Monday, January 12, 2015

Election season and its discontents

The 2015 electoral pre-campaign somehow snuck up on us, even though we knew it was coming. New Year’s Eve, nobody’s talking about any kind of vote, anywhere. Then the calendar flips and it’s all you hear about. The dismal season has begun.
    Alas, there’s no getting around it. Mexico’s young democracy must be served, we all understand that. But does it have to be served so loudly and incessantly for more than five months (voting day is June 7)?
    And so inanely? If past is precedent, the level of discourse will be roughly equivalent to a GOP primary debate, but without the entertainment value. 
    And as long as we’re comparing, it’s also a fact that there’s little of the folksy posturing that’s de rigueur stateside, even for the likes of a Mitt Romney who never met a folk in his life. Here in Mexico, a political speech is always delivered with a practiced air of lofty importance, with dullness mistaken for substance. Rare are such diverting spectacles as Hillary Clinton trying to convincingly knock down a shot of bourbon with the good ‘ol boys in a primary state watering hole.
    And the spots. My god, the spots. About half a campaign’s resources go to creating new ways to insult voters’ intelligence via an infinity of blitheringly addle-headed television ads. The other half goes to challenging opponents’ ads as illegal. Mendacity, for example, is outlawed. Imbecility, on the other hand, seems to be encouraged. 
    At least this time around nobody is pretending there’s much on the line. This may be the first election in my lifetime where I haven’t been told it’s the most important election in my lifetime.
    It’s a mid-term, so the presidency and Senate won’t be touched. The lower house — the 500-member Chamber of Deputies — will turn over, but with the three-party system there’s almost no chance of any party getting an absolute majority. And as little chance of it mattering much, in the big view, if one does.
    Nine states will elect new governors, and 16 others, plus the Federal District, will get fresh  legislative bodies. Mexico City will also replace all 16 borough (delegación) heads, re-enacting the triennial phenomenon in which scores of pre-candidates trade in whatever modicum of integrity they may have originally possessed in order to join what is surely the least respected cohort of politicians this side of the Texas legislature.
    Still, election season is to pundits and poli sci professors what the holiday season is to retailers. Make-or-break time. So they’ve been coming up with some reasons for us to pay attention.
    For example, would a poor PRI showing confirm President Peña Nieto’s plummeting popularity? Or a good one end such talk?
    Can the PRD salvage some or all of its stronghold in the Federal District? Or will this election be the beginning of the end of the troubled party?
    Can the conservative, pro-Church PAN, moribund less than a year ago, take advantage of the PRI and PRD’s self-inflicted wounds and re-establish itself?
    What will happen in Guerrero and Michoacán, each reeling from out-of-control violence from all quarters, and each with interim sitting governors? Both have gubernatorial elections in June.
    Can Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s new National Regeneration Movement party, aka Morena, reach its goal of replacing the PRD as the top force on the left in Mexico City, thus setting up a third AMLO presidential run in 2018?
    The questions are interesting, but in the same way the NFL playoffs are interesting to fans without a team in the hunt. Voters don’t feel the whole exercise is set up for them to give voice to what’s on their mind.
    There’s an idea floating around to deal with this discontent. It’s gaining momentum. We’ll take a look at it later this week.

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