Mexico carried out gubernatorial elections in 12 of its 31 states on Sunday July 4. The results show a tendency toward the resurgence of the formerly dominant Revolutionary Institutional Party, but the PRI surge was not as strong as some expected.
And what this bodes for the next presidential election, in 2012, is now the subject of intensive debate.
The strategy of non-ideological alliances dominated this electoral cycle, as it has done other recent ones. On the one hand, the PRI, which pretty much ran Mexico under various names from the 1920s to 2000, went into the elections in a pact with the Green Ecological Party, in Mexico not a left-wing formation at all. Stranger than this was the fact that the three left leaning parties with electoral representation, namely the large Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) and the much smaller Convergence and Labor (PT) parties ran in an electoral bloc with the right wing National Action Party (PAN) of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. This was entirely an alliance of convenience (some would use another word). The PAN is committed to neo-liberal, free trade policies, and its right wing extreme tends toward clerical fascism. The PRD and its allies rail daily against neo-liberalism and free trade, as well as imperialism and everything that goes with it, and in some places have supported gay marriage and abortion rights. So the PAN-PRD-PT-Convergence was simply to block the PRI.
The results were decidedly mixed. Though the PRI won 9 out of the 12 governorships at stake, and took the governor's mansion in Zacatecas away from the PRD which had held it for a long time, they did not gain or lose in total number of governorships, and the three places they lost were important states:
The only clear victory for the left was the election of Gabino Cue, of the left-center Convergence Party, over Eviel Perez Magaña of the PRI, in the southern state of Oaxaca. The latter was the chosen successor of outgoing PRI governor Ulisis Ruiz, blamed by many for a regime of violence against dissident schoolteachers, indigenous people and youth that has wracked Oaxaca for a number of years now. Mexico does not allow any elected officials, including presidents and governors, to be re-elected.
The other two alliance candidates who won governorships on Sunday were both from President Felipe Calderon's right-wing National Action Party (PAN): In Puebla, by Rafael Moreno Valle, and in Sinaloa, by Mario Lopez Valdez.
A variety of issues drove the election, including the public perception that President Calderon's heavy handed war against drug cartels is not working. The general impression that things have become radically unstable may have connected to a feeling that things were more safe and orderly in the old PRI days.
As to the strategy of the parliamentary left forces, namely to form alliances with the right wing PAN so as to block a reemergence of the PRI, they might give it some thought. In two of the three elections in which the PRI was defeated, the left-right alliance candidate who won was from the PAN, not its left wing PRD (Revolutionary Democratic Party), PT (Labor Party) or Convergence Party partners. So are these left-center parties not in fact strengthening their long-term enemy, instead of themselves, by these "alliance" tactics? Some in the PRD and in the independent left certainly think so; this has been a point of sharp contention, especially within the PRD, for several years.
The proof of the pudding will come in 2012, when the next presidential election will be held. The 2006 election was almost won by the left wing candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD; indeed, many Mexicans believe with some justification that the election was stolen by supporters of the PAN's Felipe Calderon. In the interim, the PRD has given the impression of losing strength due to its internecine strife. It will have a job to do to overcome internal divisions and come up with a candidate acceptable to all its factions and allies if it is to defeat both the PAN and the PRI in the 2012 presidentials.