A crucial presidential election is coming up in Mexico. On July 1, more than 90 million Mexicans, some of whom reside abroad, will elect a president who, according to all surveys, will be center-leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who leads polls by more than 20 points.
Obrador is followed by Ricardo Anaya of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, that governed the country from 2000 to 2012, and José Antonio Meade of the presently governing and discredited Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
In 2000, Mexico elected Vicente Fox of the PAN, following 71 years of the authoritarian and quasi-monopolistic regimes of the PRI, which pretended to democracy. There were elections, but the PRI always won them.
The party’s demise began in 1968 with the efforts of various repressed social movements, and there was a crisis in 1988, when an opposition coalition of a democratic front led by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas seemed to win the presidency.
Yet the PRI government suspended ballot counting, citing a supposed failure of a computer system that was being used for the first time. It was called “the fall of the system” and, when the “flaw” was fixed a week later, Cárdenas’s lead had disappeared and the PRI candidate, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, was declared the winner.
Widespread protests ensued, but the government was adamant and the PRI continued in power, albeit weakened by the obvious fraud. Salinas made several concessions, giving governorships and lesser posts to members of the PAN and a few to the new Democratic Revolutionary Party, or P.R.D., which emerged after the defeat of Cárdenas.
Salinas opened the market economy, signed the North American Free Trade Agreement and, thanks to the panic generated by the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas in 1994 and the murder of the PRI candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, only four months before the election, the PRI regained the presidency.
With the loss of Colosio, Salinas named Ernesto Zedillo as the next president. After a few weeks in office, the Mexican economy collapsed, and Zedillo blamed Salinas. Their enmity continues to this day.
As a result, Zedillo had to make more concessions to democracy. An independent electoral institute was created and, in 1997, for the first time, there was an election for mayor of Mexico City, won by Cárdenas of the P.R.D.
The PRI pretty much disappeared politically in the capital city, and for the first time the national congress did not have a P.R.I. majority.
After the triumph of Vicente Fox in 2000, everyone thought the PRI would disappear and an era of real democracy would begin. Fox didn’t keep his promises to change the political system and bring the corrupt PRI to justice, however; instead, he made a deal with them, and lost a historic opportunity.
Given the collective disappointment, López Obrador emerged as the favorite in the 2006 election, but to everyone’s surprise, Felipe Calderón of the PAN won by a questionable margin of 0.56 percent. There were protests, but the election stood.
In order to legitimize his election, Calderón unleashed a so-called war against drugs, and called the army and navy into the streets. The most evident result was an immediate and exponential increase in violence across the country.
This allowed the discredited PRI to regroup around Enrique Peña Nieto, governor of the State of Mexico. Assisted by other PRI governors, he mounted a five-year television campaign that resulted in his winning the presidency in 2012, defeating López Obrador, who had run again.
Today there is even greater disillusionment, violence at every level and enormous evidence of corruption and impunity among Peña and his fellow governors, whom he presented six years ago as a “new PRI, no longer what it was.”
The Mexican people see renewed hope in López Obrador and his new National Regeneration Movement, known as Morena, which split from a weakened P.R.D. that had resumed the PRI’s corruption and clientelism.
Meanwhile, millions of Mexicans who live abroad—mainly in the United States—who want to have a voice in the election understand how political and technical maneuvers have prevented them from participating.
It is difficult to obtain the elector’s credential and ballot needed to vote by mail, and only about 180,000 out of 10 million potential voters will vote. This is a shame, considering that the movement to enable voting abroad began some 20 years ago.
Despite some experts warning that López Obrador’s populism is a setback and could lead to Mexico becoming like Venezuela, there are many who hope for positive change.
His dedication, honesty and desire to improve the country without the excessive ambition of traditional politicians who seek power for money’s sake makes this one of the most controversial and important presidential elections in the country’s history.
Victor Reyes is a translator, teacher and writer, and a native of Puebla, Mexico, with decades-long ties to the Light. He lives in Cotati. The Spanish-language version of this column is available at ptreyeslight.com.