What You Need to Know About the Election in Mexico

The country may shift to the left, but no single party or candidate is likely to win a majority.

Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets a voter in San Baltazar Chichicapam, March 20, 2016
Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets a voter in San Baltazar Chichicapam, March 20, 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)

Mexico’s general election on July 1 will involve roughly 3,400 new elected officials taking office and $2 billion in campaign finance. It has been dubbed the biggest election in Mexican history.

It is important not only in terms of scale, but in terms of its new rules. For the first time, the ban on reelection does not apply and independent candidates can run.

This heightened capacity for change coincides with an electorate moving from apathy toward anger. Last year, only 18 percent of Mexicans told pollsters they were satisfied with their democracy, down from 41 percent in 2016. Institutional confidence is at a nadir.

Concerns about violence and insecurity related to drug cartels and organized crime are now coupled with deep frustrations about corruption and impunity as well as lopsided relations with the United States.

The candidates

With these challenges in mind, the almost 90-million strong electorate will have five presidential candidates to choose from, three of whom have a genuine chance at victory:

  • Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often known as AMLO) is the frontrunner. A former governor of Mexico City, he leads his own party, the left-wing National Regeneration Movement, and allies with the socially conservative Social Encounter Party. His candidacy and support (44 percent) represent a desire for radical change.
  • Trailing AMLO with almost 30 percent support is Ricardo Anaya, who has taken the right-wing National Action Party into an alliance with the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution and Citizen’s Movement.
  • Former finance minister Jose Antonio Méade stands for the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has teamed up with the Ecologist Green Party. Unlike much of his party, Méade is not tainted by corruption scandals. He is nevertheless in third place with only 20 percent support.

The other two candidates, Jaime Rodriguez and Margarita Zavala, are unlikely to win, but they can influence the outcome, the former by taking votes away from AMLO and the latter from Anaya. AMLO lost the 2006 election by only .3 percent.

Shift to the left

AMLO’s detractors point to Venezuela as a warning of what might happen if the leftist comes to power. That is excessive.

AMLO is unlikely to win by a landslide. As things stand, his lead would not constitute a majority, his party does not hold any governorships and is only the fourth largest nationwide. He would need support from other parties to govern.

Nonetheless, a shift to the left in Mexico would go against current trends in Latin America.

The reasons are obvious:

  • Last year, Mexico had its most violent year on record with over 29,000 murders reported, many related to the drug trade.
  • In spite of anti-corruption legislation, impunity has become the norm with nine out of ten corruption crimes going unpunished. 44 percent of companies admit to paying bribes. Mexico is second only to Venezuela on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for Latin America.
  • The incumbent administration has been timid in its response to Donald Trump’s anti-Mexican policy, whether it be on NAFTA, security or migration.

If, as expected, AMLO wins the presidency, it will be the coalition he forms that determines if transformative change is possible or if Mexico continues its cycle of crime and corruption.