MEXICO CITY — There’s an old adage in Mexican politics that goes like this: “If you move, you won’t be in the photo.” Basically, the potential candidate who revealed publicly that he aspired to be president was instantly pushed out of the political frame — if you didn’t follow the rule, you’d miss an opportunity that would not be regained.
Times have changed. The rule now, with regard to choosing the next president, is that he who does not move, and move fast — in fact, he who does not get his photo on Twitter and Facebook — will lose ground in the presidential race. And quickly.
The next elections in Mexico are slated for July 2012: Political parties will officially reveal their candidates during the last days of this year or the beginning of the next. But I recently interviewed five politicians who, according to several surveys, are the most likely to be contenders, and surprisingly, four of them admitted that they indeed have presidential aspirations. They are the “destapados,” the unveiled. Their revealing their aspirations this early in the game is a totally new and unexpected twist in Mexican politics. This is what they told me:
— Leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, “Yes, we are going to participate,” when I asked point-blank if he wanted to be president of Mexico in 2012. “We are absolutely convinced that the country needs a change,” he said.
Lopez Obrador, who lost the presidency to Felipe Calderon in 2006 by a very narrow margin, believes those elections were fraudulent and that he is “Mexico’s legitimate president.” Lopez Obrador and Mexico City’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, will compete for the single nomination of Mexico’s leftist parties.
— I asked Ebrard separately if he would like to switch his office for the presidential residence in Los Pinos. “Yes, of course. I have said so, and I have been preparing myself for that for many years,” he said. “Of course, that depends on the success of my government and on voters’ opinions. In the end, they are the ones who decide.”
Ebrard agrees that a survey should be conducted in order to decide who should be the candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, known as the PRD. The question — the big question — is who should be surveyed: only PRD’s members or all Mexican residents?
— Sen. Santiago Creel, of the right-wing National Action Party, or PAN, lost out in 2006 to President Calderon when they both vied for the party’s nomination. But this time around he is doing everything he can to avoid a repetition.
“That’s right,” he answered when I asked if he wanted to replace Calderon. “Because I have a project in mind — a project for a government of national unity, because I have new answers for old problems.”
— Sen. Manlio Fabio Beltrones, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, has seen the organization through its evolution from a socialist, authoritarian party that ruled for decades to a more democratic entity after it lost power in 2000. Now, the PRI is positioning itself for a return.
“We know what we did wrong, but we also know what we did right,” Beltrones told me. “What Mexican with ability and experience wouldn’t like to be in charge of solving (the nation’s) problems? I am one of them.”
I asked: “Does President Beltrones sound right to you?”
He smiled. “It doesn’t sound right,” he said. “It sounds excellent.”
First, though, he has to defeat the governor of the State of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, in the race for his party’s nomination.
–The only one of the five politicians I interviewed who did not say openly that he wanted to be Mexico’s next president was Pena Nieto, also from the PRI. While almost all national surveys in Mexico have concluded that he is the current frontrunner, he does not want to commit to the race until September, when his term as governor is over.
The presidency is “a great challenge,” he said, “but as far as my personal participation within my party, and as a possible candidate, I will have it (the answer) when my governor’s post is finished.”
For Mexico, this is a new and unpredictable electoral era. The process of choosing a president, and the country itself, is being transformed by social networking on the Internet, by a deep-rooted sense of grievance about the country’s deep socioeconomic divisions and by the public’s explosive rejection of the violence that has plagued the nation in recent years. No, Mexico is not Egypt, but there is a feeling around the country that sweeping change is about to ignite. Whoever wins the 2012 elections will have to understand that.
More than ever, it is impossible to predict electoral outcomes in our fast-changing world. What we do know is that the politicians who may seem like shoo-ins at the beginning of a campaign are no longer sure to be the victors. Sometimes a candidate who nobody thinks has a chance — like Calderon in Mexico and Barack Obama in the U.S. — surprises us. It is a new day in Mexico, and now four hopefuls have been unveiled. Who will be next?
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
© 2010 Jorge Ramos
(January 24, 2011)