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Something unlikely happened in Mexico this week: Radical leftist presidential frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador and independent conservative former first lady Margarita Zavala agreed on something. Both backed the Dodgers to win the baseball World Series.
Oops. The Astros won. Amlo, as he is widely known, and Margarita, as she is dubbed (unless you are Mr López Obrador or other detractors, who like to call her “the wife of” former President Felipe Calderón) will both be hoping their bad call is not a harbinger of doom about their own prospects in the July 1, 2018 presidential race that will shift up a gear this month.
Rather, like the Houston underdogs who won their first title since joining the major league 55 years ago, they will hope it is a good omen as they seek unprecedented wins of their own against the Institutional Revolutionary Party that ruled Mexico for 71 straight years until 2000, spent a dozen years in the wilderness and has been back in power since 2012.
Not so long ago, only the most reckless gambler would have put money on the PRI having a chance in next year’s elections. President Enrique Peña Nieto has been so battered by corruption scandals, surging violence and rising inflation that his popularity ratings have been pummelled, at one stage sinking to the worst on record for a Mexican president, ever.
But miraculously, the PRI suddenly appears back from the dead — even before it announces its candidate.
Despite another rare show of opposition unity against the PRI over the abrupt sacking of the country’s electoral crimes prosecutor, ruling legislators managed to head off a vote that could have reinstated him. Emilio Gamboa, the head of the PRI in the Senate who was recently excoriated by opponents after being seen climbing into an official helicopter, an aide loading golf clubs in the back, boasted that the opposition knew it was outnumbered.
That revealed a PRI ready to browbeat opponents and able to dodge mounting corruptionscandals as if public disgust counted for nothing.
Amlo, who is running on an anti-corruption ticket, has his wedge of core support but appears not to be growing in the polls. Margarita faces an uphill struggle to collect the 866,593 signatures to validate her candidacy as an independent. And if the PRI candidate turns out to be José Antonio Meade, the current finance minister, as is widely expected, his background having served in Mr Calderón’s government means he could poach supporters from her.
Mr Peña Nieto cannot run in next year’s elections but PRI presidents have traditionally handpicked their candidates and he is expected to do the same this month. There, all eyes are on the imminent announcement of who will replace Agustín Carstens as central bank governor from December 1.
Mr Meade’s name has been thrown around for that job too; but if he does not go to Banxico, his chances of being the Chosen One among other official beauty contestants parading for the presidential nomination — including the interior, health, education and tourism ministers — will leap dramatically.
Later this month, Mr López Obrador will unveil his proposals and cabinet in a bid to set the tone for the campaign. It is too early to say whether he can deal defeat to Mexico’s own political Dodgers, or whether he will strike out too.
Quote of the week
“I think this is the beginning of the end . . . The announcement speaks to their extremely tight liquidity positions and their naïveté about their options. They’re still operating under the assumption that they can do a market-friendly reprofiling of the debt, without the cost of a default” — Patrick Esteruelas, global head of research at emerging market hedge fund EMSO.