A WAKE-UP CALL
Mexico's July 2 election was not only a contest to select a president and a new Congress. It was also a referendum on the future of the country, and voters recognized it as such. The national question essentially came down to whether Mexicans wanted continuity with the reforms of recent years or a return to the past -- whether the country should keep pursuing the political and economic liberalization that started in the mid-1980s or go back the state-driven development model of the 1970s.
The first choice was represented by Felipe Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), the second by Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Although Calderón seems to have edged out López Obrador for a victory, both received about one-third of the vote. (López Obrador rejected the results and took his protest to the streets and the courts.) But neither Calderón's promise of continuity nor López Obrador's reactionary populism offers a solution to Mexico's deep and abiding structural problems.
Calderón's appeal -- most evident among the better educated and the better off and in the northern half of the country, where the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and economic reform have had the most beneficial effects -- rested on his argument that the financial stability, social peace, and moderate economic growth of recent years were too important to risk with a return to the policies and governing methods that had not served the country well in the past. López Obrador spoke more to the less educated and the less well off and to the center and south of the country, where the reforms of the past two decades have produced considerably less positive change. He rejected Mexico's current governing doctrine, which holds that the nation is best served by the internationalization of its economy, the reduction of state controls, the creation of independent, counterbalancing institutions, a