Last-Minute Pitches, Endorsements and Lame Duck Days

Felipe Calderón, in the closing hours of his bid for the Mexican presidency, is touting his "grand plan" for Mexico. In an interview with El Universal, Calderón, the conservative nominee from Vicente Fox's ruling party outlined his 24-year agenda.


Calderón, who had moved ahead in the polls this spring only to find himself now in a down-to-the-wire dead heat, complained that the "missile" attack ads by Andrés Manuel López Obrador had distracted voters briefly. But now he says Mexican are focused once again on the central issue of the campaign: the economy.

In the front page interview, Calderón also reiterated his promise to form a coalition government if he is victorious Sunday. There are, of course, limits to his bipartisanship.

"While pledging a coalition government, he added that he would reserve certain key cabinet posts - such as the interior, finance and foreign relations secretaries - for his closest political allies. "'The opposition´s participation (in my government) will depend on their level of commitment,' he said."

Calderón's final campaign events have drawn crowds in the tens of thousands. In Leon, local PAN officials claimed they would deliver 1.4 million votes for their nominee. That would be 500,000 more than Fox received from the state of Guanajuato in his victorious 2000 race.

Even though the voting hasn't yet begun, López Obrador is already fanning suspicions that his opponents may try to steal the vote. Stumping on Calderón's home turf of Morelia, AMLO accused the PAN of--horrors!--stooping to the tactics of the old PRI.

Just in case anyone was wondering, López Obrador says if he is elected, he won't lie, steal and betray anyone. That's nice.

The former Mexico City mayor, making a bid for the up-for-grabs women's vote, is also promising to appoint women to half of his cabinet positions.

Endorsements

Maybe it's just jumping on the bandwagon; maybe there really is a coalition forming. We won't know until, you guessed it, Election Day. But there are some interesting endorsements in the final week of this increasingly nasty campaign. One hundred prominent writers, artists, academics and moviemakers purchased a full page ad in La Journada urging a vote for AMLO. The ad states that the group has made AMLO its choice because it opposes inequality, racism, homophobia and discrimination against indigenous peoples.

López Obrador also looks to have won the support of Arturo Gallardo, a columnist and online editor of MySanAntonio.com, a joint project of the San Antonio Express-News and local television station KENS 5.

"Despite his early mistakes, López Obrador has provided a clear ultimate goal, the reduction of poverty, and he seems committed to achieving a more egalitarian society in a shorter term than the other two major candidates," Gallardo writes. "This vision should appeal to the majority of Mexicans who need a more inclusive political system."

The Crime Issue

AMLO may be focused on criminal business activity, but a much greater concern for average Mexicans appears to be violent crime, namely the persistent drug wars and kidnappings that plague much of the country.

"The country of 106 million now has the second-highest incidence of kidnapping in the world, after Colombia. The most recent police figures for federal crimes show drug trafficking and weapons possession rose 12 per cent between 2001 and 2004," according to the Globe and Mail. "Felipe Calderón, a 43-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer and candidate for the ruling National Action Party, has promised to bring a mano firme (firm hand) to end the violence, and has called for life sentences for kidnappers. Mr. Calderón is tied in the polls with Andres Manuel López Obrador, the 53-year-old candidate for the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, who believes that violence and crime must be fought with job creation and opportunities for the poor."

Both Calderón and PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo have proposed creating a unified federal police department and a centralized intelligence agency.

"Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador wants to re-evaluate every officer in the federal attorney general's office and shake up state and local police forces."

Campaign Conexión One-on-One

One of the most prominent Mexican intellectuals, a self-proclaimed liberal, is actively speaking out against the left-leaning candidate in the race. Historian and essayist Enrique Krauze does not mince words when it comes to the prospect of Un Presidente López Obrador, whom Krauze describes as "irresponsible but irresistable."

In an interview at his Mexico City office, Krauze painted a portrait of a man with a messianic complex who plays on class tensions and has little interest in the world beyond Mexico's borders. AMLO's public appeal seems to go beyond populism or charm, said Krauze. "I think he really believes he's Mexico's savior."

