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. The loss of so many seats means the center-right party will lose its leadership posts in the budget, state-reform, and energy committees in the lower house and its ability to block opposition lawmakers from overriding Fox vetoes of budget legislation.
The PRD was the biggest winner in total gain relative to 2000, thanks mostly to its overwhelming victory in heavily populated Mexico City. The PRD only took slightly more than 17% of the total vote nationwide but will control 96 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. This is double the number it had after the 2000 election, but well short of the 126 seats it held after the 1997 balloting. In that year, the PRD obtained 26% of the national vote.
The PRD's sweeping victory in Mexico City was attributed to the popularity of Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The party won 13 of the 16 delegate positions (equivalent to senate) and 37 of the 40 directly elected seats on the ALDF, with the party obtaining an overwhelming percentage of the vote in the capital. Still, the PRD victory also came amid sparse voter participation, with fewer than 45% of registered voters casting ballots.
Party leaders also raised concerns about the low vote received by the PRD outside of Mexico City and traditional strongholds like Michoacan, Zacatecas, Baja California Sur, and Guerrero. Analysts say the party will have to expand its base significantly or face difficulties in winning the presidency in 2006 even with a popular candidate like Lopez Obrador.
The PRD's weakness elsewhere was evident by the party's inability to field a viable candidate in any of the six gubernatorial races that took place on July 6. In addition, the party failed to win a single congressional election in 24 of Mexico's 31 states, with almost half its victories coming in Mexico City. "In at least 20 states--two-thirds of the country--the PRD has support levels ranging between 1% and 15% and is therefore not an electoral option," said Juan Guerra, who resigned as PRD secretary for electoral affairs.
Guerra said the PRD will not increase support in those states unless it changes its image as a party that is rigid and divided among several factions.
Former presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, one of the founders of the PRD, said the party received 3.7 million fewer votes than in the 1997 midterm election. "This is a very worrying trend," said Cardenas.
PAN takes a beating in Nuevo Leon elections
For the PAN, losing strength in Congress was not as big a blow symbolically as the huge loss in the gubernatorial election in Nuevo Leon state. A large share of the PRI vote may have been a backlash against Gov. Fernando Canales Clariond, who raised electricity rates, promoted questionable public-works projects, and took other actions that alienated voters.
PRI candidate Natividad Gonzalez Paras, who lost the 1997 election to Canales, won this year's race with more than 56% of the vote. In contrast, PAN candidate Mauricio Fernandez obtained only 34% of the votes cast.
The overwhelming vote for the PRI also allowed the party to oust the PAN from the mayoral seats in Monterrey and the nearby suburbs of Guadalupe and Santa Catarina. In addition, the PRI won 10 of the 11 federal legislative districts and 20 of the 26 state legislative races.
"The recovery of Nuevo Leon has enormous value for the PRI because of the state's economic importance," said nationally syndicated columnist Sergio Sarmiento. "This also confirms the capacity of the PRI to regain states it had lost to the opposition, as was the case with Chihuahua in 1998."
The PAN barely managed to retain the mayoral seat in Mexico's second-largest city of Guadalajara because of the poor campaign performance by the PRI candidate, who lost a lead that had been as high as 30 percentage points (see SourceMex, 2003-07-02). The PAN's weakness in the Guadalajara metropolitan area was demonstrated by losses to the PRI in the nearby municipalities of Tonala, Zapopan, and Tlaquepaque.
The state and local elections were not all bad news for the PAN because the party was able to oust the PRI from the governor's seat in San Luis Potosi. The party also retained the executive office in Queretaro even though the PRI was represented by high-profile candidate Fernando Ortiz Arana, a former federal senator.
Additionally, the PAN ran competitive races in the Sonora and Campeche gubernatorial elections, and could well pick up the governorship in Sonora. The Sonora race between Eduardo Bours of the PRI and Ramon Corral of the PAN was so close that the state election agency (Instituto Estatal Electoral, IEE) had been unable to certify a winner as of July 9. The IEE initiated a recount when only 80% of the ballots had been tabulated. "We will have to wait for the state legislature to decide the result," said Felipe Quintos Anaya, a researcher at the polling firm Mendoza Blanco y Asociados. Quintos said Bours and Corral both erred in relying too much on exit polls to declare victory.
At the municipal level, the PAN retained important mayoral seats in Cuernavaca, Leon, Hermosillo, and Queretaro.
