Ciudad Victoria, Mexico After a Super Sunday of elections across Mexico that was widely seen as a test for the 2012 presidential race and the nation’s future, the winner turns out to be — well, not really anyone.
President Felipe Calderon’s party is weak, the left is in collapse and the Institutional Revolutionary Party that is on a tentative path to recapture the presidency it held for 71 years was shown to be vulnerable. Drug cartel intimidation dissuaded many from voting at all.
The mixed outcome in elections across 15 states showed no party has won the faith of Mexicans desperate to bring their country out of a quagmire of economic stagnation and relentless gang wars that have killed more than 23,000 people since Calderon took office three years ago.
Calderon’s conservative National Action Party won not a single state on its own, and lost two it had held, according to results Monday, and needed desperate alliances with leftists to wrest strongholds from the old ruling party.
That party, known as the PRI, demonstrated it remains Mexico’s most important political force, winning nine of 12 governorships Sunday.
Still, that was no change from the number it had before the ballot. And its defeat in three longtime bastion states indicated many Mexicans are still repulsed by the party that ruled through patronage and corruption from 1929 to 2000 — a system that Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa once called the “perfect dictatorship.”
Sunday’s elections also displayed the intimidating power of drug cartels in the most embattled states. Only a third of voters showed up in the country’s most violent state, Chihuahua, where drug gangs strung four bodies from bridges on election day. Less than 40 percent voted in Tamaulipas, where gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre was assassinated last week.
It’s not where Mexicans thought they would be when National Action’s Vicente Fox ousted the PRI in 2000 and promised a new era.
“I still remember the celebration when Vicente Fox won the presidential elections 10 years ago. It was as if Mexico had won the World Cup,” Mexican political scientist Leo Zuckerman wrote Monday in Excelsior newspaper. “Where are we 10 years after the historic triumph of Fox?”
“I see multiple threats to democracy, which has not yet consolidated itself in Mexico. I think organized crime is the biggest challenge,” he said. “The stamp is very clear: crime has exercised its veto power over the power of the vote.”
The PRI, a party that was created by the nation’s rulers to tame the complex forces of the Mexican Revolution, was widely seen as doomed after its loss to Fox, and it was a battered afterthought in the 2006 presidential election, when Calderon narrowly defeated a resurgent leftist Democratic Revolution Party.
Four years later, Calderon’s approval ratings are slumping amid mass shootings, corruption scandals and kidnappings that remind Mexicans daily of the resilient power of drug cartels he has vowed to defeat.
“He has reverse coattails,” said George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. “The economy is quite weak … been on a binge.”
Democratic Revolution — the PRI’s biggest competitor for the working class vote — has largely imploded amid internal wrangling, four years after nearly winning the presidency. It lost the only state it controlled on its own among the 12 up for grabs Sunday.