Krauze said he would vote for the liberal in the race if that person were more like Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula De Silva. But his concern with López Obrador, whom he interviewed in 2003, is that the PRD candidate will move to consolidate power and turn back the clock on Mexico's democracy.

"He has good advisers, but I doubt he listens to them," said Krauze, seated behind his immense desk. "He listens to himself."

Krauze has reported that López Obrador does not have a passport. The AMLO campaign has been vague in answering questions about his travels outside of Mexico. Adviser Jorge de los Santos told Campaign Conexión that López Obrador went to Cuba for his honeymoon (decades ago) and visited President Bill Clinton at the White House. (In an interview with El Universal, López Obrador said he has been to Argentina and Brazil.)

Of course, Krauze doesn't blame lower-class Mexicans for being drawn to López Obrador's for-the-poor-first candidacy.

"For the majority of its citizens, Mexico is still a very poor country -- a shameful reality that has given the left considerable appeal," he writes in a comprehensive, coherent analysis of the political winds south of the border. "Whatever the weaknesses of certain of his policy proposals, López Obrador owes his political advantage to his seriousness in accepting and confronting this burden -- a concern for the poor that gives him a connection to some of the core ideals of the Mexican Revolution. A victory for the left would also be understandable as a reaction by the public to the real and perceived failures of the Fox government.

"As president, Fox has not done any major damage (unlike many of the PRI'S authoritarian presidents), but he has not done enough real good either...it is probable that the PAN will be punished because of the widely held perception that Fox has not governed effectively. "

In our conversation, Krauze described the Fox tenure as "frivolous, irresponsible" and said the still-popular president "wasted his political capital."

Even though Calderón has run on a platform of continuity, his team clearly sees there are risks in being too closely associated with Fox. In an online chat Tuesday, Calderón adviser Arturo Sarukhan was asked: How can you sell your man as the candidate of continuity, with the dismal record of unfulfiled Mr. Fox's campaign promises?

His response: "Felipe is not Vicente Fox."

Lame Duck Quacks (and Quacks and Quacks)

Fox's lame-duck status hasn't stopped him from speaking out on subjects as diverse as the Mexican soccer team and the 2010 festivities marking 100 years of Mexican independence. He has even been sanctioned for promoting Calderón's candidacy (a big no-no for sitting Mexican presidents). After a recent meeting with his security team, Fox promised there would be no disruptions of Sunday's voting.

The Boston Globe's Jo Tuckman examines Fox's mixed legacy, noting that the first non-PRI president in seven decades brought some measure of economic stability, expanded some social welfare programs and made government more transparent

But, there are plenty of buts.

"But economists insist that the lack of reforms designed to increase government revenue and encourage private investment condemned Mexico to levels of economic growth and job creation far below the pledges Fox had made...At his final annual address to the legislature in September, Fox was periodically shouted down by opposition deputies. His performance on human rights also came under fire."

The Arizona Republic convinced Fox to field questions from readers and released a lengthy transcript on its Web site .

In it, the former Coca Cola executive claims that Mexico's economy has fundamental indicators equal to those in the United States and that the problem in his country today is not job creation but training workers for those jobs. As for crime, that is largely the fault of the U.S.

"The challenge is organized crime, and that organized crime is generated by the enormous (drug) market in the United States. So we, the U.S. and Mexican governments, have established that it is a shared responsibility. The Americans consume, and we pay the price in Mexico, because the money that is generated in that enormous drug-consumption market in the United States is used in Mexico to bribe police and public officials."

And after his successor is inaugurated? He plans to "ride horses in Arizona, and give speeches."

What to Watch

With just hours left of formal campaigning, all eyes turn to Mexico City's zocalo Wednesday evening for López Obrador's final campaign rally. For more stories from the campaign trail, check out fellow bloggers at the Associated Press.

