Reading the Candidates

Andrew Selee, Al Día: News and Analysis from the Mexico Institute, 1/18/2012


It is a worthwhile exercise to read the books that the Mexican presidential candidates have produced over the past two years.  Each gives a look into the perspectives and unique approach of the candidate – or at least what they hope to project to the Mexican electorate in the upcoming elections.

Enrique Peña Nieto’s book, México: la gran esperanza, Un Estado Eficaz para una democracia de resultados, is the most recent and the most complete one.  It provides a comprehensive proposal for a new PRI administration under his leadership, with the central thesis that Mexico needs to build an efficient and effective state to deal with its contemporary problems.  He addresses issues that range from energy reform, allowing public/private partnerships, to fiscal changes in order to raise revenue to political reform to build a majority-based government.  A cynic might note that the PRI has supported few of these efforts to date, and that the candidate himself stumbled badly in presenting the book at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, but the book itself is filled with impressive statistics and well-reasoned proposals.  It will be up to Mexican citizens to decide if they believe these proposals or the one who makes them.

Josefina Vázquez’s book, Nuestra Oportunidad: Un México para todos, is a set of interviews with 22 world leaders about Mexico’s challenges, and it contains a wealth of insightful material on Mexico seen from the outside.  The interviewees range in geographical and ideological place from Enrique Yglesias to Condeleezza Rice to Michelle Bachelet to Alvaro Uribe, and many of the chapters are worth reading simply for what these people have to say about Mexico’s future.  But for election watchers, the most interesting passages are in the introduction, where the candidate argues that Mexico needs a leadership that listens to and is inclusive of multiple points of view.  She addresses some of Mexico’s challenges with brief ideas about how she might tackle them – improving education, stimulating exploration in the energy sector, and improving competitiveness in the economy – but her main message appears to be that she is someone who can bring together diverse people to solve problems, rather than offering hard-and-fast solutions to specific problems.  Cynics will find this approach too wishy-washy and feel it lacks true substance, but she clearly wishes to position herself as an open-minded candidate that can bridge the multiple cleavages in Mexican politics and voters can judge if they believe in her ability to do it.

Finally, the earliest of the three books, published in 2010, is by Andrés Manuel López Obrador.  In this book, La Mafia que se adueñó de México… y el 2012, he argues that Mexico is run by thirty people who have an inordinate degree of influence and have bent the country to their will.  He identifies by name, in quite some detail, each of these people and the influence they have had.  Most are business leaders but a few are PRI and PAN politicians.  His basic thesis is that Mexico once had a strong, if imperfect, state, but that the state has now become weaker (since the late 1970s) and special interests have come to dominate.  Cynics will wonder if power has not actually become far more decentralized than he claims, with quotas of power distributed among business leaders, labor leaders, governors, and key politicians in each of the parties, and note that López Obrador himself is part of the many veto players who now dominate the country’s political scene.  However, it is up to voters to judge his thesis, and it clearly has found resonance with a sector of the electorate. More recently, López Obrador has tried to moderate this message a bit, appealing for a “Republic of Love” (una república amorosa) in a recent letter published in La Jornada.  This new thesis does not abandon the idea of a mafia of power, but does suggest he wants to govern for all Mexicans rather than just tear down the existing power structure, building on the ethical and moral strengths that exist within Mexican society.  As with the other two candidates, it will be up to Mexicans to judge both the message and the messenger.

None of the three books is sufficient to understand the candidates themselves, but they offer an important glimpse into their thinking and the arguments they want to make to be elected president in 2012.   It will be up to the citizens to decide which arguments – and which candidates – convince them.


Andrew Selee is Director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


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