Mexico Institute in the News: Mexico's Presidential Election
The Diane Rehm Show, 7/2/2012
MS. DIANE REHM
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Mexico's PRI party claimed victory in a presidential election yesterday. Its victory would mean a return to political power after a dozen years in the opposition. Joining me in the studio to talk about how the election results will affect Mexico's drug war, its unsettled economy, and U.S. relations, Arturo Valenzuela, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Joining us from a studio in Mexico City, Jo Tuckman, author of "Mexico: Democracy Interrupted," and Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.
MS. DIANE REHM
You are welcome to join us this morning, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
Good to have you with us. Jo Tuckman, bring us up-to-date on what's happening there. Has the opponent finally conceded?
MS. JO TUCKMAN
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the closest rival to Pena Nieto in the quick count, he's said that he's going to wait until Wednesday to fix his final position on the result. He gave a speech late last night in which he questions the results, but in a very soft way. I mean, he left himself kind of room to raise questions about the legitimacy of the election, but with -- by no means in the same radical way as he did six years ago in the last presidential election where he cried outright fraud and refused to accept defeat.
Eric Olson, I gather that the disparity between the two was fairly substantial.
MR. ERIC OLSON
Well, it was significant. I think some of us thought it might be bigger than it was. The last polls a week out had Pena Nieto ahead between 12 and 17 points. It looks now like his margin will be five to seven points, you know. There may be some slight changes. It's an important victory. Clearly, it's a significant percentage, but I think one of the surprises last night was that the left did better than many people had thought and predicted. It looks like they lost the presidency. They won overwhelming victories in Mexico City.
MR. ERIC OLSON
They won governorships in Morelos, in other states possibly. So the left really had maybe even a slightly better night than people had anticipated, and the PRI had a good night, but maybe not as great of a night as they thought they might have.
Arturo Valenzuela, how do you see it?
MR. ARTURO VALENZUELA
Well, I see it as Eric just suggested, this again is going to be a divided government in Mexico where we're going to have a situation where the president does not have majorities in the Congress, where no party really is going to be dominant, and this is going to propose a challenge for the country because one of the real difficulties that both President Fox and President Calderon had, was their inability really to work together with effective congressional majorities. There seemed to be kind of a logic in Mexico that the opposition preferred to essentially stifle the president in his initiatives rather than necessarily getting on board with him.
MR. ARTURO VALENZUELA
And so the real challenge for Pena Nieto is to see whether in fact he can build a coalition in the Congress which his predecessors were not successful in doing.
But now, Jo, do we have complete congressional results?
No, not yet. We're going to have to wait a little while for those. I mean, we're assuming that obviously the PRI is going to be the biggest party, but it's not like as Eric and Arturo say, it's not going to have that kind of control that we saw before 1997 when the PRI lost control of the Congress for the first time.
So Arturo, you would not see this then as a return to the past?
No. I would not see this as a return to the past. The country has just changed too much. In the past you had a one party state where the president essentially controlled the nominations at every level, including governors, members of Congress, ambassadors, everything. Did so for six years, and then he went on. He could name his successor, and then he wouldn't disappear forever, but in that sense, it was -- that's why Vargas Llosa characterized it as the perfect dictatorship, because they saw the problem of the president not wanting to stay too long, and yet the control from the top was exclusive all over the place.
That just does not -- is not the case anymore today. The challenge is the opposite in some ways. The challenge is that the PRI is not gonna necessarily have all the levers of power. The governors are now far more autonomous. It's true that the PRI will have two-thirds of the governorships, but they don't necessarily respond to the president anymore as they used to in the past. So this is a complex democracy in the making because we need to remember that Mexico is going through one of the great transitions of the modern era, and let's not forget that, you know.
It does -- it takes -- it takes a long time really to establish and consolidate democratic institutions. Arguably, Mexico is doing better than a lot of other countries that have gone from one party authoritarian states to competitive democracies, but the challenges are still huge, and we need to understand that.
Arturo Valenzuela. He teaches government at Georgetown University. He's former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Joining us from Mexico City, Jo Tuckman, a Mexican-based foreign correspondent. Eric Olson is associate director of the Woodrow Wilson Centers Mexico Institute. We do invite you to join us. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter, or call us on 800-433-8850.
Turning back to you, Eric Olson, considering the fact that as our Arturo says, they're facing a whole new challenge, no longer will the president be the sole person in charge, give me an example of how the change might affect the drug wars for example.
Well, I think the PRI and Pena Nieto, like any newly elected government, wants to have a period of time where they think about the policy going forward. It's not like they have one well-defined in their back pocket that they're just going to roll out in a day or two. They would like to give the policy on combating organized crime and violence their own sort of imprimatur if you will, and they've told me that they have some discussion groups and tables and that will part of the transitional period where they're going to try to define their own policy going forward.
My own impression is that, you know, many of the things that are currently underway will continue, but they will find some unique aspects. They've hinted at some of those unique aspects, and I think, you know, there will be some interesting announcements in the next three to four months about the direction they want to go. They're committed to confronting organized crime, they're committed to working with the United States, they're committed to building up the state's capacity to confront organized crime. Those are the broad themes, but the specifics may be still -- they still need to work out.
Jo Tuckman, speaking of violence and the kinds of reports we've had coming out of Mexico, this morning, we read that an AP intern was found at the bottom of an elevator shaft today, and we know that journalists have been targeted in this drug war. What can you tell us about that?
Well, about the AP intern, I don't know the specifics of the case. I mean, the early information I had was that it -- there weren't suspicions of a direct link to what the intern was reporting on. I mean, in terms of violence against journalists in Mexico in general, it's -- the most acute problem is in the regions, it's in local newspapers, local media outlets, where local journalists face a terrible choice of operating under extreme circumstances where they often either have no choice other than to completely censor what they right, or mold what they right to the powers that be, and the powers that be in some parts of Mexico now including organized crime, either directly or through infiltration of the local authorities.