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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mexico’s 2012 Elections

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

U.S. policy makers have closely followed the 2012 elections in Mexico, a key ally with whom the United States shares a nearly 2,000-mile border and some $450 billion in annual bilateral trade. On July 1, 2012, Mexico held federal (presidential and legislative) elections. Turnout reached record levels as 63% of eligible voters cast their ballots. Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) conducted the elections with the oversight of the Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPFJ). Some election observers asserted that vote-buying and other irregularities marred the electoral process, while observers from the Organization of American States generally praised IFE’s handling of the elections. After considering all legal challenges to the results, the TEPFJ found insufficient evidence of vote-buying to warrant an annulment of the vote. The Tribunal declared Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor of the state of Mexico, president-elect on August 31, 2012. Peña Nieto will take office on December 1, 2012.

The centrist PRI that governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000 not only retook the presidency after 12 years of rule by the conservative National Action Party (PAN), but also won a plurality in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. In the presidential contest, Enrique Peña Nieto captured 38.2% of the vote, followed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) with 31.6%, Josefina Vázquez Mota of the PAN with 25.4%, and Gabriel Quadri of the National Alliance Party (PANAL) with 2.3%. The narrow margin of Peña Nieto’s victory, coupled with the fact that López Obrador has refused to recognize the election results, could complicate the transition period. And, while PAN President Felipe Calderón has pledged to work with the incoming administration, his party has joined the PRD in calling on authorities to investigate whether the PRI used any illicit finances to fund Peña Nieto’s campaign.

Polls predicted that the PRI might also capture a simple majority in one or both chambers of the Mexican Congress, a feat not accomplished since 1994. The PRI and the allied PVEM party failed to capture a simple majority in either house. As a result, the PRI will have to form crossparty coalitions in order to pass key reforms, particularly those requiring constitutional amendments. The PRI will most likely find support from the PANAL and possibly the PAN, which lost seats in the Chamber but retained a powerful bargaining position. The PRD-led coalition, which will now have more seats in the Chamber than the PAN and remains the thirdlargest force in the Senate, could complicate some reform efforts, including those aimed at increasing private participation in the energy sector, a key priority for Peña Nieto.

Some Members of Congress may be concerned that the leadership changes resulting from the July 1, 2012, Mexican elections will significantly impact U.S.-Mexican relations, particularly now that the party controlling the presidency has changed. However, few analysts are predicting that the transition from PAN to PRI rule will result in seismic shifts in bilateral relations. Enrique Peña Nieto has sought to reassure U.S. policy makers that his Administration will continue to combat organized crime, while also striving to reduce violence in Mexico. He also aims to increase bilateral and trilateral (with Canada) economic and energy cooperation.

This report provides an overview of the parties and candidates who competed in the Mexican federal elections with a focus on the presidential contest, recaps the election results, and discusses some potential implications of the elections for U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, North American economic integration, and U.S. energy security.

Date of Report: September 4, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R42548
Price: $29.95

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