President Fox's Center-Right P.a.N. Suffers Huge Losses in 2003 Midterm Congressional Elections

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, July 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

President Fox's Center-Right P.a.N. Suffers Huge Losses in 2003 Midterm Congressional Elections


President Vicente Fox's center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) suffered a stinging defeat in the 2003 midterm elections on July 6, with the party losing ground in the Chamber of Deputies and surrendering the governor's seat in Nuevo Leon state to the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

The PAN also suffered a major defeat to the PRI in the mayoral race in Monterrey and lost several important seats in the Mexico City legislative assembly (Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal, ALDF) to the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD).

The election results were viewed as a referendum against Fox's policies and his failure to meet the promises made during the 2000 presidential campaign, including a pledge to reduce crime, end corruption, and promote strong economic growth.

Voter discontent also evident in low participation

Some analysts said the disappointment with the government was aimed not only at Fox and the PAN, but also at the PRI and the PRD. This was evident by the low turnout, with only about 41% of registered voters casting a ballot, the lowest participation in 30 years.

Analyst Maria de las Heras, a specialist on public- opinion polls, said the numbers when compared with previous elections indicated that all the parties lost ground. She raised the concern that this trend would repeat itself in the 2006 presidential election. "[The parties] continue to ignore the implications of the results and have set their eyes on 2006 instead of attempting to understand the apathy and disillusion of the voters," said de las Heras, who heads the Demotecnia polling company.

In an interview, Fox acknowledged the need to take into account the voices of the nonvoters. "This silent majority of close to 60% is giving us a clear message, that we have to reach consensus through agreements," the president said in an interview after promising to work with the opposition parties in Congress.

The federal electoral watchdog (Instituto Federal Electoral, IFE) said elections were peaceful in most areas, although some violence erupted after some local residents prevented others from voting in the town of San Salvador Atenco in Mexico state and in some regions of Chiapas where residents are sympathetic to the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN).

San Salvador Atenco is famous for blocking the proposed new Mexico City airport in 2002 (see SourceMex, 2002-07-17). Residents of that community said they would not allow voting unless the government released some of their leaders, who were arrested after protests in 2002.

In Chiapas, communities sympathetic to the EZLN also prevented polling sites from opening, partly because of anger at Congress and the Fox administration for failing to pass meaningful indigenous-rights legislation. Congress diluted several provisions of an indigenous-rights bill, making the measure unacceptable to indigenous communities throughout Mexico (see SourceMex, 2001-05-02).

PRI becomes dominant party in Chamber of Deputies

The congressional elections will leave the PRI with a larger plurality in the Congress, but not a majority. The party, which, along with its coalition partner Partido Verde Ecologista Mexicano (PVEM), took 34% of the vote nationwide, will control 223 seats in the new Congress. The PRI total is a small increase from the 211 seats it held after the 2000 election.

The PRI victory might not have been possible without the coalition with the PVEM. While the PRI-PVEM's Alianza para Todos coalition received 34% of the vote, the PRI by itself took only 23% of the vote. This is seven percentage points less than the PAN. The PVEM obtained 13.4% of the vote nationwide and will be allocated 16 at-large seats, in addition to the district the PVEM won outright in Chihuahua.

The PAN took 30% of the nationwide vote and will control only 154 seats in Congress, a steep decline from the 206 seats it controlled after the 2000 election.

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