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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mexico’s 2012 Elections

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Given the close and complex relationship that the United States has with neighboring Mexico, the results of the July 1, 2012 Mexican elections are of interest to U.S. policy makers. As Mexico does not allow consecutive reelection for any office, the results of these elections could lead to significant changes in the country’s political landscape and the Mexican government’s approach to aspects of its relations with the United States. The top issues being debated in the Mexican presidential campaign—security, economic policy, and energy sector reform—are of crucial importance to Mexico’s future and of keen interest to Congress. The policies adopted by the next Mexican President will likely have implications for U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, North American economic integration, and U.S. energy security. The legislative elections are equally crucial, as they will likely determine how easily the next Mexican administration will be able to advance its agenda through the legislature.

The polls have tightened since mid-May 2012, but analysts are still predicting that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will retake the presidency after 12 years of rule by the conservative National Action Party (PAN). The PRI could also capture a plurality, and perhaps even a simple majority, in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. Mexico’s security challenges and continuing poverty have left many Mexicans disappointed with the PAN and nostalgic for the order and stability they remember under the PRI, despite the party’s past reputation for corruption and undemocratic practices. Recent scandals involving former PRI governors under investigation for corruption and money laundering, and a new student movement protesting, among other things, Mexican media conglomerates’ tendency to favor the PRI, have shaken up the race.

Despite the aforementioned developments, a plurality of voters continue to express support for PRI candidates for the Chamber of Deputies and PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor of the state of Mexico. According to several polls from mid-June, Peña Nieto, running in a coalition with the Green Ecological Party (PVEM), has a double-digit lead over his opponents. Roughly 15% to 20% of the electorate remains undecided, however, and constitutes a bloc of voters large enough potentially to tip the election toward one of the other candidates. Since late May, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City representing a leftist coalition led by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), has moved into second place in most polls ahead of Josefina Vázquez Mota, a former Minister of Education standing for the PAN. Gabriel Quadri, an environmentalist from the small National Alliance Party (PANAL) aligned with the Mexican teacher’s union, continues to trail far behind in the polls.

This report provides an overview of the parties and candidates competing in the Mexican federal elections with a focus on the presidential contest, followed by a discussion of key issues in the campaign that could have implications for U.S.-Mexican relations. It will be updated after the election results are tallied. For background information on Mexico and U.S.-Mexican relations, see CRS Report RL32724, Mexico: Issues for Congress, by Clare Ribando Seelke and CRS Report RL32934, U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications, by M. Angeles Villarreal.

Date of Report: June 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R42548
Price: $29.95

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