Vicente Fox's Big Shadow
For those of you just dropping in on Mexico's July 2 presidential election, I wouldn't blame you if you thought Vicente Fox was seeking a second term. The man who ended 71 years of rule by the conservative Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, continues to dominate the polls, headlines and even the airwaves (subscription required).
The constitution bars Fox from seeking a second term and Mexican law prohibits him from getting involved in the race, but that hasn't stopped him from taking potshots at Andres Manuel López Obrador and running "public service advertisements" that tout his party's accomplishments.
Pollsters put Fox's popularity ratings at 60 percent and above, which is providing a boost to Felipe Calderón. It's an ironic twist because Calderón was not Fox's choice for the National Action Party, or PAN. Fox preferred his former interior minister Santiago Creel. The tension between Fox and Calderón culminated with Calderón's resignation as energy secretary and his slogan of "Manos Limpias", or clean hands. (Remember that phrase; there's more coming on the theme.)
Calderón's nomination shouldn't have come as a complete surprise. Many in the PAN have been frustrated that Fox has been unable to enact promised economic reforms and Creel is a relative newcomer to the party, especially compared to Calderón, whose father helped found the PAN.
But interparty squabbling aside, Fox has been treating Calderón like a pal when you look at the way he's been treating López Obrador (paid subscription required).
Things got so bad between Fox and AMLO that the former mayor called El Presidente a "chachalaca," which depending on which translator you trust is a noisy little bird, squawking hen or turkey like creature (you get the idea).
Although Fox is rarely mentioned by name -- in fact not once in last week's debate -- the election is in large measure a referendum on his six-year tenure. And to hear Fox, that should mean easy sailing for Calderón.
In a May 5 interview with the BBC's Elisabeth Kramer, Fox expressed great confidence in his legacy.
"I am very satisfied. Fortunately, today Mexico can refer to a stronger economy than ever before. We are on the right track, although we still have a long way to go. Today Mexico has a per capita income of $7,500 - the highest in the whole of Latin America. Today Mexico has the largest trade volume in Latin America. Mexico is ready to be an economic power of the future."
He also blamed all the talk about a surge by Latin American leftists on, you guessed it, the media.
"The truth is that there have been triumphs by socialists, triumphs by Christian Democrats and triumphs by centrist governments. It is like a pendulum and it is too bad for Latin America, because there is not sufficient continuity. It takes time for a government to show success - as in educational policy or in economic and social policy."
More recently, Fox spoke to the Dallas Morning News, criticizing plans to extend the fence along the border.
And there are inklings Fox has plans for a not-so-subliminal get-out-the-vote ad campaign. The Federal Electoral Institute is already threatening to go all the way to the Supreme Court if Fox or the PAN run TV commercials that not only encourage Mexicans to vote, but suggest that a repeat of the 2000 outcome might be a wise choice.
There's great difference of opinion in Mexico City as to whether the institute, known as IFE, is up to the task of refereeing the expensive, nasty tit-for-tats. James McKinley of the New York Times weighs in with a look at the relatively new agency and how it is trying to keep everyone -- including Fox -- in line.
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