On 27 November, the President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto led an event at Los Pinos, the presidential residence and office. There, he publicly accepted the resignation of the Minister of Finance, José Antonio Meade, and by the same token and without explicitly saying so, appointed Meade as the ruling party’s presidential candidate for the 2018 presidential elections. The event equated to a modern version of the traditional “finger-pointing” process, the way in which presidents emanated from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (known by its Spanish acronym PRI) have chosen their successors.
The most remarkable fact about Meade’s selection is that he is not a long-standing PRI member (the PRI modified its bylaws last August removing the prerequisite that presidential hopefuls have at least 10 years membership of the party). Meade is not affiliated to the PRI and, in that sense, represents a break with party tradition. There are two primary reasons why the PRI selected an outsider: first, marred by corruption scandals which involved several PRI officials and state governors (including the president himself), it appears that the party was not able to find a candidate respectable or competent enough to guarantee the party an electoral victory. Second, Meade has a remarkable career as a public servant (he has served as ministers of Energy, Foreign Affairs, Social Development, and Finance – the latter under two different administrations) and in that sense, the PRI is putting on its ticket one of the most qualified men to effectively run the country.
But the devil is in the details. While it would seem highly desirable to have somebody of the caliber of Meade running the country, the question that lingers is—if elected president—whether he would dare to prosecute and bring to justice those PRI members (who hold or held public office) who have been accused of committing acts of corruption (including the president himself). Since that is highly unlikely, there will certainly be a shadow of doubt cast over Meade’s candidacy despite his remarkable professional credentials.
Over the course of the last six years, other Mexican political parties have tended to fragment. The left, embodied in the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), suffered a split in September 2012, when Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador lost the 2012 presidential elections and left the party to form his own, MORENA.
Independent candidates are a novelty in Mexico. Electoral reform in 2014 allowed citizens to contest for the presidency and other popular election positions (i.e. Congress) without the requirement of belonging to a political party. For that, they have to pre-register as an independent candidate and, to appear on the ballot, they need to comply with certain prerequisites: they need to gather 866,593 signatures (equivalent to 1 percent of the registered electorate) in at least 17 states (out of 32) within a period of 120 days. The National Electoral Institute has given a “green light” to 40 independent candidates for the presidency. Now, they are in the process of complying with the prerequisites listed above. Of these, it is likely that only a handful (two or three at the most) will fulfil the prerequisites and appear on the ballot. This type of fragmentation is only good news for the PRI, which will benefit from a fragmented electorate to rely on its hard voters and win the election (a plurality will do it, there is no ballotage in Mexico).
While the PRI and MORENA have already selected their presidential candidates, the PAN and the PRD are still yet to do so. In an unlikely and unprecedented move, the PRD (a party of the left) and the PAN (a part of the right) together with a third party (Movimiento Ciudadano) have decided to form an electoral alliance for the 2018 elections as a response to the challenge that both the PRI and MORENA pose for them. It remains to be seen how they will select their presidential candidate, how they will decide on candidates for other electoral positions, and especially how they will reconcile their opposing ideologies in the event they win the presidency or any other government posts.
It is still early to make an assessment, but recent polls show Lopez Obrador in the lead among potential presidential candidates. Lopez Obrador, former Mayor of Mexico City, will be competing in his third presidential election and his chances of winning are real if elections are clean and if he manages to convince the electorate that his government project is the best to fight corruption, crime, impunity, have economic stability and hold a firmer stance against the Trump administration.
In six months, it seems that Mexicans will face an election between a highly qualified public servant who may not be willing to hold accountable the very same system which put him on the verge of the presidency and a familiar opposition figure who has less governmental experience but with seemingly better intentions to fight the corruption and impunity that are at the core of the Mexican political system. The hard question that Mexican voters will face, then, is not only about capacity but also about morality. It remains to be seen what they will choose.