Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Can Vázquez Mota Win Mexico’s Presidential Election?

by Shannon K. O'Neil
February 9, 2012

Vazquez Mota celebrates after winning the primary election to be the National Action Party's candidate for president, in Mexico city. (Edgard Garrido/Courtesy Reuters). Vazquez Mota celebrates after winning the primary election to be the National Action Party's candidate for president, in Mexico city. (Edgard Garrido/Courtesy Reuters).

I wrote a piece on Vázquez Mota and what it means for the Mexican election for Foreign Affairs entitled “Vázquez Mota and the 2012 Mexican Election”. In it I argue that she has the potential to upend the presidential race, but only if she can raise her profile and generate enthusiasm in the all important female vote (over half of the electorate). Here is an excerpt:

Last Sunday, Mexico’s incumbent National Action Party (PAN) chose its presidential candidate: Josefina Vázquez Mota, who won the party’s primary to become the first female presidential candidate from a major political party in Mexican history. But Vázquez Mota’s triumph was not a coup just because of her gender. She got the PAN nod (only party leaders, known as “militants,” actually vote in Mexican primaries), over President Felipe Calderón’s handpicked candidate, Ernesto Cordero. And Vázquez Mota’s victory was decisive — she took 55 percent of the vote to Cordero’s 38 percent. Despite their differences, President Calderón, her recent rivals, and the party quickly rallied behind her.

In the presidential election, which is set for July 1, Vázquez Mota will compete in a three-way race. The current front-runner is the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) Enrique Peña Nieto, the telegenic former governor of the state of Mexico; he maintains a twenty point lead in national polls. Voters like him because of his good looks, his fairytale family history (his wife died, then he married a soap opera star), and his public works largesse when in office. He also benefits from the partisan support of 19 of Mexico’s 32 governors. Not only will those governors endorse him, but they will boost Peña Nieto’s campaign with their abundant resources, ensuring widespread local media coverage, packed campaign rallies, and strong get-out-the vote drives. And then there is Televisa, Mexico’s largest media company, which has virtually adopted Peña Nieto; their camera crews are always close by and quick to flatter him.

It is Vázquez Mota’s place on the ticket, though, that has the potential to upend Mexican politics. Unlike her two challengers, who are linked to the old guard and old boys’ network, as a woman, Vázquez Mota can claim to be the mantle of change. And she can make that claim even against her own party, which has ruled the country for 12 years, a time of mediocre economic growth and increasing drug-related violence. Of course, as the first female candidate, her election would mark a definitive break with the past. But she also brings substantial political experience as a former minister of education and of social development and, most recently, as head of her party in the lower house. She also proved her knack for campaigning in the PAN primary debates where she outshone her competitors with her clarity and charm.

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