Carlos Bustamante, the Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI] candidate for mayor, won a stunning but decisive victory over the National Action Party’s [PAN] Carlos Torres in yesterday’s election, ousting the dominant political force that has ruled Tijuana every term for the last two decades, save for one.
Up 18 points at the beginning of the contest and seemingly assured victory, Torres blanketed the city with campaign billboards with his image, proclaiming himself “the new mayor” months before election day. It was a presumptuous move in a country that spent 71 years under authoritarian rule, with elections characterized by coercion, fraud and violence.
While Torres’ overconfidence bordered on offensive, anti-incumbent anger and disillusionment with PAN rule were responsible for his 5-percent thrashing at the polls, a loss that surprised everyone in Tijuana, including his opponent. “First, I’ve got to digest this victory,” Bustamante said to a crowd of supporters at the Grand Hotel.
Outside, Tijuana’s Priistas reveled in victory. A flag-waving color guard took to the city’s main thoroughfare, turning Boulevard Aguacaliente into an impromptu street party. Cars loaded well over capacity, with Bustamante supporters popping out of windows and sunroofs, did victory laps on the streets surrounding the hotel, horns honking the entire way.
The State of Things – A PAN Loss, Not a PRI Win
At the state level, the PRI also fared well. Baja California Norte—the PAN stronghold that delivered Mexico its first state-level opposition victory over absolute PRI rule with the election of Ernesto Ruffo Appel in 1989—was swept clean by PRI’s slate of candidates in all five of the state’s municipalities, Tecate, Ensenada, Mexicali, Rosarito and Tijuana.
While the PRI took all the mayorships in the state, Vicente Calderon, editor of tijuanapress.com, said the election results signify a repudiation of PAN rule, not an endorsement of the PRI. “There’s a lot of resentment with the PAN governments and the administrations in the sense that people think that they stop listening to their constituency,” Calderon said. “To the voters… [the PAN] actually became the PRI and doing the same things that they were criticizing when they were opposition.”
Crystal Ballers, Shot Callers
Nationally, both parties are claiming victory. Beatriz Paredes, the PRI’s party leader, believes the election illustrates the reemergence of her party. “It’s a triumph for the PRI,” Paredes said. “These elections confirm that the PRI is the biggest political force in the country.” President Calderón’s party cited their ability to beat back a resurgent PRI by nabbing three important states that never broke from the PRI’s ranks.
For crystal balling political experts trying to make sense of the election and its repercussions on the 2012 presidential contest, no fixed narrative has emerged. Some analysts see a resurgent PRI positioned well for 2012, while others maintain that the election’s outcome is “politically inconclusive.” Little attention has been paid to what the election means for Mexico’s nascent democracy.
David Shirk, director of the University of San Diego’s Transborder Institute, said yesterday’s election doesn’t bode well for Calderón’s party. “Political observers are looking to see, what is the Mexican electorate thinking next and what parties are they backing?” Shirk said. “And this is just more evidence that the chances of a PRI takeover at the national level in 2012 are almost guaranteed.”
The Economist’s Newsbook blog, however, had a different take. “[The PRI] showed no net gain, and in fact traded control of three big states for three small ones. The results may blunt the PRI’s momentum somewhat—the party won control of the lower house of Congress in last year’s midterm elections—but are unlikely to fundamentally alter the dynamics of the 2012 presidential race.”
The PRI losses in the longtime strongholds of Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa to “crazy-quilt political alliances” formed between PAN and the Democratic Revolution Party [PRD], despite the parties’ rigid ideological divides, may have been the most interesting development of the election. With the PAN-PRD trifecta in Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa, the alliance seized 11 percent of Mexico’s population and 7.1 percent of its GDP, according to INEGI, Mexico’s national statistics agency. While the PRI did pick up Aguascalientes, Tlaxcala and Zacatecas, it was a lopsided trade as these states account for just 3 percent of the country’s population and 2.7 percent of its GDP.
Cited as important PAN victories in curbing a surging PRI, they also create an interesting play book for the bellwether election for governor in the state on Mexico, the country’s most populous, in 2011. There, the current governor, Enrique Peña Nieto, is incredibly popular and the PRI’s leading candidate for the presidency. “A PAN-PRD alliance could prove competitive against his PRI successor in the 2011 gubernatorial race. Should the alliance win there, Mr. Peña Nieto’s presidential prospects would not be so clear,” said Enrique Krauze, editor of the magazine Letras Libres and the author of “Mexico: Biography of Power.
From Perfect Dictatorship to Imperfect Democracy
While Mexico watchers struggled to set an election narrative and decode what the results might mean for the 2012 presidential contest, the most important story—the state of the Mexican democracy—went almost unnoticed. “Mexico is changing. It’s a country where increasingly people expect an alternation of parties. People expect their parties to be accountable,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Perhaps the greatest take-away from Sunday’s elections is that democracy is surprisingly healthy in Mexico, perhaps more so than many analysts recognize.”
This is story of Mexico’s 2010 election. Despite fears of election violence, voters went to the polls anyway and proved that Mexico’s democracy, while just ten years young, is alive and well—even flourishing.