Partido Revolucionario Institucional Sweeps Midterm Elections at Expense of Governing Party

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, July 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

Partido Revolucionario Institucional Sweeps Midterm Elections at Expense of Governing Party


With some headlines proclaiming, "The dinosaur has awoken," the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) carved a bigger space for itself on the Mexican political landscape with overwhelming victories in the congressional elections and in five of the six gubernatorial races in the July 5 midterm elections. A less-than-enthusiastic electorate returned the PRI to a dominant political position, with absentionism and participation in the "blank vote" campaign reportedly high.

Under the blank-vote campaign, voters simply marked a big X on their ballot instead of casting a normal vote. By all accounts, the biggest loser was President Felipe Calderon's governing Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), which not only lost control of the Congress but also ceded two gubernatorial seats to the PRI. The performance of the left, both the Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) and the parties that support ex-presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was also underwhelming.

The PRI's significant victory was evident in almost every corner of the country. The party, which obtained almost 37% of the national vote, will be able to set the agenda in the Chamber of Deputies because it, along with its coalition partner the Partido Verde Ecologista Mexicano (PVEM), will control 260 of the 500 seats.

Additionally, the PRI won five of the six gubernatorial elections, pulling upsets against the PAN in Queretaro and San Luis Potosi states. The PRI's only loss in the gubernatorial elections was a surprising defeat to the PAN in Sonora state.

Economic slump, violence drove voters to PRI

Many political observers and analysts had already anticipated the PRI's return to power, given the deteriorating Mexican economy with the country's GDP expected to fall by at least 6% this year (see SourceMex, 2009-05-20). Plus, voters have major doubts about the effectiveness of Calderon's war on drugs, which has increased, rather than decreased, extreme violence in some parts of the country (see SourceMex, 2007-01-24 and 2008-11-05).

"If we start with the country's bad situation, both in public safety, with a government so obsessed with combating organized crime, and in an economic crisis that has affected employment and the well-being of the citizenry, then we have a very unfavorable scenario for the government [and the governing party]," wrote columnist Alberto Aziff in the Mexico City daily newspaper El Universal.

Aziff, who is affiliated with the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social (CIESAS), said the PAN was also hurt by its negative campaign tactics against the PRI, a strategy that worked in the 2006 federal election but not in 2009. "The PAN turned the campaign into a referendum on Calderon's policies and lost," said Aziff.

Even though recent polls have shown Calderon with a high level of popularity, the public is skeptical about the administration's economic policies. "It is not a good idea to run a plebiscite on the presidency in a recession," said analyst Jeffrey Weldon of the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico (ITAM) in Mexico City.

PRI to determine agenda in new Congress

The PRI won 137 of the 300 directly elected seats in the Chamber of Deputies, plus another 50 in coalition with the PVEM. The PRI-PVEM partnership is likely to get another 73 of the 200 seats allocated based on the percentage of the vote, giving the coalition 260 of the 500 seats in the 2009-2012 session of Congress. In contrast, the PRI-PVEM held only 123 of the 500 seats in the lower house during the 2006-2009 session.

The PAN, which obtained about 28% of the vote and won only 71 directly elected seats in the Chamber of Deputies, will have 143 seats in the next Congress. This is a sharp decline from the 206 seats the party held in 2006-2009.

This absolute majority gives the PRI the power to set the legislative agenda in the lower house, although it will have to work with the Senate, where the PAN still has a plurality. …

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