Saturday, May 16, 2015

Today's Mexico City Headlines: Why exactly are we supposed to care about the June 7 elections? Oh, right, because people are getting killed.

It’s hard to describe any narrative for this mid-term election season because there isn’t one. The June 7 vote may or may not nudge the balance of party power one way or another in the lower house of Congress, but it won’t make much difference either way.
    As we put up with a marketing frenzy as shameless as it is tasteless, with its campaign events that look and feel like bonanza days down at Friendly Frank’s auto parts emporium, with their balloons and miniskirted educanes and scratchy canned recordings of bad pop music, we can be either consoled or further annoyed by the realization that it’s all for nothing.
    Call it a tribute to the intelligence of the Mexican punditocracy, or a confirmation of its cynicism, but not many bought into the idea that this election, coming as it has at the height of popular frustration with the political classes and all they entail, would serve as a kind of soapbox for a bold statement from the masses.
    Mexican elections don’t work that way, especially mid-terms, when there’s no such thing as a wave election.
    Even presidential elections don’t often get people excited about any one candidate. Exceptions came in 1988 with Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who really was a wave candidate, and 2006 with Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The former was cheated out of a victory, the latter defamed into a narrow loss.
    As for the famous alternancia victory by the PAN’s Vicente Fox in 2000, there was a lot less to it than met the eye. The PRI was due for a loss, then-President Ernesto Zedillo, to his credit, was ready to accept one, and Cárdenas had by then been beaten into insignificance. That left Fox as the non-PRI candidate with a clear path to the presidency.
    Which is not to downplay the significance of ousting the PRI after seven decades. But on the ground, the Fox sexenio was painful. Francisco Labastida, the brother of a poet, would have served the nation better, PRI baggage and all.
    There was never a chance, then, to connect this mid-term election to the simmering national unrest. No one knows that better than President Peña Nieto, who could comfortably announce that the June 7 vote will be a referendum on his presidency. He can’t lose, even if he loses.
    Another proposed narrative breaks down the proceedings from the other side of the looking glass. Parallel movements to use the June 7 election to rage against the machine either by intentionally annulling one’s ballot (an imposed none-of-the-above vote) or by summarily boycotting the election continue.
    The poet/activist Javier Sicilia has made a particularly strong case for active abstention. A vote for any of the parties, he says, is a vote in favor of corruption, oppression and a failed system.
    But again, there’s a huge gap between the intellectual argument for a protest non-vote and what could possibly happen.
    The best the abstentionists can hope for is to drive down the turnout rate, which is going to be low anyway. Who’s to say where apathy leaves off and protest begins? It’s a noble strategy with no path to victory.
    Then there’s the Morena factor. If you’re scratching around for a reason to care about this election, you can look to López Obrador’s latest game plan for winning the presidency. 
    AMLO left the PRD, with which party he ran for president in 2006 and 2012, ostensibly in protest of its signing on to a three-party agreement that led to the economic reform package pushed through Congress by President Peña Nieto. Those reforms included the opening up of Pemex, the parastate oil company, to private investment, anathema to traditional Mexican leftists.
    But AMLO’s desertion and creation of Morena happened to coincide with a plunge in the PRD’s image. Even PRD supporters were beginning to perceive that party as no cleaner than the others. PRD office holders, on their part, were giving them plenty of reasons to come to that conclusion.
    Morena’s calling card, then, is to be the party of the left without the stench of the PRD. So it is of interest, then, to see if AMLO’s party grips the road at all on June 7. Will it eat into the PRD's stronghold on the Federal District? Will it take some municipalities in Michoacán and Guerrero? Will it show enough strength to give AMLO some shoulders to stand on in the 2018 presidential race?
    I for one am curious to see what happens. But again, it doesn’t matter all that much. AMLO is going to run for president in 2018 regardless of Morena’s showing in 2015. And all indications today are that, unlike in 2012, when he was still being punished for his erratic behavior after the 2006 defeat, he’ll be a formidable candidate.
    So we’re left with one operative narrative for this depressing campaign — the role of violence. Two states that have drawn attention are Guerrero and Michoacán, because of their recent violent history and because both are electing governors with the outcomes unclear.
    It’s no secret that in the rural areas of both these states, power at the pueblo level is a synthesis of organized crime pressure, local vigilante resistance and whatever input the state and local governments care to provide. All three of those players can be physically aggressive, so it’s been a concern since the beginning that this election may be marked by violence.
    And it has been, though you’d never know it from the news coverage. On Thursday, two local candidates were gunned down within a period of two hours, one a city council candidate with the PRI in the state of Tabasco and the other a front-running mayoral candidate in a Michoacán municipality.
    That brings the number of murdered candidates to four this year.
    Most of the papers front the story, El Universal's head is typical: “Two candidates killed.”
    Four dead candidates in five months is not the stuff of a violence-free election, no matter how minor the offices they sought. Is our bar set so high that a mere four political murders  is considered minor? 

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