No Booze in the Voting Booth, Por Favor

It's Election Day in Mexico. If you've been reading Campaign Conexión, you already knew that. But if you are here in Mexico, there's an even easier way to discern that today is the Big Day: No Booze Today!

A quick drive around Mexico City yesterday proved that Mexican shops are following the law that requires a certain degree of sobriety for choosing its elected leaders. La Castellana, the popular upscale wine and gourmet shop, was shuttered tight, not even bothering to open up to sell its yummy cheeses. At Superama grocery stores, beer and wine cabinets were sealed off with giant Xs made of white tape, while the aptly-named Mega stores positioned armed security guards in front of liquor shelves.

Fortunately, Campaign Conexión knew about this law and stocked up in advance. But for those who didn't, the five municipalities in Baja California lifted the ban.

"Mexico's alcohol ban dates back to Gen. Plutarco Elias Calles, then the governor of Sonora, who forbade the sale of alcohol in 1915 during a period of political crisis in the country," according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

But Seriously Folks

Officials estimate more than 40 million Mexicans -- in excess of 60 percent of the electorate -- will turn out today. The sun was shining in Mexico City, a welcome respite from days of rain, another indication that voters will trek to one of the 130,500 polling places.

Increasingly in recent days, analysts and the media have summed up the race in the favorite political shorthand of change vs. continuity. The decision Mexicans face is more complicated than that, but there is some value in using it as a quick summary.

Felipe Calderón comes to the race with limited government experience (eight months as energy secretary), numerous educational degrees, a good family name and the ruling National Action Party (PAN) behind him. Touting himself as the jobs candidate, he has promised to continue the economic policies of Vicente Fox.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the popular former Mexico City mayor and candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), is all charisma and machismo. His target audience are the poor, a large swath of Mexican who earn less than $5 a day and have not seen their lots improve after six years of Fox at the helm.

Polls at the end of the campaign showed the two virtually tied. In third place has been Roberto Madrazo, who had hoped to return the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party, to power. But lacking a coherent message, and perhaps tainted by the PRI's past scandals, he has never pulled even with the other two.

Although the Fox victory in 2000 was historic because it ousted the PRI after 71 years of utter domination, this election is in some ways more significant for the fledgling democracy.

"The Mexican electorate will be making a decision of perhaps historic proportions, consciously and freely choosing for the first time in modern Mexican history between two clearly distinguishable political paths for the nation," writes Kelly Arthur Garrett in one of the best summaries of this topsy-turvy campaign.

"The elongated campaign often took the low road, but always emphasized the two leading candidates´ profoundly differing visions of the government´s role in moving the nation forward, even as their views on the central role of free-market economics were revealed to be more similar than either would admit."

Voting Early (Not Often)

After laying low for three days as required by Mexican election law, the contenders rose early Sunday and headed out to the polling places. López Obrador, a widower, voted with his two older sons near his apartment in the Mexico City neighborhood of Copilco.

Known by his initials, AMLO will watch returns from the Mexico City Hotel Marquis. He's got teams of lawyers on standby if there's any electoral hanky panky.

Calderón and his wife voted at about 10:30 a.m. in the Mexico City neighborhood of Las Aguilas. He's scheduled to head to the PAN headquarters in Mexico City late this afternoon.

Madrazo, meanwhile, says he'll be in his campaign "bunker" this evening.

It won't be so easy for some Mexicans to cast their ballots. Many live in the mountains or jungles with no paved roads, no cell phones and no television. Just getting ballots out to these Mexicans has been a major undertaking.

"The main thing is not the physical distance of the villages, but the precariousness of the routes to them along the roads, when they exist at all," writes Juan Ramon Pena of EFE. "The journeys by foot last an average of about two-and-a-half hours, and the facilitators often have to walk in the rain."

At least things seem to have settled down in Oaxaca, where tens of thousands of teachers have been on strike. After threats of blocking the roads to polling places, the teachers now say they will not impede the vote.

What's It All About?

Not surprisingly, all the smart folks here say this race will be decided by the undecideds. (Duh!) But what is interesting is who these undecided voters are. The paper Reforma has a thorough analysis of this group, painting a portrait of a group of women, ages 30 to 49, living in cities. They profile suggests the undecided are less educated and do not identify with a party or political ideology.

For a better understanding of middle class swing voters, Ginger Thompson of the New York Times interviewed a half dozen families in Nicolas Romero, a community northwest of Mexico City.

