What is in an election? As Mexico gears up for Sunday’s presidential vote, much of the chatter has centred on the possible return of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) under Enrique Peña Nieto, its candidate and far-away favourite, according to opinion polls. And with little wonder: when the party finally lost power in 2000 after ruling for 71 consecutive years of pseudo democracy, many political analysts predicted that the party would shrivel and die as the country embraced a new, more pluralistic future. But let’s step back a moment from the constant questions of “will a PRI victory mean a return to the past?” and consider the political and economic stability that this election season offers investors compared with six years ago. Back then, investors were scrambling to put their business plans on hold as many doubted whether the centre-right Felipe Calderón could catch up with and overhaul the fiery front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftwing Democratic Revolution (PRD).
López Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City, scared the business world with his talk of greater wealth distribution and his opposition to energy reform and to opening the economy to greater international trade and investment. Indeed, his emphasis on a new Mexico that put the poor first reminded many international observers of Hugo Chávez, the radical leftwing president of Venezuela. López Obrador’s seemingly imminent victory appeared to be the missing piece in Latin America’s inexorable swing to the left. As a mark of how worried the business community was, Mexico’s ETF or exchange-traded fund tumbled 22 per cent from US$44 on May 9 to US$34 on June 27, less than a week before the vote.
How things change. Amlo, as López Obrador is often known, is in the running again. But his brash messages of social, political and economic change have largely been replaced by a discourse that promotes national unity and co-operation. More important, no recent poll gives him a realistic chance of beating the business-friendly Peña Nieto. The international context has shifted, too. With Fidel Castro of Cuba now old and out of the spotlight, and Chávez fighting a personal battle with cancer and a political battle at home stemming from high inflation and other maladies, the region’s left is no longer the force it was. Today’s more economically robust Latin America no longer even looks particularly leftwing.
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