Presidential Elections in Mexico: Tough Campaign, Tougher Challenges Ahead

By Daniela Stevens*

Andrés Manuel López Obrador stands at a microphone

Frontrunner candidate in Mexico’s 2018 presidential elections, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, speaks to the press. / ANDES / Micaela Ayala V / Flickr / Creative Commons

Campaigning for Mexico’s July 1 presidential election officially begins next week, and no candidate appears to have an insurmountable advantage over the others.  Polls vary, but Andrés Manuel López Obrador (MORENA) appears to be the frontrunner, with 35 to 44 percent of support.  He is followed by PAN-PRD coalition candidate Ricardo Anaya, who has between 24 and 31 percent of the vote.  The PRI candidate, José Antonio Meade, seems a third option, at about 20 to 26 percent, and Margarita Zavala, the only independent candidate who officially obtained registry, lags far behind.  It is too early to see if voters will base their decisions on party loyalty or on perceptions of the candidates.

  • López Obrador (widely known by his initials, “AMLO”) has broad name recognition – 84 percent of Mexicans are familiar with him for better or for worse – but Anaya, Meade, and Zavala have an important opportunity to build new images and attract voters. Indeed, AMLO sometimes seems to be in a race against himself; his rhetoric is often harsh, and his disregard for international free trade alienates a large sector of the business world and the media.  His mixed signals regarding a “review” of the contracts made in conjunction with energy reforms have fostered distrust and uncertainty.
  • Ricardo Anaya’s strategy appears likely to be open confrontation with PRI candidate Meade, aiming to attract PRI voters who see him as the candidate best positioned to prevent an AMLO victory. Anaya’s focus has been on winning the endorsement of key figures in states that constitute large electoral strongholds, such as Jalisco.  However, Anaya’s alleged involvement in a money laundering scandal stands to undermine his support.   PRI Secretary General Claudia Ruiz Massieu tried to tar him in an international context last week by giving the OAS a file with evidence she claimed substantiates the charges against him.  Anaya has cried foul.
  • José Antonio Meade, a highly skilled and seasoned technocrat associated with both PRI and PAN presidencies, is being held back by his association with the very unpopular incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto. He is trying to cast himself as a PRI “sympathizer,” rather than as a party “militant” responsible for recent years’ weak performance.  To distance himself from his party’s image of electoral fraud, corruption, and crony capitalism, he has emphasized his commitment to transform the PRI.  The party is cooperating, framing him as a “citizen candidate.”

While candidates are immersed in the customary personal attacks against each other, violence appears to be playing into electoral politics with renewed intensity.  The Second Report of Political Violence in Mexico, prepared by the risk assessment firm Etellekt, documents 141 attacks against politicians and public servants since the start of the pre-campaign period last September.  Over 50 of these attacks have been assassinations of officials, incumbents, and candidates at all levels of government.  Violence is worst in Guerrero, Veracruz, the State of México, and Puebla, all states with significant organized crime.

Public insecurity is certain to join organized crime, corruption, inequality, and redistribution of income as central in the Mexican landscape as elections approach, and each candidate will pledge to make those issues his or her top priority.  As in other Latin American countries, the election also appears likely to signal the deepening discredit and low representation of the traditional party system.  Voters could very well select a candidate who, while not an outsider, presents him- or herself as committed to attacking the corruption of the major parties.  While running on a law-and-order slate, the candidates will also likely promise new approaches on the “war on drugs” that, led by both PAN and PRI, has devastated the country – with little or no prospect of avoiding the same pitfalls as predecessors.  Winning the election on July 1 will not be easy for any of the declared candidates; governing once in office will be even harder.

March 23, 2018

* Daniela Stevens is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science in the School of Public Affairs at American University.

Brazilian Presidential Election: Challenging a Divided Society

By Luciano Melo

Dilma Rousseff | Photo credit: Office of Governor Patrick / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Aécio Neves | Photo credit: Agência Senado / Foter.com / CC BY-NC Marina Silva | Photo credit: BrasilemRede / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Dilma Rousseff | Photo credit: Office of Governor Patrick / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
Aécio Neves | Photo credit: Agência Senado / Foter.com / CC BY-NC
Marina Silva | Photo credit: BrasilemRede / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The Brazilian presidential elections are nine months off, but President Dilma’s adversaries are starting to present more clear and consistent visions of their values and positions.

  • Aécio Neves, from the main opposition PSDB, was a successful governor of the state of Minas Gerais and is currently a well-respected senator in Brasilia.  But his party has long suffered from “oppositional apathy” – the inability to position themselves as a real alternative.  This weakness appeared when former Ministry of Health José Serra was the party’s candidate in 2010.  Now, in opposition to the highly criticized welfare state represented by Dilmas’s Workers Party (PT), Neves has been defending a liberal (or more libertarian) state that will not stand in the way of people’s initiatives.
  • On the other side of the spectrum is the unlikely coalition represented by a former senator and minister in the Lula administration, Marina Silva.  She is a leader of the PSB party, and she earned a strong reputation for fighting for environmental protection alongside assassinated Brazilian hero Chico Mendes and for resigning as Minister of Environment over disagreements with the PT policies.  Marina Silva brings a certain gravitas and edge to the alliance, which, as a former ally of PT, has never differentiated itself well as a real competitor.

Neves and Silva are seen as possible game changers, but no one is under the illusion that it will be easy to surpass Dilma.  Her popularity has been steadily increasing since she stood up against the NSA’s spying activities, and she still benefits from the PT’s popular welfare policies.  The latest polls show that 67 percent of Brazilian Facebook users disapprove of the current government, but Dilma’s primary support remains from the poorer states located in the Northern and Northeastern regions, where the main beneficiaries of PT social programs live.  Neves is the clear representative of the frustrated middle class that was behind large protests in July, and it is behind the current social media campaigns attacking Dilma and the corruption perpetrated by PT’s leaders.  Marina Silva and coalition leaders, also representing those regions, would have to strategically target swing voters in order to obtain a larger margin in the next elections.  At this early moment, Dilma seems to have a good chance of obtaining a second term – but leading a highly divided society, with a middle class unwilling to accept excuses for poor results in the economy, education and security.