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Mexico Chooses A President

Prepared by: Esther Pan
June 29, 2006

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The battle to be Mexico's next president was a rough one. The populist former mayor of Mexico City—Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD)—is facing a pro-business economist, Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN). Each candidate has the support of roughly one-third of the electorate heading into election day, according to this Americas Society/Council of the Americas report (PDF). Each candidate has accused the other of slander, with Calderón saying Lopéz Obrador would bring a "horror movie" of inflation, devaluation, and economic crisis to Mexico, and Lopéz Obrador accusing Calderon of a smear campaign (BBC). Enrique Krauze, a prominent Mexican intellectual, accuses Lopéz Obrador of seeing himself as Mexico's messiah and conspiring to undermine its nascent democracy (NYT). For his part, Lopéz Obrador has been reduced to saying he will not try to implement socialism or return to one-party rule.

Lopez Obrador's campaign, in which he vows to end Mexico's enormous inequity and better the lives of the lower classes, has made him immensely popular with Mexico's fifty million poor (CSMonitor), while raising fears in the United States that he could become a Mexican version of Venezuela's anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez. Calderón and the other main candidate in the race—Roberto Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who trails in the polls with less than 25 percent of public support—are trying to paint the former mayor as a dangerous populist who would damage Mexico's democratic organizations (NYT).

The 2000 elections that brought outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox of PAN to power were the first democratic polls in Mexico in nearly a century, and ended the PRI'S 71-year monopoly on power. But critics say Fox, while charismatic and popular, has failed to implement most of his promised reforms. Mexican analyst Luis Rubio told a recent forum at the American Enterprise Institute that the elections are Lopéz Obrador's to lose.

Denise Dresser writes in the Los Angeles Times that Mexico's elite, who detest Lopéz Obrador's talk of increasing tax collection to reduce poverty, are ignoring the conditions of inequity that made it possible for him to rise. Corruption, crime, and huge economic challenges—including poor tax collection, low investment in infrastructure, inflexible labor markets, and huge pension liabilities—have caused Mexico to lose global competitiveness during Fox's term. The new president will likely face a sharply divided Congress that could further delay reforms.

The results of the election are critical for the United States, writes Pamela Starr in a Council Special Report, "Challenges for a Post-Election Mexico." The new Mexican president will grapple with issues including northern migration, economic development, trade, and drug trafficking that directly affect the United States, as well as shape Mexico's economic and political direction for the next six years. "Rarely have Mexican voters been able to make such an important decision about the future of their nation," Starr writes.

Financial Times election coverage | Washington Post election blog

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