Political machinations are in full swing as campaign season begins to heat up less than seven months away from next year’s presidential election.
The names that will appear on the ballot are also becoming clearer as the nation’s major political parties move closer to determining who will represent them in the 2018 poll.
For the incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the nomination of former finance secretary José Antonio Meade looks to be a mere formality after he received the backing of the country’s largest trade union group and enjoyed the tacit support of the man he seeks to replace.
Meade is seen as the safest choice and the most likely to win the presidency for the party given that he has been untainted by corruption scandals that have plagued the government.
Meade has previous experience as finance secretary in the National Action Party (PAN) administration led by Felipe Calderón and served as secretary of social development, energy and foreign affairs. The party hopes that his appeal will cross party lines and attract middle-class voters who hold reservations about left-leaning Morena candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Meade resigned from his position on November 27 to focus on winning the party’s candidacy, declaring that he has the experience, integrity and honesty to lead Mexico.
This week, Education Secretary Aurelio Nuño also stepped down from his cabinet-level position, announcing Wednesday that he would be Meade’s campaign manager.
Coincidentally — or not — it was the same day that reconstruction work on schools damaged in September’s twin earthquakes was scheduled to get under way.
Previously touted in some quarters as a presidential candidate himself, Nuño has instead decided to dedicate himself full time to getting the PRI, with Meade at the helm, returned to power for a second consecutive term.
“I’m convinced that the education, experience, vision, strength and leadership of Dr. Meade are going to enable the change and transformation of Mexico to continue . . .” he said in his farewell speech.
Meanwhile, Ricardo Anaya today announced his resignation as president of the PAN and is expected to announce tomorrow that he will seek the nomination for the coalition his party formed with the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the Citizen’s Movement (MC) party.
At 38, if he succeeds as expected in becoming the Citizens’ Front for Mexico candidate he will be the youngest presidential aspirant to appear on next year’s ballot.
His official declaration tomorrow will be backed by the party’s state governors, deputies and senators.
The news came as a blow to the presidential aspirations of Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera, who had also expressed strong interest in becoming the coalition’s candidate.
Mancera announced today that he would remain in his current position to continue reconstruction work in the aftermath of the September 19 earthquake. He declined an offer to be the coalition’s campaign manager, saying that he would only give up his position as mayor “to serve Mexico.”
Mancera expressed his disappointment at the lack of an internal ballot — which he had pushed for — to select the coalition’s candidate.
“I respect the decision of the PRD because I owe it my loyalty, although I deeply regret that there has not been a method or process to compete openly and democratically, because I was ready for that, to compete,” he said.
Following today’s announcements, three names are almost certain to appear on next year’s ballot: José Antonio Meade (PRI), Ricardo Anaya (PAN) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Morena).
Independent candidates including Margarita Zavala, Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez and María de Jesús Patricio Martínez — better known as Marichuy — also hope to appear but to do so first need to collect 866,593 signatures of support.
Rodríguez is currently leading the way but still faces an uphill battle to reach the additional threshold of 1% of all voters in at least 17 of Mexico’s states.
Despite the field of candidates becoming clearer, López Obrador — who has contested presidential elections twice before — still looks the man to beat.
A poll published Wednesday by the newspaper El Universal said that AMLO, as he is commonly known, is known to 96% of voters compared to just 28% who said they knew of Meade. Zavala enjoyed the second-best name recognition with 75%.
The same poll showed that in a hypothetical yet now highly likely match-up, López Obrador had 31% support, followed by Anaya with 23% and Meade with 16%. Zavala and Rodríguez garnered 14%.
Choosing Mexico’s next president is not the only choice that voters will face on July 1, 2018.
In many states, new governors will also be elected and in Mexico City voters will decide on a new mayor.
Mikel Arriola stepped down as chief of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) on Thursday and looks to be the most likely candidate for the PRI, which hasn’t governed the capital since elections were first held for the position in 1997.
Another leading aspirant, Claudia Sheinbaum, also stepped down from her position as Tlalpan borough chief on Tuesday to focus on winning the nomination for the Morena party.
Sheinbaum’s profile rose in the aftermath of the September 19 earthquake after she filed criminal complaints against former government officials for the collapse of the Enrique Rébsamen school, where 26 people died.