Still, some analysts said the PAN's decline in this year's elections does not bode well for its chances in the gubernatorial races scheduled for 2004. The party lost strength in six of the seven states with gubernatorial races next year: Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Durango, Aguascalientes, and Zacatecas. The PAN did manage to pick up two federal districts in Veracruz.
The PRD, which currently governs Zacatecas and Baja California Sur, has a strong chance to retain those seats and to run a competitive race against the PRI in Oaxaca in the 2004 gubernatorial races. The center-left party swept the congressional races in Zacatecas and Baja California Sur.
New congressional leaders to feature familiar faces
Analysts agree the change in the composition of the Chamber of Deputies will force Fox to reach agreements with PRI and the PRD leaders on key reforms to the tax code, the political and electoral system, and the energy sector. The PRI already had a plurality in the Senate, which did not hold elections this year.
In a televised interview, Fox pledged to "redouble efforts" to reach agreements with Congress. "Now begins the era of consensus, of accords," the president said.
This means the president is not likely to pursue initiatives that ran into strong opposition in his first three years in office, such as the application of a value-added tax (impuesto al valor agregado, IVA) on food and medicines and an increase in private investment in the electrical sector (see SourceMex, 2001-04-18 and 2003-03-05).
Some PRI legislators say they would be willing to work with Fox on urgent reforms, such as that of the tax code. "It is urgent to implement a fiscal reform but without imposing an IVA on medicines and food," said PRI Sen. Alejandro Gutierrez.
Some party leaders in the Chamber of Deputies will be familiar politicians, many of whom served previously in the lower house or the Senate, according to an analysis by the Mexico City daily newspaper Reforma. Mexican law bars legislators from serving consecutive terms, but there is nothing to prevent politicians from returning to the Chamber of Deputies or Senate after sitting out a term or two.
A power struggle has already begun within the PRI delegation between supporters of party secretary-general Elba Esther Gordillo and Sonora ex-governor Manlio Fabio Beltrones, both of whom will fill a PRI at-large seat. Gordillo is closely aligned with PRI president Roberto Madrazo, prompting Beltrones to urge the PRI leader to "keep his hands off" the process to select the party's floor leader. The PRI leadership team is also expected to include Mexico state ex- governor Emilio Chuayffet and former federal deputy Roberto Campa.
The leadership selection should be less contentious among the other delegations. Reforma said the PRD's likely floor leader will be Pablo Gomez, who served in that role in 1997- 2000 and who is also a former PRD president. His leadership team is likely to include ex-federal deputy Saul Escobar; former senator Jorge Calderon; and Manuel Camacho Solis, who served as Mexico City mayor and foreign relations secretary under the PRI.
The PAN leader will almost certainly be Chihuahua ex- governor Francisco Barrio Terrazas, who left his post as federal comptroller earlier this year to run as one of the PAN's at-large candidates (see SourceMex, 2003-03-26). Barrio has no experience in the federal legislative arena, but his team will probably include former federal legislators Juan de Dios Castro and German Martinez.
The PVEM, the Partido del Trabajo (PT), and the Partido Convergencia por la Democracia (PCD) will also have small delegations in the lower house. Five other parties did not obtain the required 2% of the vote nationwide and will lose their registration. One of those parties is Mexico Posible, which attempted to gain support through a high-profile campaign of opposing the involvement of Mexico's Roman Catholic bishops in the election (see SourceMex, 2003-06-04). The party did get the required 2% in Mexico City to retain its registration for the next round of elections in the Mexican capital. (Sources: Reuters, 07/06/03, 07/07/03; El Informador, El Diario de Queretaro, El Norte, El Sur de Campeche, Copley News Service, Inter Press Service, Agence France-Presse, CNI en Linea, Associated Press, 07/07/03; Agencia de noticias Proceso, 07/06-08/03; Notimex, The Dallas Morning News, 07/07/03, 07/08/03; The Arizona Republic, The Washington Post, 07/08/03; The New York Times, 07/07/03, 07/09/03; Cambio Sonora, 07/07-09/03; El Universal, Reforma, El Financiero, Milenio Diario, La Cronica de Hoy, La Jornada, Los Angeles Times, 07/07-09/03; El Sol de Mexico, El Imparcial, 07/08/03, 07/09/03)…
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Publication information: Article title: President Fox's Center-Right P.a.N. Suffers Huge Losses in 2003 Midterm Congressional Elections. Contributors: Not available. Magazine title: SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico. Publication date: July 9, 2003. Page number: Not available. © 2009 Latin American Data Base/Latin American Institute. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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