"Despite rampant government corruption and an all-out war against police officers by this country's powerful drug cartels, the economy seemed at the center of almost everyone's mind. In general, the half dozen voters interviewed here agreed that the past six years of stability had been a welcome relief from the roller coaster ride that spanned the previous two decades," she writes in the front page piece. "But just as they expressed fear that a sudden change in economic policies would bring crisis, they also vented frustration that the government did not do enough to help the downtrodden."

The story here is of two Mexicos, writes Chris Hawley in the Arizona Republic.

"One Mexico is based in industrial northern cities. It has a growing middle class that is grateful for the economic stability that has reigned in Mexico under President Vicente Fox. Its candidate is conservative Felipe Calderón, a former energy secretary who markets himself as 'the candidate of jobs.'

"The other Mexico is poor and based in the south. It is fed up with wages that never seem to rise and a government that seems to abandon its elderly. Its candidate is López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City. His slogan is 'For the good of all, the poor first of all.'"

Columnist Andres Oppenheimer warns that if Calderón wins he may not turn out to be quite as pro-American, pro-business as most expect, while López Obrador would likely put Mexico in the "reasonably responsible left."

The Future

Already, the debate has begun over whether this election will put Mexico on the path to economic and political stability, or leave it mired in old polarizations.

Pollster Dan Lund, who has lived and worked in Mexico for 30 years, is optimistic.

"But as Mexicans have shown the stuff to resist media influence on important matters, to understand that benefits are entitlements and not gift-bribes, and to resist the crude blandishments of authority, these ordinary Mexicans are showing respect for themselves above all."

But Oppenheimer, writing from Mexico City in the Miami Herald, is not as optimistic.

"The way things work here, presidents win with little more than a third of the vote, don't have a congressional majority and face systematic obstruction to their bills by the two opposition parties," he argues. '''Our political architecture condemns us to paralysis,' independent Sen. Genaro Borrego, a former president of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), told me Friday."

We won't know the answer to that argument tonight, but with any luck, we will know who will be sworn in Dec. 1. Polls close in most of Mexico at 6 p.m. CT (7 p.m. ET). No announcements will be made before 8 p.m. CT (9 p.m. ET). Stay tuned.

By |  July 2, 2006; 1:11 PM ET  | Category:  Campaign Conexión
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I just returned from a week in Mexico City(19-26) and wrote an op-ed piece in Spanish for the Lorain (OH) Morning Journal which discusses the closeness of the election.

Appears that there is a Red-Blue dichotomy ala the US with the PAN representing the middle class and business and the PRD the intelligentsia and the poor. As in 2004, it will come down to turnout.

I campaigned with some Calderon supporters in San Angel dsitrict last Saturday and saw more Calderon supporters while traversing the city. I did not see ANY AMLO workers.

I predict that Calderon will win and I doubt we will know the outcome tonight.


Posted by: vivabush04OH | July 2, 2006 05:12 PM

Great reporting -- I'm pleased to see WaPo paying some serious attention to our valued friends to the South. We don't need no stinkin' wall, we need understanding.

Posted by: Tab Khan | July 2, 2006 05:25 PM

No booze on election day is your homepage tag line for one of Mexico's most important and critical elections in recent history??


Posted by: EG | July 2, 2006 06:11 PM

But it's Ceci! You should see that hacking to death she did on the Gore campaign in 2000 -- and search for Ceci! I thought she only hated America; I was wrong, she hates democracy.

Posted by: Hortense | July 2, 2006 07:12 PM

What the heck is Hortense talking about??

Ceci hates democracy? Huh?

Posted by: Marty | July 2, 2006 07:26 PM

Ceci might not hate democracy but she seems to be in the "light" approach. Mexico is a country that not only deserves attention but a profound analysis. Is she really serious about "old polarizations"? The polarization has been a CONSTANT in the history of Mexico. The country has been kidnapped for the past 90 years by a one side corrupt oligarchy that hasn't done "enough to help the downtrodden" as Ms Thompson wrote.

Posted by: Rivera | July 2, 2006 09:46 PM

Jeez. Umm... have you people ever read a blog before? They usually aren't formal journalistic enterprises, but are often informal and try to draw attention to colorful stories that might not make it into the wordy A section WashPost stories...

In any event, Cici has done a good job of covering the election, providing many links to other news sources and providing some light hearted touches. There is enough "profound analysis" here and on the PostGlobal page to keep anyone busy.

Cici, I'm not sure if you hate democracy or not, but keep the blog going. It doesn't look like this election will end anytime soon!

Posted by: Marty | July 3, 2006 01:41 AM

I would vote for Ceci anytime.

Posted by: Hugh | July 4, 2006 12:20 PM

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