Video Duration 25 minutes 30 seconds
From: Inside Story America

Mexico’s elections: Back to the future?

As Mexicans prepare to choose a new leader, what are the main challenges facing Mexico’s next president?

It is a brutal, bloody battle, that has left more than 50,000 dead, but Mexico’s presidential candidates have only made vague promises about the drug war. Why has the economy so roundly trumped security as an election issue?

The campaigning is over and on Sunday, the people of Mexico will choose their next president. It looks like a victory for Enrique Pena Nieto, the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s candidate.

Beyond my belief that the PRI may have changed, I really believe that Mexico has changed dramatically as a country, that the society has changed. And that this democratic transformation that has happened that caused the PRI to lose power in 2000 is much deeper than anything that one party controls. There are institutions of democracy in this country that are much stronger now than before.”

– Christopher Wilson, a programme associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center

This would also mean a return to power for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexico’s political powerhouse that became synonymous with corruption and vote-rigging until it lost its seven-decade grip on power in 2000.

Pena Nieto’s nearest challenger, the leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has closed the gap in recent months thanks, in part, to support from students’ groups. But it does not appear to be enough to steer one of Latin America’s most conservative voting countries in a different direction.

It is even more bleak for the ruling party’s candidate, Josefina Vazquez-Mota, who lags in third place. That is probably a reflection of the discontent with the chequered economic record of Felipe Calderon, the current president.

Mexico’s economy has been the number one topic in the campaign. But all three candidates have been vague when it comes to another of Mexico’s top issues: drug-related violence, which has killed more than 50,000 people since 2006.

Despite vowing to improve public safety, not one candidate has explained how they will tackle drug gangs and drug-related violence.

So, what would a return to a PRI-dominated government mean for Mexico’s democracy? And what are the main challenges facing Mexico’s next president?

Joining Inside Story Americas to discuss this are guests: Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research; Camilo Perez Bustillo, a Human Rights research professor in Mexico City; and Christopher Wilson, a programme associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

“There has been this wave of change, this Latin American Spring and that Latin American Spring has never really coalesced in Mexico. So what we see with this vote coming up, with this turning back of the clock, with this historic regression that would be the essence of Pena Nieto’s victory, is also Mexico turning its back on that wave of change. It’s a way of suffocating this emerging ‘Mexican Spring’ over the last few weeks, primarily led by young people, students, but increasingly broader sectors focused on the issue of media monopolies and the need for media democracy.

Pena Nieto may well win, and he may even win by a significant margin, but he is going to have his hands full with a popular movement that is rising with an agenda that is way beyond the elections. No matter who wins, they are going to have a big job in Mexico as the old system continues to collapse and as a new system struggles to emerge.”

Camilo Perez Bustillo, a Human Rights research professor in Mexico City


  • President Felipe Calderon launched the war against drug gangs in 2006
  • More that 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since 2006
  • 95 per cent of US-bound cocaine comes through Mexico
  • An estimated 12,000 people have been killed in drug violence in 2011
  • All presidential candidates say they would focus on ending the drug violence
  • All candidates say lower violence is more important than seizing drugs
  • All candidates say they would pull the Mexican army out of the drug war
  • Pena Nieto said he would focus on reducing homicide rates in Mexico
  • Vazquez-Mota said “results” would be measured in stable communities
  • Security is one of the top concerns of many Mexican voters
  • Obrador has criticised the militarised focus in the anti-drug aid from the US
  • 39.5 per cent of prospective Mexican voters say they will vote for Pena Nieto
  • The PRI governed Mexico for over 70 years before defeat in 2000
  • 24.1 per cent of prospective Mexican voters support Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
  • Obrador was the mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005
  • 19.9 per cent of prospective Mexican voters support Josefina Vazquez-Mota
  • Vazquez-Mota would be the country’s first female president if elected
  • There are roughly 77 million eligible voters in Mexico
  • All three main candidates say they want to accelerate economic growth
  • Standard & Poor’s: Mexico’s economic outlook will not change, no matter who wins the election