Katie Putnam and Eric Olson, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 8/29/2011
There were two stories this past week with potentially large impacts on the 2012 elections. The first was the unfolding scandal and allegations of mishandling of government finances in Coahuila during the time when Humberto Moreira (PRI) was governor. Moreira is now the president of the PRI, a party seeking to shed its image as an old-style, corrupt institution in favor of a party that has transformed itself in time to win elections in 2012. Secondly, public outrage and calls for government resignations after the horrifying attack on the Casino Royale in Monterrey suggest that President Calderón and his party (PAN) face a difficult political environment as they prepare for the 2012 presidential election, which may turn into a referendum on Calderón’s security policies and frontal assault on organized crime.
Humberto Moreira, the PRI president, has been criticized for both dramatically increasing Coahuila’s state debt while the governor, and for allegedly falsifying documents to creditors and to the federal government. According to Finance Ministry data, the state’s financial obligations rose from 323 million pesos to 8.5 billion pesos during Moreira’s six-year tenure. A senior local PRI official revealed that it actually might be as high as 34 billion pesos.
In addition to the financial ramifications, these assertions could undermine the PRI’s efforts to improve its image as a modern and reformed party. Though potential presidential candidates Enrique Peña Nieto and Manlio Fabio Beltrones both defended Moreira, dismissing the allegations as “political,” the general response from the party has been tepid. Columnist Ricardo Alemán observes (translation by Gancho Blog):
“In the opinion of not a small number of priístas- of all sizes and from all wings- Humberto Moreira has turned into a stain for the PRI, above all in the moments when he needed to demonstrate that it is a modern, democratic, and transparent party, distanced from the cheating and swindling.”
As we watch the see the fallout of this developing story, there are two other interesting pieces to follow. First, Beltrones will deliver his annual address (informe) as the president of the Senate on August 30th, and second, analyst León Krauze discusses which PRI is vying to return to Los Pinos in 2012.
Last week, Mexico was rocked by another horrifying example of violence perpetrated by organized crime in their seemingly endless thirst for money and willingness to stop at nothing to secure it. A number of armed gunmen attacked the Casino Royale outside of Monterrey, setting it ablaze in an apparent retribution for the Casino’s unwillingness to pay extortion money. An estimated 52 people were killed, as many women and children were trapped in the burning building in some cases because emergency exits could not be opened. A visibly angry President Calderón called the attack an act of barbarism and terrorism and declared a 3-day period of national mourning. Public outrage was such that some called for the resignation of the governor and mayor, Mexico’s public security secretary as well as the President himself.
While this is unlikely to happen, it suggests that President Calderón and his party (PAN) face a difficult political environment and uphill battle as they prepare for the 2012 presidential election, which may turn into a referendum on Calderón’s security policies and frontal assault on organized crime. The PAN’s primary challenge is to demonstrate real tangible progress on the security front in the context of truly horrifying events such as the assault on the Casino.
Within the party, the candidates continued to jostle for the edge. Santiago Creel is extremely confident about his prospects, telling the press that it is a reality, not a dream, that he will be sworn in as president in 2012. Alonso Lujambio commented that he too is optimistic about his chances.
Calderón acknowledged that Josefina Vazquez Mota, the head of the PAN delegation in the lower house of Congress, would be stepping down to run for president and wished her luck. Also in the past week, Ernesto Cordero dismissed the notion that he is the “official candidate,” or the preferred candidate of the Calderón government.
Most of the discussion this week within the PRD has been about the internal candidate selection process decision (see last week’s analysis), though two new stories are worth noting. First, PRD co-founder and elder statesman Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas urged the party to select a “winning candidate” for 2012.
Second, ITAM professor and political commentator Denise Dresser talks about the benefits and limitations of Marcelo Ebrard’s “chameleon” political personality. He is very pragmatic and a very good operator, Dresser argues, resulting extensive public works projects and the expansion of assistance to the elderly and single mothers. What he has not achieved, however, she stresses, are the harder challenges of changing the clientelistic nature of politics and the entrenched interests in the Federal District.