Mexico City. 1 July 2006.
As a gringo, the first thing you learn upon arriving in Mexico City is that you do not take unauthorized taxis. In 2003, Mexico had the second-highest number of kidnappings in the world, with some 3,000 reported cases. The second thing you learn is that all the studying in the world will give you at best a cursory understanding of this country's electoral politics.
Here, on the eve of what could be considered only Mexico's 2nd multi-party democratic election in the last seventy years, feelings run unbelievably strong on all sides. With the fact that 94.5% of all eligible Mexican citizens are registered to vote, one gets the sense that the newfound democracy the country has created over the last six years is taken with more sobriety than we tend to give it in America. Aside from holding the election on a Sunday, a law is in place called La Seca which forbids the consumption of alcohol during the day before and the day of the election.
The top two candidates are reminiscent of what you would find back in the States.
There is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador better known to the locals as AMLO. He represents the PRD, the Party of the Democratic Revolution. AMLO, an unapologetic leftist, is the former Mayor of Mexico City, and is running, according to locals we've talked to, “on a promise of hope.”
On the other side, you have Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, the former minister of energy under the current president, Vincente Fox. Calderon could be considered the typical favorite of the elite in any country – he was educated at Harvard and a lot of his rhetoric revolves around more neo-liberal economic themes.
After the Calderon campaign hired foreign advisors, an attack campaign was launched against Obrador – the likes of which has never been seen in Mexico. The ads, blasted over the airwaves, were evocative of American style electioneering and appeared very similar to the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry during the 2004 Presidential election in the United States. One of the ads went so far as to compare AMLO to Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. There were also ads saying that if AMLO were elected people would lose their homes. Eventually, it was taken too far and the federal election commission, IFE, had to step in.
Call it the typical fight, promises versus fear.