The PRI, the party that ran Mexico for most of the 20th century, appears set to return to national power Sunday led by their handsome presidential candidate and his glamorous TV-star wife.
If pre-vote surveys are correct, the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s Enrique Pena Nieto will coast to victory, with hundreds of local candidates riding his coattails to victory.
Drained by years of widespread violence and exhausted by 12 years under conservative National Action Party (PAN) presidents, Mexican voters appear willing to give the PRI a new chance on the national stage.
“The past has already been written, but starting now we have … the opportunity to write a new page in the history of Mexico,” Pena Nieto said when he kicked off his campaign in March.
At his final campaign rally on Wednesday, Pena Nieto promised more funds for Mexican farmers, lower utility rates, an overhaul of the social security system, and plenty of roads and bridges.
“My priority will be to battle the poverty in our country at its roots,” he told the crowd in Toluca, the city that saw his rise to prominence.
Given his commanding lead it seems unlikely that runner-up Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) can pull an upset.
Lopez Obrador, known by his initials AMLO, lost the 2006 presidential vote by less than one percent. He cried foul and pitched a massive fit, closing down Mexico City with street protests for more than a month.
This year a kinder, gentler Lopez Obrador who talked about leading a “republic of love” failed to ignite support.
PAN candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota also failed to excite voters, in part because she belongs to the same party of Felipe Calderon, the unpopular outgoing president, and in part because she ran a lackluster campaign devoid of fresh ideas. Surveys show her running a distant third.
Pena Nieto is a 45 year-old former governor of the densely populated state of Mexico. He is married to Angelica Rivera, star of the hit telenovela “Distilled Love,” and ran a model campaign with tightly-staged photo ops and slick ads.
Neither his bland performance in two televised presidential debates, nor a student movement prematurely dubbed the “Mexican Spring,” nor leaked documents alleging that he paid for the glowing media coverage dented Pena Nieto’s lead in the polls.
Gone is the PRI of the “dinosaurs,” the tough old bosses that imposed their will through a vast, well-oiled party machine — at least that’s the image Pena Nieto has successfully projected.
His opponents believe that Pena Nieto is just the pretty new face of the corrupt, authoritarian party of yore.
For decades synonymous with the Mexican state, the PRI ran the country until 2000, when Vicente Fox from the conservative National Action Party was elected president. Fox was followed by Calderon, a fellow PAN member.
The PRI governed through a combination of patronage and repression, and by bribing or isolating political opponents through rigged elections and negative media coverage.
PRI national party president Pedro Joaquin says that Pena Nieto “represents a new generation of PRI loyalists — he is fresh, very attractive, and with new ideas on governing.”
According to Joaquin, this combination attracts both young voters and party stalwarts.
“The PRI has not changed it way of doing politics,” opined Javier Oliva, a professor at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). But the party “has a national reach and … offers people experience and a sense of security.”
Security is a top concern in Mexico, where in vast regions kidnappings are rampant, drug hits are common, and gang warfare has left a grisly trail of decapitations, severed limbs and bodies hanging from bridges.
More than 50,000 people have been killed since Calderon deployed the Mexican military to crush the criminal gangs. The violence continues unabated, with no end in sight.
In Washington, the government of President Barack Obama says it will work with whoever is elected president.
Some US lawmakers however fear a PRI government will cut deals with drug lords, like they allegedly did in the past, and undermine the US-financed war on drugs.
Members of the opposition #Yosoy132 student movement have sounded alarms, claiming there is a conspiracy of big business and the corporate media — especially Televisa and TV Azteca, Mexico’s de facto TV duopoly — to return the PRI to power.
Few voters seem to be listening.