Mexicans are voting in an election where presidential front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto is looking to return the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party to power after a 12-year hiatus.
The most recent poll taken last week showed the PRI candidate leading Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party by 13 percentage points. Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party, or PAN, was in third. Also at stake are all 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, 128 in the Senate, as well as six governorships and the capital.
Pena Nieto has maintained a lead throughout the race, fueled by pledges to boost salaries held back by economic growth that averaged 1.8 percent a year, half the rate of Brazil, since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006. The 45-year-old former governor of Mexico state, the country’s most-populous, has also promised to turn the tide in a drug war blamed for more than 47,000 deaths under Calderon and pursue tax, labor and energy overhauls to boost competitiveness.
“All three of the candidates reflect what most open political races are about, which is how do you improve people’s lives,” Thomas “Mack” McLarty, former chief of staff for U.S. President Bill Clinton and his special envoy to the Americas, said in an interview. “The real story here is that Mexico’s democracy continues to evolve and develop and progress.”
Mexico’s 79.5 million registered voters will cast ballots from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in each of Mexico’s three time zones. Pollsters including GEA-ISA will release exit polls as soon as voting ends at 9 p.m. New York time, while the Federal Electoral Institute will publish preliminary results at about 11:45 p.m. Mexico City time.
Many Mexicans will be looking to see if Lopez Obrador, 58, who has focused his campaign on boosting spending for the poor, will concede defeat if he loses. After the last elections in 2006, which the PRD candidate lost by less than a percentage point after leading in most pre-election polls, his supporters occupied streets in the capital for weeks claiming fraud.
Lopez Obrador arrived before 8:00 a.m. at his voting station in Mexico City and had to wait more than 45 minutes until it was formally opened.
“I trust the people of Mexico, I believe in the people,” he said, according to the Reforma newspaper. “We are going to win.”
Celebration of Democracy
Lopez Obrador’s party has alleged the PRI is trying to buy votes by handing supporters shop gift cards, while the PAN has said Pena Nieto’s party is giving away bank cards. The PRI has denied the claims and its leadership yesterday in a press conference said it has asked all of its representatives to abide by electoral laws.
“I want in this electoral day the people of Mexico to be the winner,” Pena Nieto said after voting in his hometown of Atlacomulco, in the state of Mexico. “I want this day to be a celebration of our democracy.”
Whereas Lopez Obrador arrived in a single car to vote, Pena Nieto came in a convoy of three dark sport utility vehicles and took several photos with supporters on his way in and out.
The PRI’s 71 years in power were marked by “theft and devaluation,” said Maria Etchegaray, 82, as she lined up to vote in Mexico City. “I am going to vote for Vazquez Mota because I’ll never vote for the PRI,” she said, adding that Lopez Obrador “scares” her.
At the same polling station, Enrique Torres said he would vote for Pena Nieto, describing him as more “refined.” Lopez Obrador’s “time has passed,” he said.
Doubts over the fairness of elections when PRI was in power and the 2006 standoff between Calderon and Lopez Obrador have fueled mistrust among Mexicans. A survey taken June 22-24 by Mexico City-based Consulta Mitofsky showed that 30 percent of voters have “a lot” of confidence in the Federal Electoral Institute’s ability to oversee the election, less than the 44 percent ahead of the 2006 vote.
In the past few weeks, Pena Nieto has faced student protests organized on the Internet and driven in part by concern he will erode civil liberties and revive corruption that thrived when the PRI ruled alone for 71 years until 2000.
Vazquez Mota, 51, has promised to continue the pro-business policies and drug crackdown initiated by Calderon, who is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election.
Pena Nieto had 38.4 percent support in the poll Mitofsky, compared with 25.4 backing for Lopez Obrador and 20.8 percent for Vazquez Mota. The poll of 1,000 registered voters had a 3.1 percentage-point margin of error.
The same poll shows the PRI and its coalition partner the Green Party garnering at least 274 of the 500 seats in the lower house of Congress, though backing for PRI legislative candidates had slipped to the lowest in the campaign. Currently, the PRI’s coalition has 262 seats.
Grupo Financiero Banorte SAB, Mexico’s third-largest bank, forecast in a June 27 note to clients that the coalition would win a majority in the Senate, where it’s currently the second-biggest plurality after Calderon’s party, while falling short of one in the lower house.
In the lower house vote, 300 lawmakers are elected directly while the remaining 200 are chosen through a system of proportional representation based on the national congressional vote. In the Senate, 96 are elected directly, with three named per state. The remaining 32 are chosen through proportional representation.
Pena Nieto has said that if elected he plans to spur growth by making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers, increasing tax collection and encouraging more businesses to join the formal economy. He also said he plans to loosen Petroleos Mexicanos’ oil monopoly, which was formed when his party nationalized the then foreign-owned industry in 1938.
Pena Nieto has said he’ll change tactics in the drug war, reducing violence by focusing on the worst crimes such as murder and kidnapping and eventually return the army to the barracks. In a Bloomberg interview in November, he rejected as “nonsense” and “propaganda” accusations by his rivals that he’ll negotiate with criminal gangs.
Vazquez Mota has tried to lift her candidacy by reminding voters of the PRI’s past, citing in a June 10 debate the 1968 massacre in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Square when the military killed hundreds of students protesting anti-democratic practices days before the city hosted the Olympic Games. Pena Nieto was two years old at the time.
“People are going to be asking ‘Is this a new PRI?’ which his campaign suggests, or is he the young, handsome face of the old PRI,” said Diana Villiers Negroponte, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “I don’t think any of us can make that conclusion with certainty until January or February,” after the new president takes office on Dec. 1.