To the polls: Election season is under way as candidates start campaigning

Mexico is gearing up for general elections that will be held in June 2018. The country will be going to the polls to choose a new president as well as 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 128 members of the Senate. Coming at a time of increased uncertainty over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the future of free trade, the elections are set to test the direction of Mexico’s strategic relationship with the current US administration.

The Issues

For a majority of the 20th century Mexico was dominated by a single political party, however, in 2000 for the first time 80 years a candidate who was not a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) won at the polls. Since then, three parties have established themselves as the dominant political entities in the country. However, this may now be set to change as popular frustration with the workings of the political system is increasing, and opportunities for independents to seek their claim to deliver a different type of government may start to develop. It has fallen to the sitting administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto to shape Mexico’s initial reaction to the more protectionist economic and migration policies of the new US administration, and the elections will represent the first real opportunity for Mexican voters to have their say on these issues. Domestically, the most pressing issues will involve combating government corruption, as well as organised crime and drug trafficking.


The main challengers to the current ruling political party are the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) and the right-leaning National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN). President Peña Nieto of the PRI experienced an uptick in approval ratings in his response to tensions between the US and Mexico in 2016, and a number of PRI ministers are considered potentially strong presidential contenders, including the minister of the interior, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, the minister of foreign affairs, Luis Videgaray Caso, the minister of finance, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña. However, given the PRI’s low opinion poll ratings overall, the party could struggle to achieve another presidential victory in 2018. For the PAN party, at present, the two most prominent players in the race for the presidential nomination are Margarita Zavala, the wife of the former president, Felipe Calderón ( 2006-12), and Ricardo Anaya Cortés. Both Zavala and Osorio Chong can be expected to follow more market-friendly policies, although it is still too early for them to have presented detailed policy proposals. It is also not yet known what they may propose on issues such as the renegotiation of NAFTA and migration to the US.

Internal divisions have weakened the PRD; however, the leader of the government of Mexico City, Miguel Ángel Mancera, a former PRD member has been gaining attention, as has the leader of a breakaway movement from the PRD, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (also referred to as AMLO), of the National Regeneration Movement, better known as MORENA.

López Obrador, a populist politician who presents himself as an outsider, has promised a zero-tolerance campaign against corruption, and a campaign against drug trafficking and organised crime. An opponent of the current government’s energy reforms and a critic of NAFTA, López Obrador’s advisers have suggested that if elected, his administration may stop offering exploration and production concessions to foreign companies. However, the candidate has taken care to moderate some of these positions and may move a little closer to the political centre as the election progresses.

The elections will represent the first opportunity for Mexican voters to have a say in their government’s response to current US policies