AL DÍA: The Guerrero Gubernatorial Election and the Road to 2012

Katie Putnam, AL DÍA: News and Analysis from the Mexico Institute,* 2/1/2011

The results from Guerrero’s gubernatorial election this Sunday illuminate the personalities and evolving strategies in Mexican politics in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential race.

First, the relatively clean election itself ended a contentious, often dirty, and surprising campaign with questionable front runners. The two principal candidates were reputed caciques from Guerrero’s darker past; Ángel Aguire Rivero (PRD coalition), a PRI cardholder until August with suspicions of human rights abuses as an interim governor in the late 1990s, beat Acapulco Mayor Manuel Añorve (PRI coalition), accused of being on the payroll of drug cartels. (Both candidates strenuously deny these allegations.)

In any case, the alliance around the PRD was greatly, and unexpectedly, strengthened in the final days of the campaign when the trailing PAN candidate withdrew and threw his support to the coalition. In the end, the PRD coalition, headed by a man the party itself accused of abuses two decades ago, proved more appealing to voters than the PRI alternative, and by a margin of about 14 percent.

The campaign also involved two likely presidential candidates. Enrique Peña Nieto, the priísta governor of the State of Mexico and leading pre-candidate in opinion polls, visited the state before the election to lend his support to Añorve. Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City and potential PRD contender for the presidential residence at Los Pinos, actively championed Aguire. The PRD coalition victory is an encouraging one for Ebrard.

Secondly, these state elections are considered an opportunity for the parties to test their strategies in the lead-up to next year’s presidential race. The PRD victory reinforces the effectiveness of the coalition strategy. The electoral union of the conservative PAN and the leftist PRD, though an unnatural ideological alliance, proved unbeatable in unseating long-established PRI dominance in Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa last year; with Guerrero, it appears the streak has continued. This may prompt a rethinking of the PRI’s electoral strategy for the other five  gubernatorial races later in 2011.

The PRI and Peña Nieto remain the front runners for 2012, however. Party alliances as a strategy in the presidential race has so far been dismissed, including on Saturday by Ebrard, who has himself been discussed as a possible coalition candidate. Of course, as the PAN candidate’s withdrawal five days before the Guerrero election shows, changes are always possible.

Overall, the election sets the stage for individuals and party strategies in the 2012 presidential race. It has shown the PRI to be strong but not invincible, especially when the other parties forge an unconventional alliance to block it.

Next up: Baja California Sur on Sunday. Party leaders promise no alliances this time.

*AL DÍA: News and Analysis from the Mexico Institute is a periodic series of exclusive commentaries by respected U.S. and Mexican analysts and scholars on key issues in binational security cooperation.  The opinions expressed here are those of the author.  To contact the author, email mexico@wilsoncenter.org. Katie Putnam is Advisor, Mexico City Office, Mexico Institute, and Consultant, Fiscal Decentralization Project, Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo (CIDAC).

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