There was ruling National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe
Calderon Hinojosa looking dapper, smiling at the camera and holding
up a picture of a luxury Miami apartment. He claims his rival,
former governor of Tabasco, Roberto Madrazo Pintado, didn't pay
There was Mr. Madrazo, knocking former energy minister Mr.
Calderon, waving newspaper reports of recent crime and corruption
under his party's watch, and promising a fresh start with his
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for most
of the last century.
There were Roberto Campa and Patricia Mercado, two minor
candidates using their 15 minutes of fame to attack both Madrazo and
Calderon, and push proposals on everything from the environment to
exercise classes in high schools.
And there, in the corner was an empty lectern, standing in for
leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, long seen as the man to
beat in Mexico's July elections. The Democratic Revolution Party
(PRD) leader decided to skip the first of two presidential debates
this Tuesday night.
"The battle for the silver medal," was how Mr. Lopez Obrador's
campaign manager Jesus Ortega described the debate, which is only
the third time such an exercise has been held in Mexico. For decades
election fraud and government intervention practically guaranteed
victory for the outgoing president's hand-picked successor.
But, say observers, Lopez Obrador may have miscalculated. The
decision to stay away, possibly to portray himself as an underdog,
under attack by all the rest, seems to have backfired.
"He had something better to do?" wondered Isaias Juarez, a night
watchman and self-described "disappointed Lopez Obrador supporter,"
who watched the two-hour debate on a small TV outside a private home
he was guarding.
Contrary to expectations, the candidates barely even mentioned
Lopez Obrador at the debate, depriving him of a "victim" role. "He
didn't come to this debate because he doesn't have viable
proposals," Calderon said of Lopez Obrador in his opening remarks,
and left it at that.
Instead, the four other presidential hopefuls took the
opportunity to engage in a fairly substantive - if slightly stiff -
exchange on the economy and development, laying out plans for
housing, energy, labor, poverty alleviation, and social and
"It was not the most entertaining [debate], but still better than
expected," says Ana Paula Ordorica, a political columnist for the
daily Excelsior newspaper, summing up the prevailing evaluation of
the event by the Mexican press. …