The Mexican Election: Not Yet a Done Deal


They’re still counting, or re-counting, the votes in Mexico. Enrique Peña Nieto of the once-all-powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was (probably) elected the country’s next president this past Sunday with about 38% of the vote. The candidate of the leftist three-party alliance led by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), received about 32% of the vote, and Josefina Vázquez Mota of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), the party that now holds the presidency, came in third with 27%. AMLO’s initial vote count was nearly a million votes higher than it was when he first ran for president in 2006 but because of a higher turnout, his percentage of the vote was smaller and the margin of his defeat was greater, 6% as opposed to only half a percent in 2006.

1097Peña Nieto Declares Victory Photo: Francisco Olvera

Despite AMLO’s (apparent) loss, the election left the PRD with several things to celebrate. The party won a resounding victory in the race for governor of Mexico City (PRD candidate Miguel Angel Mancera received some 63% of the vote); it won governorships in the states of Morelos and Tabasco; and it made significant gains in the congressional races, keeping the PRI from winning an absolute majority in either the Senate or the Chamber of Deputies, and positioning itself to become the country’s principal opposition party.

The results remain contested because AMLO has challenged them, alleging various kinds of fraud and demanding a total recount. He has demanded that all the packets of marked ballots be opened and all the votes be recounted. The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the independent government agency that oversees elections, says it will authorize the maximum number of packets to be opened as allowed and required by the law. As of this writing (Wednesday afternoon) it looks like IFE will grant about a 50% recount. AMLO’s party—officially the three-party coalition called the Progressive Movement—has demanded that all the voting packets be opened in order to “avoid popular mobilizations.”

Much of what AMLO is impugning now was known and denounced before the actual balloting took place. The Progressive Movement has challenged two different variations of vote buying: first, the documented deal between the Peña Nieto campaign and at least one of the two major television networks, Televisa, in which the network was paid to give favorable coverage to Peña Nieto and to create an unfavorable image of AMLO; second, the cash, supermarket vouchers, construction material, and domestic appliances given to people in (implicit) exchange for their vote. According to the popular wisdom here, all the parties took part in this buying of good will, though the PRI’s cash gifts were typically larger and its system better organized. The PRI’s gifts may have been greater because they had more money to spend, much of it of uncertain origin, and (it is alleged by both the PRD and the PAN) their expenditures were well in excess of legal spending limits.

The trouble is, none of can be resolved by a recount since it all took place before votes were cast. Further, there is a difference between a dirty, dishonest, purchased campaign and outright fraud. On the strictly legal level, outright fraud is all that López Obrador should be impugning. On the political level, the dirty and/or purchased campaign may be more troubling, but is harder to combat (see Citizens United).

There is little evidence—or perhaps what evidence there is has not been made public—of actual manipulation of the count within the polling stations. (There is evidence of violation of the secret ballot, but again, that will not show up on a recount.) The PRI’s dubious campaign strategies went into effect long before voters entered the voting stations and marked their ballots. What AMLO seems to be arguing for then, is the (very unlikely) annulment of the entire election. Short of annulment, he may be seeking to create and reinforce a public recognition (once again) that the process was illegitimate and that Enrique Peña Nieto, like Felipe Calderón before him, is an illegitimate (or “spurious”) president. This will weaken Peña Nieto’s mandate to govern, weaken his ability to negotiate with a party that doesn’t recognize his (or his party’s) legitimacy, and, given his lack of a congressional majority, increase his reliance on agreements with the right-wing PAN. At the same time, if the PRD refuses to recognize the legitimacy of a Peña Nieto presidency, it will deprive the party of the ability to play an effective oppositional role in Mexico’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies, and more generally, in Mexico’s political culture. 



For more from Fred Rosen's blog, "Mexico, Bewildered and Contested," visit

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