By washingtonpost.com |  June 28, 2006; 10:38 AM ET  | Category:  Campaign Conexión
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There's a correction to be made, on 2010 is the celebration of 200 years of Mexican independence, not 100. That year also marks the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution (unrelated to the independence)

Posted by: Bruno Rios | June 28, 2006 11:55 AM

Thanks for catching that error. Bruno is absolutely right. It's 200 years of Mexican independence and the 100-year anniversary of the revolution.
Thank you! Ceci Connolly

Posted by: Ceci Connolly | June 28, 2006 12:54 PM

Can you post links to the most recent polls? Thanks! Great job covering the election.

Posted by: James Beabout | June 28, 2006 01:13 PM

link to poll roundup at Wilson Center site:
http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=5949&fuseaction=topics.item&news_id=143858#national%20polls

period when polling is allowed is over, so this will be it until the real thing happens.

Posted by: Huey | June 28, 2006 01:49 PM

I find myself agreeing with Krauze in just about everything. I get ridiculed for saying some "liberals" or leftists thoroughly distrust AMLO, but that is my case as well as Krauze (and even someone like Sergio Sarmiento, who thinks AMLO's economic plan is demagogic rubbish). What I do not agree with is his contention that AMLO will concentrate power and turn back the clock to introduce some sort of new PRI-like electoral machinery. (The party lacks the discipline for this). I am more afraid of runaway spending in trying to build such a machine.

Posted by: Gabriel | June 28, 2006 02:59 PM

Three things....

Ceci, I'm a huge fan of yours, and as an occasional viewer of Fox News Sunday, I believe you offer the most reasonable centrist perspective of any of the panelists. I've written them to ask that you become a regular contributor.

Two, Gabriel, I assure, you, you have nothing to worry about with respect to "runaway" spending. AMLO and his finance team realize that Mexico is like a public corporation, constantly scrutinized by the financial markets. The second that these economic agents believe that AMLO will resort to deficit spending, the country risk premium would increase on our dollar denominated debt, as would the yield on Mexico's peso-denominated long-term bonds. Given the priority that AMLO has given public works (which are VERY dependent on low interest rates), AMLO would never allow this to happen.

Gabriel, I also remind you what the Wall Street Journal said about Clinton's economic program when he was campaigning. Yet, Clinton surrounded himself with brilliant public servants at Treasury who convinced the financial markets of President Clinton's fiscal resp. Result? LT rates plummeted, and the economy surged as it has never done before.

Three, Krause is no different from Zell Miller, claiming to be a Democrat when he has sold out to the RightWing extremists.

Posted by: Richard | June 28, 2006 07:33 PM

Both candidates belong to the system. The system must to change. The Constitution carry over 568 changes. The soberanaty of states doesn't exist; because the federal government take it. No one state give an ID is ridiculus. Mexico needs a New Constitution and the candidates seem ignore this theme, why?

Posted by: José Reyes | June 29, 2006 06:55 AM

Hola Ceci,

Thanks for quoting an excerpt from my column about the candidacy of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The coverage provided in your blogs seems interesting and colorful.

Just to clarify, I do not endorse or support any presidential candidacy in this election. My aim is to analyze their campaigns and their possibilities of success in this electoral process.

This is another excerpt from a column written about Felipe Calderón:

"The great merit of Calderón's team is turning the election into a true race in which the proposals matter. His campaign has maximized the use of mass media, won the first debate and continued to improve his presence in northern Mexico."

Here is the url for that column. http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/mexico/stories/MYSA060506.2O.gallardocomment.1c92dab.html

By the way, if you're interested in some additional coverage, we are also live blogging the election from Mexico in our Beyond the Border blog.
http://www.mysanantonio.com/specials/weblogs/mexico/

Thanks again!

Arturo Gallardo
Online Editor MySA.com

Posted by: Arturo Gallardo | July 1, 2006 06:56 PM

If Felipe Calderon got a law degree in Mexico and a degree in public administration at Harvard, is it not misleading to refer to him as a "Harvard educated lawyer"?

Posted by: Lascoutx | August 2, 2006 10:05 PM

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