The Mexican presidential election

by Dave Schuler on July 2, 2006

Tomorrow Mexicans go to the polls to elect a new president:

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico will decide whether to join the growing leftist camp in Latin America or stick with a free-market path in a presidential election on Sunday that is balanced on a knife-edge.

In a country crucial to U.S. interests in border security, trade and immigration, polls show an extremely close race between leftist anti-poverty crusader and former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and conservative Felipe Calderon, a former energy minister from the ruling party.

Lopez Obrador, 52, leads opinion polls by about only 2 percentage points after almost six months of bruising campaigning that split a country still finding its feet with full democracy after seven decades of one-party rule ended in 2000.

The leftist, who rejects any comparisons to U.S. foe Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, promises to slash bureaucracy to pay for welfare programs he says will lift millions out of poverty.

Supporters of Calderon, 43, accuse Lopez Obrador of populism and say he would overspend and mire Mexico in debt.

“He is a danger for Mexico. He promises everything to everyone without explaining how he is going to pay for it,” said waiter Hector Morgan, 20.

Another candidate, Roberto Madrazo, lags in third place but his once long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has an electoral machinery famed for getting its supporters out to vote and he may do better than his poll numbers suggest.

One plank of Madrazo’s campaign has been to renegotiate NAFTA:

Mexico’s opposition leader says he will renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement if he is elected president next year.

Roberto Madrazo said Thursday that the agreement among Canada, the United States and Mexico needs improvements to help Mexican farmers.

He said heavy agricultural subsidies in Canada and the U.S. are unfair because Mexican farmers receive little financial support from their government.

“It’s clear that what is needed is a revision of the section on agriculture in the free trade deal,” Madrazo said while debating a minor competitor within his Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Obrador, on the other hand has pledged to honor NAFTA:

Lopez Obrador plans to boost spending on social programs, infrastructure and energy by a total of 240 billion pesos a year, or 3 percent of GDP, Ramirez said. He would pay for the increase by saving the equivalent of 2 percent of GDP with cost cuts and by increasing revenue by 1 percent a year by closing tax loopholes.

Ramirez said Lopez Obrador would honor the North American Free Trade Agreement. Lopez Obrador would seek to extend protection on corn and bean industries, which are scheduled to become free of tariffs and quotas in 2008, he said. Lifting the protection would harm as many as 3 million farmers who would then likely seek work in the U.S., Ramirez said.

“We want NAFTA to continue,”’ Ramirez said. “We want any adjustments to be done within the accord.”

Rogelio Ramirez de la O is López Obrador’s chief economic advisor.

The NAFTA issue strikes me as a big deal. On the one hand, opening staple crops like corn and beans to competition from (heavily subsidized) U. S. farmer will undoubtedly cause further disruption in the Mexican agriculture sector which will, in turn, put further pressures on displaced Mexican farmers to emigrate north to find work in order to support their families. On the other hand, re-opening NAFTA would be likely to open an enormous can of worms.

Although NAFTA, admittedly, has a mixed track record and enemies on both sides of the border, real incomes appear to have risen on both sides of the border and unemployment is extremely low in both countries (that’s the finding of the World Bank on the subject; it’s disputed).

I think it’s a crying shame that Americans aren’t more interested in what’s going on in the Mexican presidential election—there’s been precious little news of it here from major outlets. Whether you favor it or not you have to acknowledge that the enormous immigration we’ve experienced from Mexico over the last generation or so is bound to have major economic, social, and political impact here.

Mexican citizens resident here don’t seem to have much more interest in the Mexican election than those born here do:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Blame it on a bureaucratic voting process, disillusionment with politics back home or lack of time while juggling jobs, but only a fraction of the Mexicans living in the United States took advantage of their first opportunity to vote from abroad.

Of the estimated 6 million to 7 million Mexicans of voting age in the United States, only 40,000 registered to vote by mail in Mexico’s presidential election on Sunday — a lower number than expected after years of calls for a foreign vote.

At a time when Mexicans are raising their voices on the north side of the border to fight for immigrant rights and amnesty for the undocumented, the low turnout underscores the lack of say they have at home.

“I think the process was just too tedious and they weren’t given enough time to do it,” said Maite Salazar, who runs a Las Vegas-based Hispanic marketing firm. “And then you tie that to the apathy and the indifference and the feeling that they can’t make a difference.”

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this indifference. Does the lack of interest on the part of Mexican citizens here in participating in the political process in Mexico mean that they’re more or less likely to involve themselves in the political process here?

Mark in Mexico, blogging from Oaxaca, notes that the teachers’ strike is still going on there and organized a rally in which as many as 1 million people may have participated. That’s bound to have an impact on the results of the presidential election there:

The teachers have refused to back down one peso from their demands for money and are now also demanding the resignation of Governor Ruiz Ortiz and some of his top government officials. It’s an impasse. The national presidential election is scheduled for tomorrow and the teachers have claimed that it will be a “castigo” (punishment) for both the PRI and the PAN political parties. Governor Ruiz Ortiz is a Priista and President Fox is a Panista.

The way the teachers will assure that this happens is by blocking the central city polling places here in Oaxaca City as well as in some 40 other locales around the state. Under Mexican law, a registered voter with the requisite voter ID can vote anywhere in the country in a national election. With the teachers blocking the polling locations, only the teachers themselves will be able to vote. Neat, huh? Many people I know will leave the city today and tomorrow for other states so that they can vote.

UPDATE: Commentary on the election from Steven Taylor of Poliblog and Mathew Shugart of Fruits and Votes.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

MSS July 3, 2006 at 12:44 am

Thanks for the link.

One the apathy of the voters abroad, I would not read a lot into it. Most of them are too busy earning money to send home to their families to think much about elections and to take the initiative to apply for the ballot. The Mexican government arguably did not put as much into involving these people as it could have (it’s very expensive!!).

The strikers in Oaxaca have backed down from threats to disrput the election–at least according to a news report on Televisa last night.

And please note that the PRD candidate should not be called “Obrador.” He is universally known as “López Obrador” or “AMLO,” but if he were to be identified by one name, it should be “López.”

Dave Schuler July 3, 2006 at 12:56 am

Thanks for the tip. I’ll make the necessary correction.

I speak Russian, Chinese, French, German, and read Latin, Greek, and a little Hebrew. But, oddly for an American, I don’t speak Spanish or know much about naming conventions in the Spanish-speaking world. ;-)

Mark in Mexico July 3, 2006 at 11:37 am

Hey, thanks for the link.

First of all, Mexico made it just as difficult as possible for ex-pats to vote. They had to renew their voter registration cards and that could only be done in Mexico. Then, Mexico set the time limit to do this at 6 months before the election. If you didn’t do this 6 months ago, you couldn’t vote by absentee ballot. Try to imagine how many American ex-pats (such as, er, yours truly) would scramble to get back to the USA to beat a tight time limit in order to vote by absentee ballot six months in the future. There might be about, oh, 3 or so.

Now, take into consideration that the vast majority of the Mexican ex-pats in the USA are here illegaly. That meant that they would have to cross to Mexico to get their IFE cards and then sneak back into the USA across the river or through the desert again. If you’ve got a home, a family and a job, are you going to risk all of that to vote in an election in country that forced you to leave in the first place? I wouldn’t.

Oh, and as far as Madrazo is concerned, his proclamations are meaningless. He’ll finish a poor third only because his party can still steal and buy enough votes to keep him out of fourth place.

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