A presidential race to the end of the world - Monocolumn | Monocle


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5 January 2012

Twelve years after Y2K proved to be just a number, doomsdayers are getting another kick at the apocalyptic can. Mayan calendars famously mark 21 December 2012 as the end-of-days. Though scholars almost unanimously decry this as a misreading of such almanacs, the topic continues to garner interest.

With Mexico’s 1 July election looming, one small group has similar ideas of walking down their own 2012 dead end. Two main candidates now hope to woo their way to Mexico’s presidency. The winner faces the immense challenge of cleaning up a country marred with widespread corruption and impunity amidst a grotesque and violent drug war.

Enrique Peña Nieto, current leader of Mexico’s traditionally powerful party the PRI – and, for now, leader in the polls – has been shedding intellectual points rapidly since a question session at an international book fair in Guadalajara. When asked to name three books that had influenced him, he made unclear references to “parts” of the Bible, incorrectly referenced Mexico’s best-known living author, Carlos Fuentes, and claimed to have read “a book” that explains the lies of “another book”. No one seems sure what he was referring to.

He has since flubbed over the value of the minimum wage and the current price of the tortilla – the staple of Mexico’s 20 million estimated to be living in poverty. “I am not the woman of the house,” he attempted as a joke.

Such gaffes would normally spell political doomsday. But there’s a reason Nieto remains in the lead. President Felipe Calderón’s battered party has yet to officially name a candidate, and most believe his rock bottom popularity means the selected person will serve mainly as a voters’ scapegoat for the surge in violence on Calderón’s clock.

The other current alternative to Nieto is leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO. He is best know for freezing Mexico City’s major streets for weeks in 2006, when mass protests followed his narrow election loss to Calderón. He offers some big ideas, including confronting the drug war through improved job opportunities to the youth. But Mexico’s business elite decry him as a socialist, and many moderates lost faith in AMLO’s leftist Mexico after the 2006 kerfuffle.

With six long campaign months ahead, all sorts of things could reverse the fate of those hoping to win Mexico’s most important race in more than a decade. And if you believe the historical hype, he who wins will carry Mexico to the end of time.


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