The media rewrites history every day, and in so doing it often impedes our understanding of the present. Mexico’s presidential election of a week ago is a case in point. Press reports tell us that Felipe Calderón, the outgoing president from the PAN (National Action Party) “won the 2006 election by a narrow margin.” But this is not quite true, and without knowing what actually happened in 2006, it is perhaps more difficult to understand the widespread skepticism of the Mexican people as to the results of the current election. The official results show Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Neto winning 38.2 percent of the vote, to 31.6 percent for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and 25.4 percent for Josefina Vázquez Mota of the PAN. It does not help that the current election has been marred by widespread reports of vote-buying.
The media rewrites history every day, and in so doing, it often impedes our understanding of the present. Mexico’s presidential election of a week ago is a case in point. Press reports tell us that Felipe Calderón, the outgoing president from the PAN (National Action party), “won the 2006 election by a narrow margin”. But this is not quite true, and without knowing what actually happened in 2006, it is perhaps more difficult to understand the widespread skepticism of the Mexican people toward the results of the current election. The official results show Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto winning 38.2% of the vote, to 31.6% for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and 25.4% for Josefina Vázquez Mota of the PAN. It does not help that the current election has been marred by widespread reports of vote-buying. From the Washington Post: “‘It was neither a clean nor fair election,’ said Eduardo Huchim of the Civic Alliance, a Mexican watchdog group funded by the United Nations Development Program. “‘This was bribery on a vast scale,’ said Huchim, a former [Federal Electoral Institute] official. ‘It was perhaps the biggest operation of vote-buying and coercion in the country’s history.'”
Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) is poised to regain the power it lost 12 years ago after seven decades in charge of the country. The official quick count of a large sample of polling stations announced late on Sunday gave the PRI’s candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, around 38% of the vote and a lead of around seven percentage points over his nearest rival. “This Sunday Mexico won”, Peña Nieto said at his party’s headquarters in the capital to the strains of a popular mariachi song, accompanied by his soap opera star wife and children. “Mexico voted for change with direction,” he added. During his speech, the slick, telegenic former governor of the country’s most populous state was at pains to address fears that the return of the PRI would mean a return to the periodic authoritarianism, corruption and corporatist hubris that had characterised the party’s political hegemony for most of the last century. “Mine will be a democratic presidency. We are a new generation and there will not be a return to the past,” he said. “In today’s plural and democratic Mexico everybody has a place.”
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).
A secretive unit inside Mexico’s predominant television network set up and funded a campaign for Enrique Peña Nieto, who is the favourite to win Sunday’s presidential election, according to people familiar with the operation and documents seen by the Guardian. The new revelations of bias within Televisa, the world’s biggest Spanish-language broadcaster, challenge the company’s claim to be politically impartial as well as Peña Nieto’s insistence that he never had a special relationship with Televisa. The unit – known as “team Handcock”, in what sources say was a Televisa codename for the politician and his allies – commissioned videos promoting the candidate and his PRI party and rubbishing the party’s rivals in 2009. The documents suggest the team distributed the videos to thousands of email addresses, and pushed them on Facebook and YouTube, where some of them can still be seen. The nature of the relationship between Peña Nieto and Televisa has been a key issue in Sunday’s election since the development in May of a student movement focused on perceived media manipulation of public opinion in the candidate’s favour. Televisa refused to comment on the specifics of the documents but denied suggestions it had favoured the PRI, saying it had done political work for all the major parties.
Only 12 years ago Mexican voters kicked out the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had ruled for seven decades through a mixture of consent, co-option, corruption and coercion. Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola salesman who defeated the PRI, brought high hopes that his country would match the economic promise of the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), between Mexico, the United States and Canada, with a correspondingly vibrant democracy. Yet unless the opinion polls are wildly wrong, Mexicans are about to vote the PRI back to power on July 1st, in the person of Enrique Peña Nieto. Aged 45, the telegenic Mr Peña cuts a seemingly fresh figure, with his team of bright technocrats from the world’s best universities. Yet he is a scion of the PRI’s most retrograde regional political machine. His allies include several old-fashioned caudillos, and his opponents say (though he denies) that he has engaged in old-fashioned practices, such as buying favourable television coverage (see article). Why is Mexico poised to take this apparently backward step? The answer starts with the disappointments of the past dozen years of rule by the conservative National Action Party (PAN), first under Mr Fox and then Felipe Calderón. Buffeted by Chinese competition and then by the American recession, the economy grew at an annual average rate of just 1.8% between 2000 and 2011. Poverty has edged up, not helped by the woes of the broader world economy. Lacking both a congressional majority and negotiating skills, neither president managed much in the way of structural reforms, leaving more or less intact the PRI’s legacy of public and private monopolies that stifle the economy and the education system. Mr Calderón chose to make security and battling powerful drug mafias the centrepiece of his presidency. Yet, with 60,000 dead, Mexicans are tiring of a “drug war” they at first supported.
With less than a month remaining before the Mexican elections on July 1, just as the gap between the candidates is beginning to show signs of narrowing, the tone of the race is sharpening. The leftist candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, warned that the war against him has already begun, just as in 2006, although he believes that this time, the attacks against him will fail. From Michoacan, Lopez Obrador denounced the increased attacks by his opponents, who are trying to counteract his gains in the race, seen in the results of the most recent polls.
Mexico’s leftwing presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has called on Enrique Peña Nieto, the current favourite to win the election on 1 July, to come clean about the alleged purchase of favourable coverage on Mexico’s biggest television network. His comments came a day after the Guardian published documents implicating the Televisa network in the sale of news and entertainment content to promote Peña Nieto’s national profile when he was the governor of Mexico state and preparing his presidential bid. “They should hand over all the information, the contracts, that they haven’t wanted to show,” López Obrador told reporters. “Of course they have them, and we need to see how much they paid, for what kind of message, and if they include all the promotion of Peña Nieto on the television.” López Obrador, who represents a coalition of leftist parties called the Progressive Movement – and who in the past has also been criticised for failing to release details of his own publicity budget – said he wanted to study the documents before saying anything more. López Obrador did not mention the PowerPoint presentation mentioned in the Guardian story that detailed an apparent strategy within Televisa to destroy his first bid for the presidency in the 2006 election.
With a month to go until the presidential election, Mexicans switching on their televisions and radios can hardly avoid the candidates vying to win their votes on July 1st. In a country with more televisions than refrigerators, dominating the airwaves is crucial to being elected. But ownership of the broadcast media is highly concentrated. Most people get their news through free-to-air television, a duopoly shared by Televisa and TV Azteca. Televisa, with about 70% of the audience, is forever associated in the public mind with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for seven decades until 2000. In 1990 the network’s chief commented that it was “a soldier of the PRI”. Many suspect that the media are still for hire: Reforma, a newspaper, published receipts last month suggesting that Enrique Peña Nieto, the PRI’s presidential candidate, during his six years as governor of Mexico state spent about $3m for journalistic “mentions” as well as $90m on public information. Mr Peña says the payments were all for legitimate publicity.