What to expect in Mexico’s presidential campaign

    Mexican President Pena Nieto is being challenged from the right and the left, and with rampant crime and corruption laid at his feet, the Mexican elections are ripe for newcomers.

    The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) held Mexico’s presidency for 71 consecutive years, from 1929 to 2000.  With the election of Vicente Fox from the centre-right National Action Party (PAN) in 2000, and of his successor Felipe Calderon in 2006, the PRI’s grip on power began to wane. However, with the victory of Enrique Pena Nieto in 2012, the PRI has returned to power once again.

    On July 1, the Mexican people will go to the polls to decide whether to keep the PRI in power for six more years; give a third chance to the PAN; or shake the political system by electing the candidate from the newly established, leftist and anti-establishment National Regeneration Movement Party (MORENA). 

    An independent candidate will also appear on the presidential ballot for the first time, but she has little chance of winning.

    Although Mexico’s presidential campaign does not officially begin until March 30, the pre-campaign period has served as a preview of what to expect in the upcoming months.

    An unpopular president

    Pena Nieto’s decision to omit from his financial declarations the purchase of a mansion worth more than $7 million dollars from a government contractor; the disappearance of 43 students after they had protested against the president; the 29,168 homicides that occurred in 2017 alone, which made it the deadliest year on record; have all contributed to his low approval rating of 19 percent.

    The current administration failed to address the most important concerns of the Mexican people: prosecuting criminals, stopping the plague of violence, and ending corruption.

    The Mexican constitution bars Pena Nieto from seeking a second term. He has appointed his former Secretary of Finance Jose Antonio Meade as his successor.

    Political opportunism over party ideology

    Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s MORENA party has formed the coalition ‘Together We Will Make History’, bringing together a leftist party and an ultra-conservative party. Obrador is currently in the lead.

    In second place is Ricardo Anaya from PAN and a coalition of two leftist parties under the banner of ‘Mexico to the Front’. 

    In third place is Jose Antonio Meade from the ruling “centrist” PRI, which has formed the coalition ‘Everyone for Mexico’ with two parties that do not follow traditional leftist or right-wing ideology. 

    These coalitions have resulted in ideological contradictions. For example, MORENA supports socially liberal causes, while its ultra-conservative partner, the Social Encounter Party, opposes them. The PAN is in favour of economic liberalisation, while its two leftist partners favour greater government regulation. The PRI has historically leaned left and right – whatever is expedient to secure political survival.

    It is not clear how the coalitions will resolve their internal contradictions. For now, they have been willing to incorporate a wide range of actors to win the highest office.

    Corruption accusations

    Lopez Obrador has emerged unscathed from the pre-campaign period, as he is not facing corruption accusations.

    Anaya has been accused of laundering money by selling property in an industrial park at an inflated price, and the government declared the company that bought the property a “phantom company” – meaning, a company that exists only in paper for the sole purpose of laundering money.

    Anaya has argued that he sold the property based on market prices and disclosed the transaction in his financial declarations. He claims that it’s not his responsibility as the seller to verify where the buyer’s money comes from.

    For Meade, it is impossible to distance himself from the corruption scandals of the incumbent administration since he’s held various government positions, including the Secretary of Finance and the Secretary of Social Development.

    An investigation by Animal Politico, revealed that various federal secretaries illegally diverted millions of dollars through what it called the “Master Scam”. The investigation claims that the Secretary of Social Development contracted public universities to provide social services, and the universities then subcontracted private companies. However, a majority of these companies were phantom companies since, in reality, they did not provide any services.   

    Meade has argued that the contracts were approved prior to his appointment as the Secretary of Social Development. Yet as the head, he did not report any of the illegal activities.

    The Office of the Attorney General (PGR) has yet to conclude any of the investigations regarding the “Master Scam”, and it has not explained what happened to the millions that were diverted.

    The influence of the ruling PRI

    Mexico’s presidential system is not majoritarian, meaning that the candidate who wins the most votes on July 1 – even if it’s not more than 50 percent of the vote – wins the presidency.

    With the PRI lagging behind in third place, it has resorted to using the PGR to discredit Anaya to increase its chances of holding on to power.

    The PGR is not known for acting quickly, particularly in cases that involve politicians. However, in a relatively short amount of time, it opened an investigation against Anaya, and declared the company that bought his property a phantom company.

    The PGR accused Anaya of refusing to give a statement while he visited its offices to submit a document to make his case even though Anaya informed the officials that what he wanted to say was written in the document. 

    Then, in an unprecedented action, the PGR released a video of Anaya’s visit due to the case being an “emblematic case” and of the “public’s interest”.

    The National Electoral Institute, which is responsible of ensuring fair elections, ordered the PGR to remove the video and the statements regarding Anaya’s case from its website and social media accounts on the grounds that they violated the principle of impartiality.

    The PGR’s actions raise serious concerns not because it involves Ricardo Anaya from the PAN. His political affiliation is unimportant. What is concerning is the PRI’s manipulation of state institutions to discredit a candidate, which is an attack against Mexico’s democracy.

    In 2005, the then PAN administration used these dirty tactics against Lopez Obrador; today, the PRI is doing the same thing to Anaya; and tomorrow, who will be the next target?

    The daunting task for voters

    Mexicans will have to navigate the confusing coalitions that consist of both left-wing and right-wing parties; the corruption accusations; and the meddling of the PRI government to make their choice. They have the daunting task of identifying the candidate that best promotes and defends their respective interests to make their voices heard on July 1.

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