Apparent PAN Victory in Baja California Election Leads to Rumored Back-Room Pact with Governing PRI

By Navarro, Carlos | SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, July 10, 2013 | Go to article overview

Apparent PAN Victory in Baja California Election Leads to Rumored Back-Room Pact with Governing PRI


Navarro, Carlos, SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico


Despite conflicting polls suggesting that either the conservative Partido

Accion Nacional (PAN) or the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) would win the gubernatorial election in Baja California, there was broad speculation that the results of the election had already been pre-ordained. Rumors circulated that the PRI and the PAN had struck a back-room deal by which the conservative party would continue to support President Enrique Pena Nieto's Pacto por Mexico political agreement if the PRI did not block PAN efforts to retain the Baja California statehouse in the July 7 election.

And, if the rumors of a pact are true, the election appears to have followed the script closely. Preliminary results showed PAN candidate Francisco "Kiko" Vega winning the election over PRI rival Fernando Castro Trenti by a margin of 47% to 44%. State electoral authorities had agreed to a recount in some districts, but Vega's victory was expected to stand.

Parallels to 1989 election

What made the election remarkable were parallels to the gubernatorial election in 1989, when President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, considered by some as Pena Nieto's mentor, was said to have made an agreement with the PAN that allowed the party's candidate Ernesto Ruffo Appel to become the first politician outside the PRI to govern a Mexican state. While Ruffo Appel, a former mayor of Ensenada, was a popular and attractive candidate, rumors surfaced that Salinas de Gortari and his team helped engineer the victory.

Analysts said Salinas de Gortari--fresh off a questioned victory over center-left candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas--was anxious to prove his democratic credentials to counter the widely held perception that his party stole the 1988 presidential election. "The news that a party other than the PRI had won a gubernatorial race was important not only to Mexicans but to the rest of the world," political researcher Luis Carlos Lopez Ulloa said in an interview with online news site ADNPolitico two weeks before the election. "The next step was for countries around the world to congratulate the president, who then became identified as the first member of the PRI to allow democracy to flourish in Mexico."

Ironically, Ruffo Appel's election gave way to four successive PAN administrations in Baja California, and Vega's government would be the fifth (SourceMex, Aug. 9, 1995, July 11, 2001, and Aug. 8, 2007).

Analysts said Pena Nieto's motivation to reach an "accommodation" with the PAN and the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD)--which was running in coalition with the conservative party in the Baja California race--was to preserve the Pacto por Mexico (SourceMex, Dec. 12, 2012), which was intended to facilitate negotiations on major reforms in Mexico. While the president and Congress had managed to push through some of these reforms, including public education (SourceMex, March 6, 2013) and telecommunications (SourceMex, June 12, 2013) and were close on an overhaul of the banking sector (SourceMex, June 26, 2013), the two major reforms--the tax system and the energy sector--were pending.

Pena Nieto and the PRI took great pains to remove any obstacles to an accommodation with the PRI in Baja California, including throwing all their support to Castro Trenti instead of the more popular and maverick ex-mayor of Tijuana Jorge Hank Rhon, who lost the 2007 election to current Gov. Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan.

"The projections for Baja California were for Hank Rhon to win a 'comfortable victory,' especially since the PRI had already won five cities and a majority in the state legislature in the last election," columnist Ricardo Aleman wrote in the Mexico City daily newspaper El Universal.

But Aleman said the risk was that such a "comfortable victory" would weaken the PAN, which is an important player in the Pacto por Mexico. Therefore, the move to abandon Hank Rhon and support the weaker Castro Trenti was an easy decision for the Pena Nieto government, which wanted to appease the leaders of the two major opposition parties, Jesus Zambrano of the PRD and Gustavo Madero of the PAN. …

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