Primer: Mexican Elections

On July 2, about 41 million Mexican citizens voted for a president and members of congress (500 deputies and 128 senators). Some states also held gubernatorial and mayoral elections. After an official vote count, Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) gave victory to National Action Party candidate Felipe Calderón. On Sept. 5, a special electoral court certified Calderón's victory, rejecting a request by Democratic Revolution Party candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador to annul the election. Obrador said he refused to recognize the decision and would create an "alternate government" before the Dec. 1 presidential inauguration.

2006 Mexican Elections, by State

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Mexico's congress passed legislation last year allowing nationals living abroad to vote, but turnout has been dismal — of the estimated 4.2 million eligible Mexican voters living abroad, only about 41,000, or 1 percent, requested absentee ballots. Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) reported that it spent nearly $12 million promoting the absentee vote and supporters expected 400,000 voters to register — about 10 percent of those eligible live in the United States. One million absentee ballots total were distributed internationally. Of the 32,632 valid absentee ballots mailed to the IFE, only 28,335 were from the United States.

Presidential Candidates

Photo of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa

Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (PAN) is Mexico's former energy minister and his stronghold is in the relatively prosperous north and west. He has employed negative campaigning tactics to target chief rival Obrador. Calderón advocates a free-labor market and a flat income tax. Calderón is the son of one of the PAN's founders, Luis Calderón Vega*. | Candidate profile »

Photo of Andres Manuel Lopez Obredor

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD), who served as mayor of Mexico City until August 2005, has a strong base of support among the poor of central and southern Mexico. He has a reputation as a radical for his confrontational rhetoric and has been sharply criticized for his alleged mismanagement of public money. Aides say he is closer to moderate leftist presidents of Spain and Brazil than the more radical leaders of Venezuela and Bolivia. | Candidate profile »

Photo of Roberto Madrazo Pintado

Roberto Madrazo Pintado (PRI) is controversial even within his own party. He claims migration has increased under Fox because the president has abandoned the countryside. His success will depend largely on turnout among Mexico's lower classes. | Candidate profile »

Photo of Patricia Mercado

Patricia Mercado (Social-Democratic and Farmers Party), the little-known feminist candidate, focuses on fixing the potent inequality in Mexican society. She backs abortion rights and has publicly criticized the Catholic Church — a particularly strong force in Mexican society — for oppressing women. | Candidate profile »

Photo of Roberto Campa Cifrian

Roberto Campa Cifrian (New Alliance), a dissident from the once powerful PRI party, emphasizes the role of education for growth. He is a critic of NAFTA, arguing that only a small part of the country has benefited. | Candidate profile »

Frequently Asked Questions

» What type of government does Mexico have?

Mexico is a federal republic with powers separated into independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The congress is composed of a senate and a chamber of deputies. Of the 128 senate seats, 96 are filled by direct election and 32 are chosen by proportional representation from party lists. Senators are elected to six-year terms.

In the lower chamber, 300 deputies are directly elected to single-member districts and 200 are on basis of proportional party representation. Deputies serve three-year terms.

The president is elected by popular vote for a six-year term and cannot be reelected. Consecutive reelection is also prohibited for all legislators.

» Are Mexico's elections considered fair?

Though President Vicente Fox says the 2006 election will be the cleanest ever, some observers have expressed concerns over fairness. In an effort to combat corruption and fraud, Mexico employed electoral reforms in the 1990s, which included the establishment of the IFE and encouraged the growth of opposition parties. In order to cast ballots, voters must present voter identification cards, ballots are submitted electronically, voters' thumbs are marked with ink and non-partisan citizens count the votes.

» What are the key issues in the 2006 presidential race?

Although 2000 marked the end of PRI's lock on the national government, corruption runs high in the national consciousness. While Fox's administration avoided the assassinations and scandals of its predecessors, it accomplished little in terms of structural reforms of Mexico's notoriously corrupt governing institutions. A central theme echoed by the three leading candidates is the problem of poverty and inequality. Mexicans are also concerned with losing global competitiveness as countries such as China and India grow rapidly.

» What role will the U.S. immigration debate play in the Mexican election?

The heated debate over immigration reform legislation in the United States has spread to Mexico, the source of roughly half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. An estimated 12 million Mexican migrants working in the United States send home nearly $20 billion each year from the United States.

PAN candidate Felipe Calderón has said he opposes the 370-mile triple fence proposed by the Senate and that Mexico's tradition of warding off foreign investment encourages illegal immigration. A reform bill similar to the senate version, which provides a worker program for some undocumented Mexicans in the United States, could boost Calderón. The approval of additional border security measures, a key part of both the Senate and House bills, could tip the balance in favor of the PRD's Obrador, who lambasted Fox for not opposing Bush's plan to send 6,00 National Guard troops to the border. However, it is unlikely that a final reform will come to a vote by the time the Mexican election is held.

» What are the results of the presidential election?

Official results gave Calderón (PAN) 15,000,284 votes, or 35.89 percent. Obrador (PRD) received 14,756,350 votes, or 35.31 percent. Roberto Madrazo (PRI) received 9,301,441 votes, or 22.26 percent. Other votes include Patricia Mercado with 1,127,963 votes, or 2.7 percent; Roberto Campa with 401,804 votes, or 0.96 percent; and write-in candidates with 297,989 votes or 0.71 percent. There were 904,604 invalid votes and 40,886,718 valid votes.

On Sept. 5, the Federal Electoral Judicial Tribunal certified Calderón's victory by a margin of 233,831 votes. The final tally is the result of a legal process that included the annulment of tens of thousands of votes and a recount of ballots cast in 9 percent of polling places.

Correction: An earlier version of this primer listed Manuel Gómez Morín as the father of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa; his father is Luis Calderón Vega.

Political Parties

Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
Logo: Party of the Institutionalized Revolution (PRI) For decades, PRI victories were a certainty at both the local and national levels. Its 71-year dominance made it the second longest-ruling political party worldwide. Knocked from power by Vicente Fox's National Action Party (PAN) in 2000, the PRI governed 17 of Mexico's 31 states, and was the dominant party in congress. The party has relied on industry nationalization as a source of economic strength, but since the PRI President Carlos Salinas signed NAFTA in 1992, it has demonstrated increased willingness in building relationships with the United States.

National Action Party (PAN)
Logo: National Action Party (PAN) Viewed as a party of technocrats, the PAN is a conservative, business-friendly party that advocates reduced taxes, smaller government and reform of the welfare state. It views the Canada-U.S. relationship as a model for Mexico and sees the North American Development Bank (NADBANK) as a source of economic development, especially in the southern states. The party received a major boost when Vicente Fox won the 2000 presidential election under an alliance between PAN and the PVEM (Ecologist Green Party of Mexico). PAN will attract voters impressed by the financial stability Fox is credited with achieving in an economy that has at times been wracked with devaluations and hyperinflation. Its support base is strongest in the country's wealthiest and most urbanized regions of the north and center.

Democratic Revolution Party (PRD)
Logo: Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) Progressives trying to break the PRI stronghold created this left-of-center party in 1989. It focuses on social issues such as poverty, economic development and equal opportunity. The party favors economic nationalism as opposed to trade and foreign investment as a means for improving the Mexican economy. It envisions economic growth and job creation through integration with the United States along the lines of the European Union model. Calderón's "clean hands" slogan is meant to distinguish him and his party from the PRI's legacy of corruption. The PRD has controlled Mexico City's government, viewed as the second most important political power base in Mexico, since 1997. The PRD secured its largest congressional gains ever in the July 2 elections and now controls more than a quarter of the seats, a bloc sufficient to stop or slow down Calderón's initiatives.

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