Sullen outlook as Mexican mid-term elections near

The electorate
The electorate

Here in Mexico City the light poles and overpasses – and just about every other available surface – are festooned with taxpayer-financed electoral propaganda. Yes, there’s a buzz in the air, and it’s the sound of José Lunchpails across the nation saying “How can I possibly vote for any of these unconscionably corrupt political parties and their hopelessly venal candidates?”

To be honest, this will be our challenge when we head to the polls on June 7 to vote for members of the federal Chamber of Deputies, and in some locations for state governors and other local officials. Locally here in Mexico City, we will vote for representatives to the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District (ALDF) and heads of the city boroughs, called Delegaciones. In certain aspects, June 7 will be an election of firsts. This will be the first election overseen by the new National Electoral Institute (INE), which was created for no easily discernible reason to take over the job from the now-defunct Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). Likewise, it will be the first Mexican election to allow “independent” candidates, or those not affiliated with any of the country’s registered political parties. This innovation was introduced as part of a political reform passed last year and comes following a lengthy suit brought before the Interamerican Court of Human Rights by former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda. Castañeda was denied the right to run for president as an independent in a prior election.

Considering the disappointing economic growth and series of high-profile dodgy deals that have reflected poorly on the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, one might expect the PRI to be punished at the polls in the upcoming mid-terms.   The other leading parties, however, have acquitted themselves so poorly that the PRI actually might pick up ground despite largely stepping on its own, er, tail for the past year. The center-right National Action party (PAN) was outed for shaking down local officials for kickbacks in return for providing federal funds for public works, and also administered a severe beating to itself through a bruising internal struggle for party leadership that led all sides splashing through the sewer. The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was significantly sullied by the case involving the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students in the southern municipality of Iguala. The city’s Municipal President, elected on the PRD ticket, was accused of complicity in the kidnapping and the PRD’s tepid response to the horrific events led the party’s founder, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, to resign in protest. Beyond the struggles of the main opposition parties, overall discontent with the political parties’ craven cynicism is expected to boost abstentionism, which would play to the PRI’s strength of bloc voting within its nationwide organization.

The PRD further stands to lose ground to one of the new parties making its electoral debut on June 7. This is the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), led by two-time PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Fuming over the PRD leadership’s willingness to cut deals with the administration, AMLO split acrimoniously with his long-time party in 2012 and founded Morena. While Morena is unlikely to make major inroads at the national level outside the capital city area, the new party could very will pick up ground at the PRD’s expense in the ALDF and Mexico City boroughs. This is not insignificant, as the Mexico City borough governments are well known coffers of pirate plunder much coveted by all the political parties.

In addition to Morena, two new political parties will be making their electoral debut on June 7. the Humanist Party (Partido Humanista, or PH) and Social Encounter (Encuentro Social, or ES) received their official registrations last year at the same time as Morena, but unlike AMLO’s followers, the two mini parties run the risk of not reaching the threshold of 3% of the vote required to maintain their registrations.

Despite the new elements in the upcoming mid-terms, most of the user experience is feeling more like nostalgia than a brave new world. The PRI-ally Mexican Green Party (as in green the color of money, not the European progressive movement) has raised eyebrows by flagrantly flaunting electoral laws spending millions of pesos on television spots. In Mexico City and elsewhere, reports abound of local party organizations using beatings and intimidation to prevent rivals from proselytizing, and candidates have been assassinated in rougher areas such as the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. Civil society is having a hard time making headway in addressing the country’s underlying problems, and from the looks of things, the June 7 mid-term elections will not make much of a contribution.

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