February 28, 2006


Could Mexico be heading for a coalition government without the PRI? (The Economist

Most polls for the presidential elections, due to be held on July 2nd, give Roberto Madrazo, the PRI's candidate and a former party leader, around a quarter of the vote, trailing both Felipe Calderón, PAN's candidate, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City and candidate of the centre-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Some polls put the two frontrunners neck and neck, while others have Mr López Obrador, for long the favourite, maintaining a slight lead.

A few trends are clear, however. The first is that Mr Calderón—who was not Mr Fox's choice as PAN's candidate, but came from behind to win the party's primaries—is on the upswing. The second is that Mr Madrazo's campaign has gone into a downward spiral. The series of scandals that have rocked the PRI, coupled with Mr Madrazo's lack of appeal to voters, have led most members of even his own party to doubt he can win. [...]

What is perhaps surprising is that there is little of substance at stake in the elections. Even with rivalry developing between centre-left and centre-right parties, ideology has little importance. “It will not be an election decided on policy proposals,” Manuel Camacho, a close adviser to Mr López Obrador, says firmly. That is because all three candidates not only agree on what the main issues are—the economy and crime—but also largely agree on what needs to be done: stimulate growth and get tough on criminals. So the election has become primarily a contest of credibility: who can be trusted to follow through best on proposals that are basically quite similar?

But the very consensus on the issues means that this election could bring about the sea-change in Mexican politics which many voters had hoped for when they elected Mr Fox. Under his minority administration, change did not come largely because he was unable to persuade a divided Congress to pass much of his legislation. Now both Mr Calderón and Mr López Obrador have begun talking openly of persuading some PRI deputies to form a governing coalition. Mexico is in sore need of structural reforms on many fronts: the tax system, the energy sector (Pemex, the state oil monopoly, currently accounts for over one third of government revenue), the justice system, education and pensions, to name only those areas most in need of overhaul. If a coalition were formed, it might just be possible that the next president, be he Mr Calderón or Mr López Obrador, could push such changes through Congress. If so, whatever the outcome of the campaign, Mexico could end up as the real winner.

And reform and optimism for the future would release some of the external pressure driving our immigration, though the internal forces -- the demand for cheap labor -- would remain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 28, 2006 9:15 AM

And with all those acres of sunny land in the Sonoran desert, Mexico should have no problem weaning itself from oil to lead the way in solar energy.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at February 28, 2006 12:18 PM