Between May 16th and July 4th, there will be elections to renew 12 governorships, 15 state legislatures via 309 seats, and 1,533 mayorships. The elections will be a testing ground for the country’s largest political forces as they try to reposition themselves ahead of the 2012 Presidential elections. For the PRI the upcoming elections are strategically important as these will define the party’s prospects to recapture the Presidency. For the PAN and the PRD the upcoming elections are vital as a matter of survival. Ahead of the elections, the most glaring issue is the intention of the PAN and the PRD to form alliances to face the PRI and curtail this party’s prospects in the ballot of several states.
The upcoming elections are highly relevant in a number of ways:
The elections will bring to the polls 40% of the country’s voters—that is 31.2 million out of 77.7 million who are registered to vote. Naturally, parties will concentrate their efforts on those states with the highest number of voters and economic development.
Nine of the 12 states that are participating in gubernatorial elections are currently governed by the PRI: Chihuahua, Durango, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz. But there are two governed by the PAN (Aguascalientes and Tlaxcala) and only one by the PRD (Zacatecas).
In a scenario where the PRI maintains the states that it currently governs and increases its number of seats in state legislatures as well as in some key municipalities, this would suffice to consolidate its political strength nationwide and greatly improve its prospects of winning the 2012 Presidential race.
The Big Picture
The PRI is currently the dominant political force at the state and local levels with leadership in 19 out of 32 states. In contrast, the PAN only holds seven gubernatorial chairs, while the PRD governs six states including the Federal District. The current distribution gives the PRI an important advantage over its adversaries.
Considering the results of past elections for governorships and state legislatures, the PRI seems poised to obtain great victories in the following states: Tamaulipas, Puebla, Durango, Chihuahua, Quintana Roo, and Hidalgo. The PAN is favored in Aguascalientes. Electoral preferences in other states are not so clearly defined at this point.
In 2009, parties had electoral races for six governorships of which the PRI won five by retaining Nuevo Leon, Colima, and Campeche, and by taking San Luis Potosi and Queretaro from the PAN. The PAN only won the governorship of Sonora which it took away from the PRI.
Aside from the mid- to long-term implications of the upcoming elections, results will have significant ramifications in the short-term. As we advanced in our report “Five Key Political Risks,” a landslide victory of the PRI over the PAN would strip President Calderon of important political capital thereby impairing his ability to negotiate balanced deals with the PRI and operate effectively at the local level.
The PAN and the PRD are currently discussing the possibility of running together to compete against the PRI in several states. As of now, alliances for a common gubernatorial candidate have only been approved in Durango, but it is very likely that similar alliances could be announced in the next few weeks for Puebla, Oaxaca, and Hidalgo.
Without entering into much detail regarding these alliances, as each one would require a separate analysis, this unexpected decision should be merely regarded as a political calculus to counter what otherwise would be a near certain defeat for both of these parties.
This decision by the national leadership of the PAN and the PRD has been subject of widespread criticism, and it has already created internal conflicts that relate to ideological considerations. Outside the parties, the bulk of criticism both from the media and academia revolves around the difficulty to unite the interests of a right wing, conservative party with those of a leftist, liberal party which is antagonistic in many cases. Nevertheless, these alliances have also caused a great deal of anxiety among some of the PRI leaders, who in response have threatened to block initiatives in Congress.
The successful completion of electoral alliances between the PAN and the PRD almost certainly will increase competition in several states, but also rivalry between the governing party and the PRI at the national level. Given the PAN’s poor prospects and lack of options, it is likely that the party will once again confront the PRI over the latter’s corrupt past in hopes of differentiating itself. This strategy could potentially polarize the political environment and negatively affect deals in Congress between both parties at a crucial time to advance the reform agenda.
Cartels Meddling in Elections
Ahead of the elections, electoral officials have expressed fears that the country’s drug cartels will try to influence the elections via campaign resources, corruption, or even intimidation and extortion. Given the PRD’s recent experience in Michoacan, where one of its candidates who won a seat in federal Congress was accused of having ties with the cartel La Familia Michoacana, it is foreseeable that party committees as well as electoral authorities will place renewed emphasis on investigating prospective candidates.
A number of critics of the Mexican political system often refer to an incomplete democratic transition whereby the power of the Mexican Presidency has been reduced while governors have acquired near feudal powers along with great discretion in the use of resources. At the same time, given the strong correlation between states dominated by a particular party and electoral victories at the federal level, state elections have become all the more important.
Thus winning a state election not only implies budgetary resources and logistical advantages, but also improves the outlook for a party to do well in the upcoming Presidential and federal Congressional elections in 2012.