Preliminary results from Sunday’s Mexican election show an extremely narrow but probably decisive lead for the
centre-right’s Felipe Calderon over his leftist rival Manuel Lopez
Obrador. Yesterday both sides were claiming victory, but today Lopez
Obrador has promised “to abide by the
result” if it goes against him. Neither side will have a majority in
congress.

If Calderon wins, it will deal a fairly major blow
to the theory of a general Latin American swing to the left. But either
way, it continues the extraordinary run of close elections.

In the last 12 months, there have been 19 major
national elections around the world (I’m counting only established
democracies, down to a population of four million). Of those, only
three – Japan, Bolivia and Columbia – have been won decisively. The
others have all been close: narrow margins in presidential elections, hung parliaments, minority
governments and unusual coalitions in parliamentary systems.

Many of them have been real nail-biters: New
Zealand, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Italy, Czech Republic, and now Mexico.
As far as I’m aware, there’s never been a period like it.

No-one seems to know why this is happening. It could
be that political campaigning has now become so professional that
competing parties are able to stay neck-and-neck with each other,
although it would seem odd for that point to be reached simultaneously
in such different parts of the world.

Or it could be just coincidence, like in 1974,
when five of the G7 leaders plus several others all left office in the
same year. That didn’t reflect any deep causes, and I’m inclined to
think our run of close elections doesn’t either. But it will be
interesting to see if the trend lasts as long as Australia’s election
next year.

Peter Fray

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