Mexican Elections for Dummies

Mexican Elections for Dummies


Journalists, politicians and yes, even college professors like myself know that the moment you mention the words “interntional relations” people’s eyes start to glaze over, channels get changed and, yes, I’m sure about 25% of you just clicked onto another article.

If there isn’t a war going on, a natural disaster happening or Obama isn’t there we Americans could care less about what the nation of Paris is or what the King of Canada had for lunch. The only way to make international politics relevant to Americans is to relate the players to familiar politicians in the U.S.

Which is why the Mexican Presidential elections on Sunday July 1st between Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and Ron Paul are one of the most important elections in the Western Hemisphere in the last 20 years.

Of course, Mexican citizens won’t be voting on three familiar national candidates in the United States.  But, the three major party candidates Pena Nieto of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), Josefina Vazquez-Mota of the PAN (National Action Party) and Lopez Obrador of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) are playing similar roles in the upcoming Mexican presidential elections to these three American politicians. With out-of-control drug cartel wars that have moved from the streets of Juarez, Mexico to as far north as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and with immigration becoming a major issue in the United States, it is actually important for more Americans to have an idea about who the political players are when Mexicans go to the polls on Sunday July 1st.

The front runner for the entire race so far has been Pena Nieto, the standard bearer for the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) who is for all intents and purposes George W. Bush circa 2000 for Mexican politics. While W. came into office in 2000 halting an unprecedented 2 term Demoratic presidency, Nieto hopes to return his party to power after an unprecedented two-term PAN presidency that began in 2000 (however, prior to 2000 the PRI held the presidency for 70 years so it’s not that far a stretch).

Nieto is a gaffe-a-minute politician born into privilige who seems annoyed at having to run for president, but looks forward to getting the job. He was born into wealth and political influence, and spent an extended youth engaging in reckless and irresponsible behavior (Nieto has fathered two outside children while married to his first wife).

However, Nieto’s Bushisms go further.

As a candidate he’s made it clear that he doesn’t like to readdoesn’t know the price of a pound of tortilla mix because, “he’s not a housewife” and started the Yo Soy 132 Social Movement when after botching a Q&A with college students then turned around and accused them of being spies for the opposition. Yet despite all this, he’s poised to win on Sunday. Who could he possibly be running against where such a turn of affairs is possible?

Josefina Vazquez-Mota is the candidate for the incumbent PAN party and she’s doing her best, and by that I mean worst, Hillary Clinton of 2008 impression. Vasqeuz-Mota is the first woman to earn a major party nomination in Mexican political history, but it comes at just about the worst time possible to be a historic first. A former head of education in Mexico and influential legislator, Vazquez-Mota handily won her party’s nomination despite not being the term limited President Calderon’s first choice.

However, no matter how excited political observers may have been about her presidency the realities on the ground were that she didn’t have much of a chance. Consider Hillary Clinton in the election of 2008. While Hillary wanted to make history as the first female president of the United States, she ran on her experience as first lady in the 1990’s. She read the electorate wrong: 2008 was a CHANGE election, not a comfort and security election.

Along the same lines Josefina Vazquez-Mota is running for a PAN party that has mired the country into a violent interminable drug war and has destabilized what has always been a shaky economy. Mexicans don’t want a radical CHANGE with a female president, they are yearning for the comfort and security of the past – which is why the PRI is doing so well. Which makes you wonder why the third candidate is doing so well in the race.

Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, is the Ron Paul of the Mexican presidential race – that’s if Ron Paul had more money, a higher national profile and gained about 50 pounds. AMLO, former mayor of Mexico City, rose to national prominence in the presidential election of 2006 when he became the nominee of the left-leaning PRD party and proposed some ‘radical’ solutions to Mexico’s major social ills like poverty, crime and dysfunctional civil service.

Obrador appealed strongly to the poor and young voters who were sick of the PRI but ddin’t trust the corporatist center-right policies of the PAN. In the end, he was robbed in the 2006 election, with various reports circulating that election fraud gave the presidency to Calderon because both the PAN and the PRI feared what an Obrador presidency might be like. He’s lost some steam (because, like Ron Paul, people will forget about you if you lose). but he’s back as the spoiler in 2012 all but ensuring that Nieto will win.

Toss in the fact that popular former PAN president Vicente Fox is doing his best Bill Clinton vs. president Obama impression, by throwing left-handed shade on his own party candidate Mota while praising the opposition Nieto and you have a U.S. style election occurring just below the border. Now that the characters are set in Part Two of of this series, we’ll discuss how the Mexican elections actually matter to the United States and why U.S. voters should be concerned about Mexico putting “Bush” back into office.


  1. Pena Nieto did not start the Yo Soy 132. It resulted from the 131 students at the Ibero-American University that went on the YouTube to prove that they indeed were students at the Ibero.

    • Pati, Yes I am aware of that is what I meant when I wrote that Nieto's botched Q&A and subsequent accusation that the students were working for the opposition started Yo Soy 132. Thanks for taking the time, I will be posting more from Mexico once I arrive.

  2. Your paternalistic style of writing is insulting and your analysis of oversimplification is just plain wrong. J
    ust tell us the facts rather than putting your own political spin on things.

  3. Nick, thanks for taking the time to respond. The point of the piece was that the vast majority of Americans have no clue about Mexican politics or the intricacies of the electoral system, major political players or even parties there. The only way it makes sense for many Americans is to relate it to people they do understand. It is an intentionally simple piece because it's an introduction to the Mexican elections. By no means does this piece exhaust the entire story about what might happen on Sunday.

  4. Thank you for drawing attention to the important elections in Mexico. Almost the entire U.S. media seams oblivious to what is really happening there. Please dig a bit further, corruption and media manipulation are rampant and that is what the Yo Soy 132 movement is in response to. Only recently has our media even hinted about this. The Guardian from England is doing the only responsible reporting on this and it's disappointing that the media north of the Mexican border is doing such a poor job. The people of Mexico a frustrated with institutions like Telivisa that are clearly giving favorable coverage to PRI, for a nice price mind you.

    What's really going on is being covered up by the Mexican media and the people of Mexico need champions from other countries like the Guardian to get these stories out in detail.

    You my friend have a responsibility to do this for our friends to the south. You obviously care enough about it and are on the right track. Please go deeper. Keep up the good work.

  5. You also forgot to mention that when Lopez Obrador lost in 2006 he threw a small tantrum by shutting down Mexico City for a month, causing the city to loose millions of dollars a day, just saying. Oh….and his radical leftist ideas would be better compared to Chavez in Venezuela rather than a Ron Paul.

    • Lopez Obrador is no Chavez, make no mistake my friend. Calderon stole the election in 2006 and Pena Nieto even more blatantly stole the election on July 1st. This is of sour grapes but a known fact by anyone close enough to this election who is paying any attention.

      Even if you discount the millions upon millions of dollars in payola given to voters by the PRI (was it a coincedence that hundreds of thousands of people cashed in gift cards at Señora stores all over Mexico); even if you discount evidence that PRI bought favorable coverage for Pena Nieto and slanderous coverage of Obrador; even if you discount evidence that thousands of voters were bused to other districts to vote for Pena Nieto twice; even if you discount 2 million ballots found in Texas by the FBI. Common sense tells you something was a foul.

      This is not a step forward for the great and proud nation of Mexico but an ugly return to the corrupt past which never really left.

      Congratulations to the students for making their pice heard!