The 2015 Mexican mid-term election campaign officially kicks off Sunday. What, you thought it started months ago? No, that was the pre-campaign. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
What you’ll mostly be seeing (and hearing) are short political advertisements. As La Jornada puts it in its No. 4 front-page headline, “Starting Sunday, an avalanche of spots.”
The campaigns are publicly funded, with huge sums doled out party by party. Strategists learned long ago that the best use of that money is quick-hit TV and radio ads. With 10 parties in the running for federal and state legislative seats, plus nine governorships and a host of municipal presidencies, that’s a lot of quick-hits over two months.
The spots themselves, like most political advertising anywhere, are not meant to inform. They’re designed to push buttons.
The folks that produce them are very good at it. It’s not as easy as it looks to create the illusion of substance while manipulating inner hopes and fears. Many of the best minds in Mexican media are dedicated to fooling people into voting for the candidates who hired them.
If you’re thinking this is no way to run a democracy, you’re not alone. The system is criticized by political commentators and resented by the populace.
But it’s unlikely to end any time soon. Using the time-honored political demystification technique — Who pays? Who benefits? — one notes quickly what a tremendous cash cow this is for Televisa and TV Azteca, the existing network duopoly with outsized influence on policy decisions. And that’s not counting the two new ones that will be in full operation well before the 2018 presidential vote.
The spots are allotted in advance, so we know how many there will be. La Jornada’s article is all about those numbers, which are impressive — or scary, depending on your mood.
There will be 11.3 million TV and radio spots for parties and their candidates from April 5 to just before June 7 (we get a few days of relief before the actual vote). That’s 97,000 hours of political advertising in two months.
Spot time is allocated by party strength, so the PRI gets the most at 22.4%, or a total of just under 3 million spots. The percentage is actually higher than that relative to the other parties, since 14.6% of the total allotment goes to ads by election authorities.
Add to the PRI total the 6.1% of its close ally, the Green Party, and it approaches that of its two main rivals combined (28.5% for PRI-PVEM, 18.6% for the PAN and 13.8% for the PRD.
The three new parties get the minimum 2.3%, which still translates to 309,674 spots each. What’s interesting here is that Morena, the new party founded by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which hopes to make an impact in certain states and the DF, gets the same as the Partido Humanista and the Partido Encuentro Social, neither of which will be making any impact anywhere.
That means the schismatic Morena has one-sixth the spot-power as the PRD, the party it hopes to take votes away from. Morena will probably focus its effort in Mexico City, and perhaps in some states where the PRD has won recently, such as Guerrero, Michoacán and Baja California Sur.
If you live in conservative states such as Jalisco or Guanajuato, don’t expect to hear as much from Morena, or the PRD for that matter.
PLEASE, MR. SECRETARY, TELL US EVERYTHING'S OKAY IN GUERRERO
Much of the election overage, you’ve surely noticed, is less about for whom people might vote as about whether they will vote at all.
We’ve explored a little in this space (for example, here, here and especially here) the movements urging citizens either to intentionally nullify their ballot or abstain entirely. The point of the protest, the boycott promoters say, is that to vote for one party over another can make no dent in what they consider a hopelessly corrupt system, and in fact perpetuates it. Time to take a stand.
Voices ranging from President Peña Nieto to AMLO are criticizing these calls.
But election authorities’ main concern is not whether people choose to cast a legitimate ballot or not — that’s their business — but whether they will be denied the opportunity to make that choice. The safety and integrity — perhaps even the existence —of the electoral process is under threat in at least four troubled states.
Michoacán is one of them, despite assurances yesterday from Interior (Gobernación) Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong that the state of Michoacán “is one of the seven safest in the nation.” We learn this from a story reefered on Excélsior’s front page with the head “Security in Michoacán highlighted.”
This comes as extremely good news. And all he had to do was say it. If the good secretary will just make similar pronouncements about Oaxaca, Guerrero and Tamaulipas, our troubles are over.
Back to reality. The Guerrero election is in the most danger. El Universal bases its top front-page headline this morning on a state attorney general’s report: “Warning on five risk scenarios in Guerrero.” We aren't really told what those scenarios are, but we are indeed told who would be responsible for them.
We’re used to hearing election threats from the radical state teachers group CETEG, the dissident national educators organization CNTE, and the Guerrero Popular Movement, or MPG, the umbrella organization that grew out of the movement protesting the disappearance of 43 teachers college students last September.
Those groups have made it clear they don’t want the June 7 elections to happen, though they’ve sent mixed signals on whether they will physically disrupt them. They’ve already intimidated would-be poll workers, however, and forced election officials to seek alternatives to schools as voting sites.
We’re also used to mentions of drug-trafficking organizations in this context. The thinking is that they aren’t going to let something as petty as an election threaten their control over local governments across the state.
Interestingly, the state AG report doesn’t mention the narcos, or at least the El Universal story doesn’t. What’s mentioned a lot are the clandestine rebel groups — the EPR, the ERPI, the FARP — scattered through the badlands of Guerrero. It’s from them, in collaboration with CETEG, that the threat to the election comes, according to the report.
You heard that right — in collaboration with CETEG. The report gives us a lot of alleged links between past and present leaders of the teachers group and the armed revolutionaries.
Of course, it’s worth remembering that allegations of “links” often have ulterior motives and don't always hold up. Otherwise, we’d think of Martin Luther King as a communist agent, Barack Obama a Kenyan terrorist and the 2006 AMLO campaign a stand-in for a Hugo Chávez takeover of Mexico.
So there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t even know what these mysterious rebel groups are all about these days. Are they trained and hardened revolutionaries? Or farmers with guns who get together when they sense trouble?
What we do know is that the one element uniting guerrerenses is a visceral hatred of the federal government. Not just the current one, but all of them, for centuries. And now more than ever.
So links or not, there’s a problem in Guerrero. The smart money may still be on the elections taking place there, but it’s going to require some doing on the part of the election authorities. They appear to be giving it their best effort, but they’re up against formidable foes. Not just protesters, narcos and revolutionaries. Apathy as well.