This an interesting essay about the recent elections (2009) in Mexico and the political future in the country. This text is published with authorization from the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
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THE PRI MAKES A COMEBACK IN MEXICO
by George Grayson
July 9, 2009
George W. Grayson is the Class of 1938 Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary, an associate scholar at FPRI and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. His next book, Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State will be brought out later this year by Transaction Publications.
THE PRI MAKES A COMEBACK IN MEXICO
by George Grayson
The once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) staged a thundering comeback in Mexico’s July 5 congressional and state elections and appears poised to dominate the next Chamber of Deputies in league with Mexico’s Greens (PVEM). In the heated race for the Chamber of Deputies, the self-proclaimed “revolutionary party” garnered 36.7 percent of the ballots cast compared with 28 percent for President Felipe Calderon’s center-right National Action Party (PAN), 12.2 percent for the leftist- nationalist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), 7 percent for the PVEM, and just over 10 percent for a farrago of small parties. The PRI also captured five of the six gubernatorial races, including the PAN strongholds of Queretaro and San Luis Potosi.
The fractured Left did well only in Mexico City, where the PRD and the Workers’ Party won 12 of 16 borough presidencies and 28 of 40 directly elected seats in the Legislative Assembly, the Federal District’s version of a city council.
Of Mexico’s 71.5 million registered voters, 44.7 percent participated, although an unprecedented number of citizens voided their ballots to punish a political system that is blatantly unresponsive to them.
This essay analyzes (1) factors in PRI’s success, (2) the lack of accountability in Mexico’s political system, (3) the significance of Sunday’s voting on the 2012 presidential showdown, (4) the impact of the elections on the nation’s drug war, and (5) the prospects for Calderon during the remainder of his term.
In the spring of 2009, the PRI watched its double-digit lead shrink until pre-election polls showed that it registered only 39 percent support vis-a-vis the PAN (34 percent) and the leftist-nationalist PRD (10-11 percent). Moreover, momentum seemed to be with the PAN.
On Election Day, the PRI, which governed the country from 1929 until 2000 in Tammany Hall fashion, outpolled Calderon’s party by 8.7 percent and captured 237 deputies, according to preliminary figures provided by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). If the PRI maintains the support of its corrupt alliance partner, the Greens, which picked up 21 seats, the PRI and the Greens will control the 2009-2012 Chamber of Deputies, which convenes on September 1. PRI veterans should be able to find ways to crystallize a pact with the Greens, which is more a family business than a political organization. The PAN (52 seats) continues to enjoy an advantage over the PRI (32), the PRD (26), the PVEM (6), and small parties (12) in the 128-member Senate, none of whose members were elected on July 5.
Several factors gave rise to this stunning victory. To begin with, PAN President German Martinez (who resigned the day after the July 5 defeat) mounted a blistering, no-holds- barred attack on the PRI for its legacy of mismanagement, corruption, and involvement with drug cartels. Such charges fell on deaf ears to many young voters who do not remember the economic debacles of Luis Echeverria (1970-76), Jose Lopez Portillo (1976-82), and Carlos Salinas (1988-94). Martinez also had to contend with “friendly fire” among PAN activists in the gubernatorial campaign in San Luis Potosi, as well as an extremely unpopular outgoing governor in Queretaro who has accumulated more frequent flier miles than a UN secretary-general. In the final analysis, a deep recession trumped all other considerations.
For its part, the revolutionary party excoriated Martinez for mudslinging and offered fuzzy proposals encapsulated in the innocuous slogan, “Proven Experience–A New Attitude.” Meanwhile, PRI president Beatriz Paredes Rangel; its eighteen governors; and uber-Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones worked tirelessly to grease and repair the creaky machinery of the PRI, which–unlike competitors–brandishes a presence in the 31 states and the Federal District.
Given the blows that Mexico has suffered–a recession inherited from the U.S., falling remittances from Mexicans living abroad, the swine flu epidemic, the collapse of the tourist industry, sagging oil prices, and at least a 5.5 percent decrease in GDP in 2009–it is amazing that the PAN’s losses were not greater.
In addition, Mexico State PRI Governor Enrique Pena Nieto launched his 2012 presidential campaign by barnstorming on behalf of PRI nominees. Not only did he make personal appearances, but he showered resources and volunteers on his party’s candidates for governor in Campeche, Colima, Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, and San Luis Potosi–all of whom won. Differences between the Mexico State chief executive and his PRI counterpart in Sonora meant that the “Golden Boy” (as the movie-star handsome Pena Nieto is known) did not participate in the gubernatorial donnybrook in that border state. The PAN eked out a victory, probably because of the deaths of 48 children in the ABC day-care center a month before the voting.
Meanwhile, after former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attracted nearly one-third of the vote in the controversial 2006 presidential showdown, the Mexico’s Left has once again demonstrated skill in forming firing squads in a circle. The messianic Lopez Obrador has not resigned from the PRD; however, much to the chagrin of PRD leaders, he has accepted the presidential nomination of two small, opportunistic leftist groups: the Workers’ Party and the Convergencia Party. In various areas, including the Federal District’s largest borough of Iztapalapa, Lopez Obrador helped a Workers’ Party standard-bearer defeat his PRD opponent. In view of this disarray, many PRD voters opted for the PRI, the party from which many of them had migrated.
LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Analysts erred in predicting a low turnout inasmuch as 44.6 percent of the 71.5 million eligible voters showed up. Denise Dresser, Sergio Aguayo, and a host of other intellectuals along with civic organizations skillfully employed the Internet and the media to urge citizens to spoil their ballots to protest an unrepresentative and unaccountable political system. Their movement yielded dividends nationwide (5.6 percent) and in a number of
jurisdictions: Mexico City (10.8 percent), Chihuahua (7.5 percent), San Luis Potosi (7.4 percent), Puebla (7.3 percent), and Michoacan (6.7 percent). Why would more several million people take the time to go to the polls only to desecrate their ballots?
The most compelling explanation springs from the inability of citizens to influence elected officials. The chasm between the political elite and grassroots’ constituents has bred a sense of political impotency.
For example, Mexico’s Constitution bans the reelection of chief executives, who reach office via a first-past-the post procedure. Calderon entered the presidency with 33.9 percent of the ballots cast, just 0.6 percent more than Lopez Obrador. If there had been a run-off to achieve a 50 percent mandate, it might have forced parties to negotiate, bargain, and compromise in pursuit of a successful coalition. Such an alliance could have contributed to collaboration in Congress where intolerance between and among parties thrives and continually impels deadlock and drift– except for bills important to special interests.
Other measures that amplify the establishment/grassroots chasm are a prohibition on independent candidacies; a ban on civic groups airing media ads during campaigns; the heavy- handed hegemony of party chiefs in selecting nominees and ranking them on proportional representation lists used to select one-fourth the Senate and two-fifths of the Chamber of Deputies; disallowing deputies, senators, governors, state legislators, and mayors from serving consecutive terms in their offices; and failing to forge a coherent, responsible Left.
These considerations, combined with the fact that so many lawmakers lack defined constituencies, militate against
advancing the interest of average citizens. All the while, elected officials line their pockets with generous salaries, hefty fringe benefits, Christmas bonuses, travel funds, free medical care, office expense accounts, pensions, “leaving office” stipends, and many other ways to live the good life. In response to legislation, the Federal Electoral Institute, which registers voters, supervises elections, and reports preliminary vote tallies, lavishes monies on political parties (3.6 billion pesos in 2009).
No wonder that the late, inordinately powerful PRI “dinosaur” Carlos Hank Gonzalez coined the lapidary phrase:
“Show me a politician who is poor and I will show you a poor politician.”
The “voto nulo” sponsors plan to organize its participants in the weeks ahead via www.votosnulos.com.
THE 2012 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Comics claimed that actress Angelica Rivera, Pena Nieto’s significant other, spent July 6 at Los Pinos presidential residence measuring for curtains. A lot can happen in the three years before Mexicans choose their next president. Yet surveys show the Mexico State Governor as the frontrunner among a dozen or more aspirants. As mentioned, he is good-looking, has access to all the money he needs, and has accumulated a suitcase full of IOUs from politicians whom he has helped.
In addition, Pena Nieto comes from the country’s largest jurisdiction (10 million voters), boasts the near-unanimous support of the state’s potent and affluent political nomenklatura, gets along well with the business community, enjoys abundant coverage on Televisa, the nation’s largest television network; and drubbed the PAN and PRD in his home state in the recent contest.
At the same time, he has spent billions of dollars on highly visible public-works projects that have won approval from mayors across the political spectrum.
His challenge will be to avoid the internecine warfare that found the PRI’s 2006 presidential candidate, Roberto Madrazo, losing every state and finishing third behind Calderon and Lopez Obrador.
The “Big Three” in the PRI are Pena Nieto, age 43; Beltrones, 54 (who functions as a virtual vice president of the country); and party chief Paredes, 53 (who may head the PRI faction in the next Chamber of Deputies). These strong, ambitious, and savvy leaders buried their differences to help impel Sunday’s triumph. If they can work together during the next three years, the PRI will remain the odds-on favorite to recapture the presidency.
The PAN suffers from a “short bench.” Other figures may arise, but in mid-2009 the potential presidential competitors were Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez Mont, 46, and former Education Secretary Josefina Vazquez Mota, 48, who could emerge as the leader of her party’s faction in the Chamber of Deputies. The name of German Martinez, 32, graced the list of “possibles” until the recent electoral loss forced his resignation as his party’s head. Only if there is a strong economic rebound is the PAN likely to retain its lease on Los Pinos.
The fractured Left may present two candidates. Lopez Obrador, 55, continues to speak throughout the nation lambasting the PRI and the PAN, which he ridicules as the pro-capitalist, anti-poor “PRIAN.” He is counting on a total collapse of the economy that will find los jodidos (the acutely disadvantaged) carrying him on their shoulders to the presidency.
Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, 49, also has his eye set on the presidency. While personally attractive and an able speaker, he labors under several burdens: bad blood with the dominant, moderate “Chucho” faction of his PRD; a reputation for reneging on political promises; unwillingness to break openly with the mercurial AMLO; rampant corruption throughout the city’s bureaucracy; a prison system afflicted by extreme overcrowding and criminality; and the possibility of being the candidate of the PRD, which garnered only 12.2 percent of the vote earlier in the month.
THE WAR ON DRUGS
How will all of this play out on the drug crisis now plaguing both Mexico and the U.S.? It should be recalled that the drug cartels got their start under PRI administrations as one more corrupt sector among many. That included the PEMEX oil monopoly and the electricity duopoly. It extended to the mass media, public education, the official union movement, the peasantry, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, and major tranches of the private sector. Worst of all, law-enforcement agencies were also part of the corruption.
Despite this history, Martinez’ attempt to tie the PRI to organized crime did not prove sufficiently persuasive to overcome tough economic conditions and the PRI’s superior organizational elan. Moreover, prominent PAN politicians have cut their own deals with the narco-traffickers. For example, a few days before the election, a publicized recording revealed that Mauricio Fernandez Garza, the PAN’s (successful) mayoral candidate in San Pedro Garza Garza, Monterrey’s immensely wealthy municipality, had vetted his anti-crime program with the sinister Beltran Leyva mob.
Yet the PRI has an auditorium-sized closet of skeletons. The notorious paramilitary cartel Los Zetas operates a virtual parallel government in the PRI-dominated northeast state of Tamaulipas, whose last few governors left office with tarnished reputations. Mario Anguiano Moreno, the victorious PRI candidate for governorship of Colima–home of the drug- infested port of Manzanillo–has multiple connections to narco-criminals. His brother languishes in prison in the United States; his first cousin is serving time in Mexico.
The PRI’s Green comrades have successfully used environmental issues to attract young, suburban voters. In fact, the PVEM often aligns with the highest bidder. One of its senators, Arturo Escobar y Vega, was arrested several
weeks before the election with a suitcase containing 1.1 million pesos. Authorities have not released the provenance of these funds.
In general, the narco-syndicates concentrated on local elections, particularly along trafficking corridors where suborning or intimidating mayors and their police forces is crucial to their commerce. Organized crime emerged from the eletion stronger than ever. In rural areas such states as Colima, Durango, Guerrero Michoacan, Sinaloa, Zacatecas, the drug syndicates practice a form of “dual sovereignty” with elected governments–that is, the cartels collect taxes (extortion), create jobs (growing and processing drugs), and perform civic acts (contributing to churches and schools).
IMPACT ON CALDERON
Calderon, 46, does not want to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, fellow PAN activist Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-06), who became a lame duck after voters thrashed the PAN in the 2003 mid-term balloting. The PRI-PVEM bloc will write the tight-as-a-tick 2010 budget, which sets priorities for the nation.
Still, there are several ways in which Calderon can remain relevant, and even effective. First, the president should insist on a strong person like former Jalisco governor Francisco Ramirez Acuna or ex-senator and current Tourism Secretary Rodolfo Elizondo to succeed German Martinez.
Second, Calderon will continue to battle drug cartels, which–hundreds of arrests aside–remain brutally powerful and incredibly wealthy. The profound corruption of Mexico’s police at all levels will force him to continue to rely on the armed forces. Still, the Army has only 80,000 to 100,000 combat troops and, at any given time, upwards of 5 to 10 percent are on leave, sick, in training, or AWOL. Even as he continues to apply muscle, the president appears prepared to concentrate more on electronic eavesdropping, information- sharing with U.S. agencies, spies on the ground, scrutiny of money flows, attention to mayors and other political “enablers” of the mafiosi, and a wide array of technological innovations.
Third, he should consider appointing Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s adroit envoy to the United States, as the new foreign secretary. Incumbent Patricia Espinosa’s knee-jerk, follow-the-leader approach to the complicated power shift in Honduras argues for change in an area where the chief executive has substantial leeway. He might also replace other lackluster cabinet secretaries (of Economy, Energy, Agriculture, and Agrarian Reform).
Fourth, Calderon should seek PRI’s backing (and even the PRD’s support) in legally ousting common foes who have impeded the country’s development–namely, SNTE teachers’ union boss Elba Esther Gordillo, whom the late Mexico scholar M. Delal Baer called “Jimmy Hoffa in a skirt”; and Martin Esparza, potentate of the obscenely corrupt and featherbedded Mexican Electricians Union (SME). SME’s employer, the state-operated Luz y Fuerza del Centro, should also be eliminated, with another public company, the Federal Electricity Commission, taking over service in the Federal District area.
Finally, Calderon should strive to convince the unreformed PRI that–given its promising chance of winning the presidency in 2012–it should cooperate on a root-and-branch tax overhaul. Otherwise, Pena Nieto, Beltrones, Paredes, or another stalwart, if successful, will inherit a failed economy. Should he accomplish major changes in the fiscal system and/or break the SNTE, which has colonized public education, he will go down in history as a successful chief executive.
The U.S. needs to be watching all this closely, because if economic conditions in Mexico continue to deteriorate, the U.S. will suffer in terms of migration pressures, decreased trade, and mounting narco-violence.
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