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Mexico’s Political Outlook

(Latin America Advisor) — As expected, Mexico's top electoral court  [last week] declared Felipe Calderon the winner of the country's July 2 presidential election, rejecting challenger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's (AMLO) claims that he was robbed of victory because of fraud. What happens now? Do you foresee a smooth transition of power? Will Calderon be able to govern effectively? Will Lopez Obrador and his supporters fade away or will they be a constant thorn in the side of the Calderon government?

Jesus Silva-Herzog, former Mexican Ambassador to the United States : Finally, the electoral process in Mexico is over. The democratic institutions proved their solidity, acting within the law. The result has been applauded by the majority of Mexicans, but Mr. Lopez Obrador, as expected, has not accepted the decision of the electoral court. The big problem we are confronting today and in the near future is that Mexican society is deeply divided politically. Around one third of Mexicans think that the election was not clean and fair. I do not remember a Mexican president taking office with so many essential and difficult challenges as Mr. Calderon will face in December. AMLO and his supporters will be an aggresive opposition to the next president. Their movement will remain for the foreseeable future, close to being outside of our legal institutions. Mexico's political problems will not dissapear in the short run.
Arturo Sarukhan, Adviser for International Affairs to Felipe Calderon and on leave from the Mexican Foreign Service: Mexican voters have sent a clear message to all politicians and political parties by not giving Calderon an overwhelming victory or handing an overwhelming defeat to Mr. Lopez Obrador. The closeness of the electoral outcome reflects the desire for a new style of politics in Mexico and places pressure on all political parties to find common ground for agreements. Certainly, the proof is in the pudding, and the challenge between now and December 1 will be whether we can cobble together a congressional coalition. The PAN is 11 seats shy of a majority in the Senate and needs 45 seats in the Chamber of Deputies to form a majority. This is a task which President-elect Calderon and his team have been involved in over the past weeks, and today we are close to having in place several minimum winning coalitions. I strongly believe that the margin of victory achieved by President-elect Calderon understates the actual degree of consensus among voters regarding the kind of country in which they want to live. Almost two-thirds of them supported candidates whose vision of Mexico's future centers on growth and social well-being through investment and the rule of law. Those two-thirds also voted for inserting Mexico more deeply in the global economy, rather than trying to pretend globalization can be ignored. And they voted for a concerted effort to make government more honest and more responsive to their needs.
Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, Director of the Mexico Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: I do foresee a smooth transition, insofar as Felipe Calderon becoming Mexico's next democratically elected president. Nonetheless, it is still too early to say whether the December 1 swearing-in will go unencumbered—particularly following the September 1 State of the Union PRD-led fiasco and the PRD's pledge to carry off a repeat performance to thwart Calderon's swearing-in. With regards to Calderon's ability to govern effectively, if the Fox sexenio taught us anything it is that the burden of governance does not rest solely on the shoulders of the president. Governance in a democratic Mexico will again be the co-responsibility of both the administration and Congress. Therefore, how and when the PRI reconciles the still lingering intra-party divisions will be a key determining consensus-building factor. The selection of the PRI presidency in the months ahead will be an important part of this process. I do not anticipate AMLO fading away any time soon, given that he will continue to capitalize on the following: 1) the 35.31 percent of the vote that he captured (versus Calderon's 35.89 percent), as a means to 'legitimize' his continued political protagonism; 2) the leverage garnered from having personally hand-picked Leonel Cota as PRD president, as well as many perredista and non-perredista members of the current Chamber of Deputies and Senate; and 3) the fact that the PRD will be flush financially going into the 2009 mid-term elections, thanks to AMLO's strong electoral performance and the COFIPE-dictated 30/70 campaign finance formula. We are definitely in for an interesting next six years.
Pamela Starr, Latin America Analyst at the Eurasia Group: Finally confirmed as Mexico's president-elect, Felipe Calderon understands that he must now reach across Mexico's deep political divide and convince those Mexicans who support Lopez Obrador that he is committed to responding to their needs as president. Given Calderon's limited charisma, the deep wounds of the campaign, and the political debts Calderon has incurred, this would be a tall order even in a benign political environment. But the environment is not benign. Lopez Obrador's intransigence and political strength is unlikely to fade significantly in the near term. Quite to the contrary, 30 percent of the population continues to support him, several key unions are aligned with him, and the left is united behind him. Lopez Obrador will use this power to advance a two-track, non-violent strategy. He will exploit his support in Congress and, when necessary, reinforce it with street demonstrations and strikes to make the country ungovernable and thereby force the authorities to bend to his non-negotiable demands. The good news in all of this is that generalized violence and political instability are unlikely during the transition. The bad news is that there is no obvious short-term solution to this political stand-off. Neither side will budge, yet neither is in a position to defeat the other. Noise, especially surrounding very difficult budget negotiations, is very likely to define Mexican politics for the remainder of 2006.
Andrés Rozental, President of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations: Now that any lingering uncertainties surrounding the election and its results have been removed by the Federal Electoral Tribunal, President-elect Calderon can address the substantive issues of his forthcoming administration in full. Although these past weeks have been intense on the political scene—with the unfounded challenges mounted by Lopez Obrador and his followers—the court was unanimous in rejecting all his claims of fraud, unfairness, or voter manipulation. Calderon will have to make sure that his first public remarks after being formally designated as Mexico's next president will contribute significantly to the healing process after the divisive and polarized election and post-electoral period, and address many of the social issues which gave the PRD coalition such a large number of votes. It is difficult to predict what Lopez Obrador will do, although a growing number of his followers are beginning to distance themselves from his blockades and 'alternative government' revolutionary strategies. Although it may take some more time for him and the closest of his followers to fade away, it would appear that faced with the generally accepted election results as confirmed by the Tribunal, it is difficult to imagine there being continued widespread support for his tactics and diatribe.
Nicolás Mariscal, Chairman of Grupo Marhnos in Mexico: AMLO has taken the Mexican left to a crossroads. The PRD is paying a high political price by losing followers and political strength. On the other hand, Calderon is showing good sense, and he is open to dialogue with AMLO. Calderon is a man of results more than a man of words. His priorities are to diminish poverty, to increase security, and to create job opportunities, as well as to resolve pending structural reforms. To face these challenges, he has to strengthen the PAN-PRI links. Sooner or later, AMLO will fade away. His followers will be convinced that it is not worth continuing. The Federal Electoral Tribunal, which has the right to ensure its decision, has at its disposal the force and power of the executive and judicial branches of the government.

Note: Several supporters of Lopez Obrador were invited to comment. PRD Senator Ricardo Monreal sent the following, brief response: "The Electoral Tribunal's decision makes Felipe Calderon the legal president, but not the legitimate president of Mexico. Our social movement will not stop with this judicial ruling. The political crisis will deepen, unfortunately."

Republished with permission from the Inter-American Dialogue's daily Latin America Advisor newsletter.

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