There are less than two weeks to go before the presidential election in Mexico on July 1st, and things are not looking good for President Felipe Calderón and his party, the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). While Enrique Peña Nieto is still in the lead, according to the latest polls, the Partido de la Revolución Institucional (PRI), which ruled Mexico for more than seventy years until its defeat in 2000, could be making a historic comeback. Meanwhile, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the combative former mayor of Mexico City and runner up in the 2006 elections for the left-leaning Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), has been gaining ground. The PAN's own candidate to succeed Calderón, Josefina Vázquez Mota, now trails in third place.
This balance of forces is a damning indictment of Calderón's six years in office. The outgoing President has presided over a lost sexenio, and he will leave Mexico in worse shape than when he took office. Perhaps more fundamentally, this election epitomizes the formidable challenges that Mexico continues to confront twelve years after its transition to democracy. The Mexican electorate is profoundly disillusioned with the country's dysfunctional political system.
According to Consulta Mitofsky, only 30 percent of the Mexican voting public believes the country is headed in the right direction. And a poll conducted by Vanderbilt University as part of the Latin American Public Opinion Project has found that, since 2004, public satisfaction with democracy in Mexico has dropped from 50.3 to 40.6 percent.
This disillusionment is behind the recent rise of the YoSoy132 (or "I am 132") movement, which has mobilized tens of thousands of students since emerging only last month after Peña Nieto made derogatory comments about the protestors during a visit to the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. People are clamoring for change -- though it is far from clear that any of the candidates is up to the task of delivering it.
Calderón's failed administration has a lot to do with the president's war on drugs, which has generated an unprecedented wave of violence and insecurity in Mexico. Over the past five years, it has become evident that the Calderón administration was ill-equipped to fight this war effectively and deal with its fallout. The president launched the war on drugs without a sound understanding of the nature of the enemy, adequate planning, or a clear exit strategy, and its resolution remains as elusive as ever. Its social costs have also become untenable: the war has claimed as many as 60,000 dead, and under Calderón's watch, Mexico has become one of the most violent countries in the world, ranking 135 out of 158.
Clearly, there is much more to Mexico than the war on drugs, and Mexico is far from turning into the failed state that is often portrayed in the international media and policy circles. Yet the fight against drugs has been the president's flagship initiative since 2006, and the Calderón administration has focused on it with obstinate single-mindedness. This sexenio has offered little else in the way of an alternative discourse -- except for self-congratulatory rhetoric about how, under Calderón's leadership, Mexico successfully navigated the global recession that began in 2008. Yes, Mexico's economy has recovered, and the middle class has continued to grow. But Mexico has grown more slowly than other emerging countries in Latin America, notably Brazil and Colombia, despite all-time high oil prices. As under President Vicente Fox (2000-2006), the economy grew at an average annual growth rate of only 2 to 2.5 percent, which is not enough to promote the kind of job generation the country needs (especially among youth), or to provide the resources necessary to address other vital social needs, including security and education.