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Mexico’s Presidential Wrangle

Prepared by: Esther Pan
July 5, 2006

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Three days after the polls closed on Mexico's presidential race, there is still no clear winner. Mexico's National Electoral Institute (IFE) is conducting a recount of the votes after initial results showed conservative candidate Felipe Calderon with a razor-thin lead (AP) of 1 percent ahead of leftist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Conflicting statements, missing votes, accusations of voter manipulation, and reports of electoral irregularities added to the confusion (El Universal). Critics have blamed both candidates for declaring victory prematurely, just after the electoral commission decided the race was too close to call (CSMonitor). The Financial Times says in an editorial that a contested result is the worst possible outcome for "a country as socially unequal and politically polarized as Mexico," where it will test the country's civil institutions and could lead to mass protests or widespread labor unrest.

The uncertainty reminds some observers of the bitterly contested 2000 U.S. presidential election (San Jose Mercury News). Mexico—which was ruled by one party, the National Revolutionary Party (PRI), for 71 years—saw more than its share of rigged or stolen elections from 1929 until the country's first free presidential elections in 2000. Some fear a drawn-out vote count and the inevitable challenge of the results from the losing side could destabilize the entire nation. If Lopez Obrador does end up winning, he would be the latest in a string of leftist leaders—some of whom, like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, are not shy about challenging the United States—to be elected across Latin America (LAT).

Last summer, the Mexican government authorized voting by Mexicans living overseas, a huge population that could potentially have decided the race (AP). But fears of expatriates' outsized influence now seem misplaced: Only a tiny fraction of the ten million Mexicans eligible to vote in the United States even registered.

George Grayson writes in the Financial Times that whichever candidate is eventually declared the winner will face the same problems. These include Mexican immigration to the United States, drug trafficking, weak job growth, rampant corruption, and crime. In addition, the new president will face a sharply divided Congress that could make accomplishing reform difficult.

The results of the election are critical for the United States, writes Pamela Starr in a CFR Special Report, "Challenges for a Post-Election Mexico." The new president will shape Mexico's economic and political direction for the next six years and beyond. "Rarely have Mexican voters been able to make such an important decision about the future of their nation," she writes. In January, Mexican commentator Enrique Krauze wrote in Foreign Affairs that this election had the potential either to consolidate Mexico's democracy or to lead it back into all-too-familiar crisis.

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