The Politics of Mexico's
can expect the next two months of the campaign for the presidency
to be the most heated, Professor Denise Dresser said, in
an election that is arguably the most important for the country
in the last century. Professor Dresser was the last of six
lecturers in the Mexican Transitions series of events at
CLAS. She is a professor of political science at the Instituto
Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM)
and a visiting fellow at the Pacific Council, a research
institution affiliated with the University of Southern California.
She has been a political analyst for the past 12 years.
Dresser's talk fell on the day after the televised debate
in Mexico City among the six presidential candidates.
Polls showed that the leading opposition
candidate, Vicente Fox (PAN) won the debate, adding to the momentum that
has been building behind him in the last few months. According
to Dresser, he came
across as a statesman, reaching out to the other candidates and maintaining
control of the debate. In contrast, the PRI candidate,
Francisco Labastida, looked as
if was on the defensive, having to "claw his way to the top," Dresser said.
While slightly ahead of Fox in most polls (and way ahead of the other candidates),
the fact that Labastida is not leading by a larger margin is significant
country that has been ruled by the PRI for more than 70 years.
Fox was fortunate, Dresser said, because he always spoke after Labastida.
In the most cited exchange of the evening, Labastida listed all of
the names Fox
has called him during the race, including "shorty," "a queer," and "henpecked," commenting
how it offends Mexican families. In what Dresser deemed a brilliant response,
Fox said, "Someday I'll stop being crude, but you guys will never stop being
devious, bad governors and corrupt." With this, he got the best of Labastida,
in the opinion of most viewers. Fox further caused a stir -- particularly
in the Labastida camp -- by saying in a post-debate interview that he had
copies of Labastida's speeches before the debate.
The PRD candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas has "regressed to political
purism," Dresser said. During the debate he emphasized that a vote for him isn't
a wasted vote, as many Mexicans believe, but a way to push forward the Mexican
transition. He was ranked neck and neck with Labastida in some debate polls --
demonstrating how poorly Labastida did, Dresser said -- but is holding around
12 percent in general campaign polls. According to Dresser, lackluster support
for Cárdenas is a result of his record as the mayor of Mexico City, his
inability to be flexible in light of the Fox phenomenon, PRD infighting, and
the pressures of having to negotiate with other parties in the PRD's coalition.
Cárdenas believes that stepping out of the race to support Fox could
destroy the PRD and damage the left in Mexico, Dresser said. Regardless,
the party will
have to reconfigure itself after the election. Winning the mayorship in
Mexico City, also to be voted on July 2, may give the PRD a new lease on
During the lecture, Dresser traced the ebbs and flows of Fox and
campaigns. Fox's support slipped right after the PRI primary last fall and, according
to Dresser, the PRI assumed Fox would self-destruct and that other candidates
would insulate Labastida from him, or any particular candidate. Because of this,
Labastida became "the invisible man," complacent and out of the public eye. To
the surprise of the PRI and analysts, Fox stubbornly persisted, transforming
himself from "the Marlboro Man" to a statesman. He took a trip to Washington
DC. He now dons suits as often as he does his signature cowboy boots, demonstrating
to the Mexican people that he is presidential, and can be trusted. Fox
is currently leading Labastida in cities, and among young people and students;
ahead in rural areas -- by about 2 to 1 -- and with older voters. The votes
that are up for grabs, Dresser said, are those of 30- to 40-year-olds,
and in Mexico City.
Dresser used an article in the Mexican magazine Milenio to exemplify
strategy. With Fox in a suit on the cover, with the cover line "El Nuevo Vicente
Fox" (The New Vicente Fox), the piece portrays him as an atypical PANísta. According
to Dresser, Fox is now trying to court the left and PRD voters, assuming that
PAN voters have no other option but to vote for him. And so he says he's "a little
on the left" in the article, "offering neoliberalism with a democratic face," Dresser
said, while also trying to assuage fears of instability if the PRI is ousted
from the executive branch. Throughout his campaign, he has shown himself
to be anything but a traditional PAN candidate. While he pays lip service
to the PAN
and worked to become their candidate, it is also clear that he is a flexible
and independent thinker. He has said that he would have a pluralist cabinet
-- making analysts think it may be difficult for him to negotiate with
the PAN on
policy issues if he becomes president. According to Dresser, whoever governs
Mexico will have to govern down the center. She mentioned that even Labastida
may appoint a pluralist cabinet if elected.
Dresser outlined two possible scenarios come July 2, the day of the election.
In the first, Labastida would win by a small margin leaving Fox with the option
of challenging the results -- something he has vowed to do if Labastida wins
by three points or less. It is unclear if PAN and PRD officials would support
him in anything other than a legal challenge to the election. For example, if
the PRD wins the mayorship of Mexico City, it is unlikely they would take to
the streets with Fox. According to Dresser, a victory by Labastida is more likely
to happen if the U.S. economy falters. She also said that media will play a significant
role in the outcome: While the amount of coverage is currently equal between
the two main candidates, the quality of that coverage is not. Three of five media
references to Fox are negative, she explained.
In Dresser's second scenario, Fox would win by a small majority,
but the PRI would maintain their majority in Congress. Fox has said
would welcome this
dynamic, having worked with a PRI-controlled legislature as governor of
Guanajuato. Analysts fear, however, that this could lead to stalemate.
It would change
the face of the PRI certainly, forcing a new cadre of leaders to
to Dresser, the deficit of leadership is what has led to the only moderately
popular Labastida being the PRI candidate. If a shake-out occurred in the
PRI, many officials may turn to the PRD or PAN.
Dresser concluded by addressing the issue of Mexico's transition. Many political
analysts consider the transition to have occurred because of the nature of this
election. To Dresser, however, the transition will only be complete when a non-PRI
president is in power. Only then will the pace of change increase in Mexico.
The next two months, Dresser said, will be the "bloodiest" of the election. Now
that the PRI has recognized Fox as the enemy, they have stepped up the pressure
both to assure Labastida's win and Fox's defeat. And, according to Dresser, if
the PRI considers you to be the enemy, "your life can be nasty, brutal,