Roundtable on Mexico's 2006 Election Results
Roderic Ai Camp, Claremont McKenna College
Alberto Aziz Nassif, CIESAS-Mexico City
Yemile Mizrahi, Casals and Associates
Jonathan Fox, University of California, Santa Cruz & Woodrow Wilson Center
Moderator: Andrew Selee, Woodrow Wilson Center
On July 2, 2006, 41.7 million Mexicans went to the polls to vote in the country's first democratic election since President Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) was elected in 2000, breaking the 71 year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The results were so close that it took an additional two days to announce the winner, who according the Federal Electoral Institute, won with a margin of barely less than half a percentage point. Andrew Selee emphasized the timeliness of the event considering that the outcome, almost certain to be contested in the legal system, had been announced only 24 hours prior. He referenced the results in which Felipe Calderón, the candidate from the PAN, was declared the winner with a margin of 0.58% over Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Democractic Revolutionary Party (PRD). Roberto Madrazo of the PRI received about 22% of the vote. Selee pointed out that all but three of the states in the northern region of the country voted for Calderón while all but two in south voted for López Obrador. Selee argued that this geographic polarization was a phenomenon never before seen in Mexico. He also noted that in the congressional election, the PAN had won a plurality of 33%, the PRD 29%, and the PRI 27%, while a smaller party PANAL received almost 5% of the vote.
Roderic Ai Camp pointed out that if the PRD had won the elections it might have created divisions between the Mexican government and private sector leadership both in Mexico and abroad, as well as increased tensions with the White House. He asserted that the closeness of the outcome, testing for the first time the electoral tribunal system, has proven to be the ultimate trial of Mexico's rule of law and the level of maturity of its democratic structure. Camp emphasized that there are certain political attitudes and characteristics that could explain voter behavior in this election. Although Mexicans are generally uninterested in politics and disillusioned with political parties, a pattern that did not change in this race, voter perception of the candidate had the greatest impact on the outcome of the election. Where personal qualities and candidate image played a great role in voter preference, he stated that perception of López Obrador's intolerance hurt him. He noted that political preferences are placed along an ideological spectrum in which the PRI is viewed as the party on far right, the PAN at the center-right and the PRD at the center-left. The strongest ideological distortion nationally is found in the Federal District, where although it has the highest income per capita, it is strongly leftist ideologically. Another attitude potentially influencing voter behavior was the electorate's disinterest in congressional representation. He observed that one fourth of voters want a congress with no majority party and another fourth want the majority to be of a different party than that of the executive. Other characteristics of the elections included fluid party loyalty on the local level where the PRI still remains strong, the effects of media on those who have a moderate interest in politics, and the fact that better informed voters were more likely to vote for the PAN. Camp commented that it was the independent vote that influenced the elections the most. He predicted that Calderón's mandate would be weak, and the impasse between the legislative and executive branches will continue to be a roadblock to effective progress on major policy issues.
Alberto Aziz Nassif emphasized that the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) has played a key role throughout the electoral process from its mediation of the "dirty war" between the candidates in deciding what campaign behavior was permissible and what was not, to its role now in determining the legitimacy of the election results. Aziz Nassif highlighted three possible outcomes of the judicial process to take place in the Electoral Tribunal between now and September 6, the day by which it must make a decision. The first possibility, the scenario he predicted to be most likely, would be that the irregularities cited by López Obrador will be insignificant, and the election results will be upheld, with Calderón winning. The second possibility would be the partial annulment of polling stations where there were irregularities that could generate a change in favor of López Obrador over Calderón. The third possibility, which he believed to be least likely, would be a complete annulment of the elections as has occurred in the past in the states of Tabasco and Colima, and in several municipal elections between the years of 2000 and 2003 in various parts of the country. For an annulment to be justified there must be proven conditions of generalized irregularities, direct government intervention, or results that were in some way manipulated. While quite unlikely, a total annulment is not impossible. He emphasized that this election has shifted the electoral geography into a two-party system between the PRD and the PAN in which the PRI has fallen behind. With this new system Aziz Nassif predicted two possible outcomes for the congress: one which incorporates and fosters the formation of coalitions and alliances, or one in which the legislature remains polarized between the two parties, generating instability for the future.
Yemile Mizrahi, a noted analyst of the PAN, stated that although it is too early to analyze why the PAN was victorious, one can keep in mind that one factor that aided its win was the votes gained from both the PRI and PANAL parties. She pointed out that the PAN has difficulty maintaining its electoral strength once it wins, emphasizing that in this election it won by a significantly smaller margin than it did in the 2000 elections. Mizrahi agreed with Camp that party loyalty in Mexico is fragile, and attributed the PAN's inability to entrench its roots in society to this factor. She emphasized that it is a party that is small and traditional, with a limited base of party members. The PAN has failed to expand significantly due the arduous process one must navigate to become a member. Mizrahi also mentioned the PAN is reluctant to engage in constituent service, which it tends to regard as clientelistic and unclean, even though this has been one of the key elements other parties have used in expanding their base. She noted that Felipe Calderón could be a good bridge between the old and the new elements in the party, since he is young but also a true-to-form PANista; however, she also noted that he has no experience in governing. On the other hand, the country's low expectations due to President Vicente's Fox's failure to come through on many campaign promises will work in Calderón's favor, giving him more room to succeed with a disillusioned populace. In reference to political parties, she stated that although the PRI committed suicide with Madrazo as its candidate, it gave itself the opportunity to re-invent its profile with a more progressive and competent base of governors.
Jonathan Fox addressed seven myths commonly believed about the electoral process. The first is the perception that these elections were the most transparent elections in Mexico's history. He instead argued that the IFE's mishandling of the results of the quick count severely damaged its credibility, and that in fact the 2000 elections were much more transparent. The second myth, he stated, was that this was Mexico's closest election to date. He mentioned that this is not certain due to the lack of information from Mexico's 1988 election which is now widely believed to have been fraudulent, and of which all information was destroyed. The third myth is that today's IFE is the same respected institution that it was in 2000. He pointed out that while in 2000 all three parties were represented on the team of counselors; in 2006 counselors only represented two of the three parties, excluding representatives from the PRD and many have questioned whether or not rulings of the current IFE have been biased. The fourth myth, he argued, is that the Federal Electoral Tribunal (TRIFE) has a reliable track record. Although the TRIFE has thrown out some elections that were plagued by fraud, it certified elections in Oaxaca and Veracruz in 2004 that were widely seen as fraudulent. He stated that the fifth myth is that vote buying and "coacción"–threats of reprisals for not voting a certain way--are historical relics. He noted, however, that these actions are extremely difficult to prove and therefore will not impact the current dispute of the election's validity. The sixth myth is that voter turn-out was huge. He commented that while 59% voter turnout for a presidential election is high in the United States, in Mexico it represents a downward trend, since in 1994 the turnout was 77% and in 2000 it was 64%. He attributed this drop to negative campaigning and the decline in state capacity to obligate people to vote. Fox stated the last myth of the electoral process is that the PRI is out of the picture and that the elections were only truly between two parties. Contrary to popular belief, the PRI still retains a significant influence.
Drafted by Kate Brick, Mexico Institute