Mexico's 2012 Elections

From Uncertainty to a Pact for Progress

At the beginning of 2011, security defined the U.S.-Mexico relationship, and it was the issue that most observers thought would shape Mexico’s 2012 presidential, state, and local elections. Only two of Mexico’s three main parties, the National Action Party (PAN) and Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), had well-known positions on security and on themes such as economic liberalization, rule of law, and reform of the energy sector. It was thought that another PAN government might try to achieve additional, though limited, progress on those issues, while the PRD would try to roll back achievements of the past 12 years of PAN government. What the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) might do if it returned to Mexico’s presidential palace, Los Pinos, presented a quandary.

Surprisingly, the candidate who became the early frontrunner—Enrique Pena Nieto—spoke in generalities about his positions until he was elected. Yet his promises of change tapped into other public concerns. These included the slow economic growth, inefficiency and corruption in the energy sector, and the poor quality of Mexico’s public schools. While the electorate did not want the prolonged bloodshed associated with the PAN’s approach to battling criminal organizations, it also rejected the leftist populism advocated by the PRD and other leftist parties. During the run-up to the July 1 vote, cartel violence began to subside, and the economy improved slowly, which allowed space for discussions of sectoral reforms.

After the election, changes began to occur. A labor bill that Calderon introduced in the new Congress passed both chambers largely intact with the new president-elect’s support, setting the stage for multipartisan cooperation. Similarly, in December, Congress enacted a constitutional change in education, and a supermajority of states seems destined to approve it. It remains to be seen whether that sense of compromise among Mexico’s three dominant parties will prevail for other key initiatives, including telecommunications, taxes, energy reform, and public safety. Yet, where there was uncertainty about the course Mexico would take leading up to the 2012 elections, the new administration has committed itself to the principles of effective government, with public opinion playing a supporting role.