Could July 1 Elections Impact Mexico's Progress?
May 9, 2012
On Sunday, May 6, Mexican voters got a rare chance to compare presidential contenders Enrique Peña Nieto (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Democratic Revolutionary Party—PRD), Josefina Vázquez Mota (National Action Party—PAN), and Gabriel Quadri de la Torre (New Alliance Party—PANAL) in the first of two national televised debates. Rare indeed, as the major networks skipped the debate for a soccer match and regular programming, forcing viewers to go to cable or the Internet. Even at that, it was difficult to tell where the candidates stood on important issues, as they came with carefully prepared statements, answered only prearranged questions, and launched verbal attacks at each other.
This was sad, because important course changes for the next six-year presidential term will be determined on July 1 when voters head to the ballot boxes. And as Mexico borders the United States, what happens there will affect U.S. citizens in terms of security, economics, and politics.
Q1: How do the candidates differ on ways to tame Mexico’s rising levels of violence?
A1: So far, the candidates have offered mostly general solutions. The PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto touts a five-point plan to reduce violence: strengthen crime prevention, professionalize police, improve the efficiency of the justice system, modernize prisons, and focus efforts on communities where crime is greatest—with not much more detail than that. The PRD’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador advances the most comprehensive vision in creating a new federal police force that will take over security missions now under the armed forces and navy, establishing a single intelligence agency, and boosting social welfare programs. The PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota has a two-pronged approach to reduce violence by boosting employment and investing in culture-of-lawfulness programs and by seeking federal police reforms and legal reforms to strip government officials of their immunity from prosecution for corruption. PANAL’s Gabriel Quadri de la Torre seems to offer the least detail—promising only to address the causes of violence and fight against organized crime with the full force of state, armed forces, navy, and federal police.
Q2: Once energy self-sufficient, Mexico could be importing oil when wells managed by the state oil monopoly Pemex play out. Since Pemex funds 35 to 40 percent of the government’s fiscal budget, it lacks surplus resources to spend on exploration and maintenance. The impact on the economy, politics, and public security could be serious as output declines. How do candidates plan to tackle that?
A2: Peña Nieto’s approach is contradictory, having called for reforms such as allowing public-private partnerships, increasing investment in oil exploration, and boosting national capacity for refining and producing petrochemicals. Yet, he clings to the rent-seeking past, saying that petroleum should be used to enrich the country, create income for the state, and aid income redistribution. López Obrador clearly favors keeping Pemex and the electricity monopoly in government hands and advocates the continuation of fuel and electricity subsidies. He even said he would nominate PRD founder Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (son of President Lázaro Cárdenas who nationalized Mexico’s petroleum industry) to be Pemex’s president. Vázquez Mota wants to modernize Pemex and couches her privatization plan as learning from the experiences of other oil-producing nations such as Brazil, Norway, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Quadri de la Torre is the strongest advocate for privatization. He favors breaking up the Pemex monopoly, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and reinvesting the savings in education. He calls participation of the private sector in energy production “indispensable.”
Q3: Fifty percent of Mexico’s labor force is employed in the informal sector. In fact, Mexico has one of the highest levels of informality in the G-20. That is one reason why, especially during boom times in the United States, so many Mexicans have migrated north looking for work. How do the candidates see themselves helping underemployed workers become formal wage earners to build a more stable domestic labor force?
A3: Peña Nieto’s trump card is updating labor laws to increase business competitiveness, while respecting workers’ rights. Around that he is promoting scholarships and incentives for formal businesses to hire women, youth, and the disabled. In addition, he supports the creation of national advisory bodies on entrepreneurship and economic growth. López Obrador favors federal- and state-assisted job development programs, worker training programs, worker representation in administrative bodies of public and private corporations, and a parallel labor policy to protect migrant laborers.
Vázquez Mota’s approach is focused on labor reform. She is calling for more democratic, participatory, and transparent labor union management, as well as more flexible labor contracts. In addition, she favors government purchases from small and medium-sized businesses to spur their growth. Quadri de la Torre also favors labor reform and job training but adds strengthening the border patrol and customs forces to keep out contraband and corruption.
Bottom line: All candidates seem to be trying to get a sense of what the Mexican electorate wants. Of the three top-polling contenders, the PRI’s Peña Nieto is caught between recalling past policies and taking Mexico into the future. At this point, a Peña Nieto win would seem to result in a policy toss-up. The PRD’s López Obrador is more forward leaning on security issues, but policies on energy and the workforce clearly look to the past. The PAN’s Vázquez Mota is tepidly advocating some needed energy and labor reforms without trying to appear radical. At 36 percent, Peña Nieto has a 13-point lead over his nearest rival, who appears to be López Obrador (23 percent), according to a new poll. Vázquez Mota has slipped to third place with 22 percent, and Quadri de la Torre holds steady at 1 percent.
Stephen Johnson is a senior fellow and director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.