This year’s mid-term elections coincide with an epidemic of cynicism especially virulent even by Mexican standards. The national mood is nasty, and talk of turning an otherwise moribund election into a protest action has started earlier than usual.
Of course, election protest has always been part of the ritual. It can be big, a la Venezuela, with an entire political force boycotting the whole show — generally a ploy for turning certain defeat into a noble statement.
In the States it can take the form of a third-party candidate, like a Ralph Nader, who helped Bush to victory on the grounds that there was no difference between him and Gore. Turned out there was a rather signficant difference, and the world still hasn't recovered from it.
It can be a call for abstention by the Zapatistas in 2006, not generally heeded but perhaps enough to keep AMLO out of Los Pinos, given his razor-thin margin of defeat that year.
It can be the narcissist who, no matter what else is at stake, “just wouldn’t feel right” voting for a candidate who hadn’t committed political suicide by promising to legalize pot on day one, or whatever his pet single-issue was. As if en election were about his warm, fuzzy little feelings . . .
It can be the voto útil of 2000, in which supporters of the left-wing candidate, who was lagging in the polls, tossed aside their conviction to vote for the right-wing candidate. The idea was to get rid of the PRI at any cost. That cost was the most ineffective president in recent memory. They waited 72 years to oust the PRI. Six more would have killed them?
It can also be a reasonable response to a pseudo-election staged by an authoritarian state. Boycott or abstention may not change anything, but either beats lending legitimacy to a farce.
Things smell different this time around here in Mexico. Seldom has an election been so ripe for some kind of protest.
It isn’t so much the integrity of the election itself. To be sure, the process won’t be squeaky clean. Vote-buying, for example, will again be rampant, as it always will be as long as poverty is so brutal that a little added incentive for a vote is seen as morally equivalent to accepting a tip. Still, outright fraud is not the issue.
The issue is that the nation's entire institutional infrastructure is perceived as hopelessly corrupt. Not corrupt in a quaint, Runyonesque kind of way. Criminally corrupt. Violently corrupt. In the public eye, the lines separating the political leadership, law enforcement and organized crime are gone. They are three, yet one, like the Holy Trinity.
Worst of the lot are the political parties, rotten one and all to the core. Never revered, they’ve recently managed to sink to the bottom of public esteem. Each still has its voto duro — its base — but not one makes much of an effort any more to even pretend that they’re in it for any other reason than getting in on the action. Ideology no longer matters. The closest thing to a coherent program any candidate will offer is a parroting of the issues de jour, which this time around will be corruption and violence — precisely what they themselves are guilty of as far as the public is concerned.
Yet, save for a so-far insignificant handful of newly allowed independent candidates, this election is only about choosing between parties. To what appears to be a growing number of would-be voters, that’s like being asked which criminal organization you support. In any event, it doesn’t look like a productive way to force the state to clean itself up.
This isn’t Bush vs Gore, or AMLO vs Calderón. It’s not right vs left, free market vs anti-poverty, liberal vs conservative.
It’s rehabilitation vs implosion. And that’s not on the ballot.
Which is why some kind of election-related protest strategy seems attractive to so many people — responsible, non-fanatical people. What do they have in mind? Will it do any good? We’ll take a look next time.