Never a dull moment just days before Mexico´s presidential poll on July 1. Two days after candidates concluded campaigning, a number of allegations, counter allegations, false arrests, accusations, and finger-pointing overwhelm already tried and tired campaigners. Making matters worse is intrigue and possible underhandedness encircling the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose Little Jet had an emergency landing in the state of Puebla earlier this week as Nieto traveled to one of his final campaign appearances. Mechanical failure was blamed for the unscheduled landing.
The National Action Party (PAN), which remains in third place behind the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), has been busy trying to win over voters and collect evidence of possible fraud. The charge is that the PRI is providing charged debit cards in exchange for the support of voters in economically depressed neighborhoods. Campaign manager Roberto Gil Zuarth held a full press conference, complete with debit card, to showcase one of his opponents´ tricks in the run-up-to the vote—a tactic that he, and many others concede, is part of the PRI repertoire dating back to the 1930s. Nothing will happen, however, as candidates are rarely sanctioned directly. Mexico´s campaign laws only sanction political parties, and normally after Election Day. If a sanction does take place, a fine is paid and life continues for the party.
While polling companies are easily bought by campaigns and candidates with funds derived from state and municipal coffers, there is an obvious, across-the-board tendency: Enrique Peña Nieto maintains a strong and healthy lead with 44 percent of the intended vote, followed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the PRD with 29 percent, and the PAN´s Josefina Vázquez Mota with 25 percent. Nieto´s 15-point lead is, by all means, difficult to shatter. Notwithstanding, the PRI may need this strong advantage as disenfranchised youth energized by social movement #YoSoy132 take to the polls. They will vote for everyone except Nieto who they label as a young politico in dinosaur cloak who will reintroduce the PRI´s authoritarian and godfather brand of politics into political administration.
The capture (then an official correction for the false capture) of the putative son of the most wanted Mexican cartel leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán also made news. A convoy of Marines arrested 23-year-old Félix Beltrán León and his 19-year-old step-brother Kevin Daniel Beltrán Ríos in Jalisco state last week prompting the PAN´s Vázquez Mota to applaud the arrest and echo a campaign promise to end the cartel war and capture El Chapo if elected. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), U.S. Embassy in Mexico and a number of Mexican government officials took credit for the capture, but their victory was soon over after an attorney representing
Beltrán took to the media to display pictures and official records proving beyond a reasonable doubt her client was not the cartel leader´s son. A day later, Mexico´s attorney general (PGR) issued a statement validating the attorney´s evidence. “Political opportunism” led a number of headlines soon after.
Of all the presidential candidates, Vázquez Mota is by far the most surprised. Her campaign stumbled tactically and failed to promote and coordinate events within party ranks and the media; her senior team disappointed not only the candidate, but the many panistas who genuinely believe in Vázquez Mota´s cause. By Mexican standards, Vázquez Mota should not have been demoted to third place. Her party´s prestige, access to political advisors—and money—after 12 years in office, guaranteed a spirited fight for first place against the PRI, but it never materialized. In one of her last campaign events in Mexico City´s famous Plaza de Toros she presented herself as the true matador, and promised to win a few ears and tails by locking up narcos, improving social programs and raising public education standards. Many agree her days as a matador may never come to pass.
In one of his final appeals, Peña Nieto asked the nation´s powerful teachers union (SNTE) for its vote, and promised its leaders to modernize Mexico´s public education system, but with their help and support. He also promised to respect the union´s state-sanctioned mandate and to always include the SNTE in the government’s decision-making processes.
Peña Nieto´s soft handling of the SNTE comes as no surprise. In 2006, the SNTE delivered President Felipe Calderón the last of the few votes needed to win; and a recent SNTE press conference revealed another reason why Peña Nieto supports unionized teachers: Operation Agora. Agora controls more than 27,000 activists in six battleground states (Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Nayarit, Nuevo León, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas), urging constituencies to vote for Peña Nieto and other PRI candidates for congress and state posts. According to the union´s electoral arm, the National Democratic Executive Committee (CEND), SNTE will spend some $15 million to contact more than 6 million Mexicans and mobilize more than 3 million voters to polling stations on Election Day.
In closing his campaign, AMLO said the PRI will never have enough money to buy the votes necessary to prevent his triumph. He reiterated his pledge to respect voters´ final decision on Election Day, but said his own polling concludes he and Nieto are tied.
President Calderón and former President Vicente Fox were also on display as campaigning came to a close. Calderón signed a law to protect human rights workers and journalists; and endorsed a constructional reform article that provides federal recognition of crimes committed against this newly protected class. For his part, Fox called the Calderón administration “regressive” for allowing poverty and unemployment to expand, and for failing to control organized crime. According to Fox, it was a mistake to allow soldiers onto the streets to combat cartels—the act facilitated “countless human rights abuses.”
As Election Day draws closer, doubt remains over how candidates from the PRD and PRI, which have been campaigning for 12 and 6 years, respectively (AMLO began campaigning for president as mayor of Mexico City, and Peña Nieto began a quiet, but determined crusade to win the presidency as governor of Mexico state) succeeded in influencing businessmen and other powerful interests to finance staff, events, materials, travel, and media coverage during non-sanctioned campaign periods. Many question the veracity of each candidates´ claim to be honest citizens without hidden agendas given these exceptionally long campaign periods.
Overseas ballots have also started to trickle in. The Federal Electoral Institute spent some $300 per overseas ballot, the most expensive in the world. Seventy-seven percent of registered Mexican voters live in the U.S., and smaller numbers in Canada, Germany, France, Spain, and England. Less than 50,000 overseas ballots are expected.
To close the election cycle, some 180 presidential and congressional ballots were stolen Wednesday in Chiapas State, only to be returned by an unnamed taxi driver who saw nothing. The affair, along with all the other posturing and drama, confirm this storm will likely become a tsunami on July 1. And that tsunami may last 6 years.
Juan Manuel Henao is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is a consultant based in Mexico City and former Mexico Country Director for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington DC-based not-for-profit democracy promotion organization.