreign Relations and Treasury secretary, and Anaya, as a real estate businessman, are versed. Both Meade and Anaya will hammer on the fact that AMLO is trying to take the nation backwards in time, reinstating “obsolete” systems.
There were confrontations on these issues in the first debate, but even if Meade and Anaya had walked out of the debate claiming victory, on the polls both hopefuls lag way behind “the lizard-fish” (“pejelagarto”), as AMLO has been nicknamed. This nickname is usually applied in Mexico City to all Tabasco state natives, which AMLO certainly is.
And absent will be Margarita, who hates AMLO’s guts on a personal basis. Her husband, Felipe Calderón, beat AMLO in the 2006 presidential election and for six years AMLO cried foul over an alleged fraud (he lost by half a point) and practically on a daily basis called Calderón “the spurious president.” Of course, then-First Lady Margarita did not like that.
Well, at least her passion will be absent from the upcoming debate.