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A Nation at the Brink - Mexico's July 5 Legislative Election

July 4th, 2009

A Nation on the Brink Mexico's
July 5 Legislative Elections

Part 2 of a three part series (Part 1)

Michael Collins and Kenneth Thomas

Mexico approaches this election confronting the rise of a narcostate, growing economic chaos, social inequalities, citizen disenchantment--or worse

As Mexico approaches the July 5th mid-term elections, the nation confronts two critical problems. An expanding an increasingly violent "war on drugs" threatens to convert Mexico into a narcostate. This will lead to the inevitable compromise of the members of all political parties. An expanding economic crisis in the wake of NAFTA and the global financial situation, threatens private companies, the Central Bank, and government programs -- as well as the income and employment of most citizens. Rising social inequality and a workforce crisis mean that many, perhaps most, Mexicans live in conditions parallel to those of sub-Saharan Africa.

Disenchantment and dismay reign. The volatile political situation foreshadows a change in the air. Close to 80% of Mexicans voted in mid-term elections in the 90's. Tomorrow, turnout is expected to be less that 50%. An attempted "no confidence" vote on the government looms. Members of the various parties engage in what has been called "fratricide." And there is talk -- talk which hearkens back to the Revolution of 1910 -- that it's time for the people to ignore the major parties and take matters into their own hands.

The Old Guard

How are the political parties responding?

PAN. After securing the Presidency in 2006, the ruling National Action Party (PAN) launched a domestic "law and order" war on Mexico's drug cartels. It is unclear that this war has achieved its stated results. Shootouts in Acapulco, jail breaks with guards acting like teamsters for jailed narco traffickers, and the occasional physical and sexual assault by out of control troops are becoming the norm. Mexico seems transformed into a Sam Peckenpah movie set but the bullets are real and the death toll is staggering. A least 15,000 have been killed since 2007, despite the government's attempts to "disappear" the casualties on all sides. Recent reports suggest that many municipal and state governments have been infiltrated during this "war." Well above half the Mexican people doubt Calderon’s campaign will have any positive effect.

As well, possibly as a result of human rights abuses by federal troops, the narcotraffickers and their political apparatus have come to enjoy a level of popular support. One message left by the cartels may express this simply: "We do not kill women and children. We have honor."

PAN's proposals for economic growth and social improvement have been couched in terms of the development of free markets under the NAFTA model and the efficiency of private sector enterprises and projects. More recently, in the face of economic crisis, President of the Republic Filipe Calderon has begun to speak in a mystical rhetoric concerning the economy and the role of the people. For example:

"El mandatario llamó a generar los acuerdos que permitan lograr el desarrollo y generar los empleos 'que tanto necesitamos', y argumentó que "pensar en México, creer en México y trabajar por México debe ser la ruta de todos, más allá de nuestras diferencias'".

"The leader called for the creation of agreements which will generate development and the jobs 'which we all need,' and asked 'that we think of Mexico, believe in Mexico and work for a Mexico which will be the path for all, greater than all our differences.'" Dec. 18, 2008

While the terms here echo -- and may be meant to undercut -- ­­the PAN’s 2006 campaign "Coalition For the Good of All," it remains unclear what constitutes real meaning for the phrases "agreements which will generate development," "believing in Mexico" or how that belief and "the path for all" will fix the economic crisis or make parties that can't even achieve internal.

However, the PAN has also recently secured multi-billion lines of credit from United States Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These will be used to bail out failed Mexican firms. In addition, as President Calderon has promised, the funds will provide for social, infrastructural, and educational projects.

According to polls, the PAN is expected to lose 35 seats in the Chamber of Deputies from its current 170.

PRD. The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has a different take on the war on drugs and the economy. A key PRD leader in the Senate called for the legalization of recreational drugs that fuel the war on drugs. The party has also shied away from supporting the use of the Army in street battles with drug cartel gunmen.

PRD is the only party that has attempted to chart a broad-based, well defined socio-economic program. Before the 2006 Presidential campaign, PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador assembled a team of experts to prepare an economic operating plan for Mexico. The plan included items such as mandatory reductions in the federal budget, negotiated cutbacks in entitlement programs such as social security and pensions, and reform of PeMex, as well as a program of educational and infrastructural investments.

After losing the controversial election in 2006, PRD presidential candidate AMLO outlined his vision for Mexican development. He included input from the six month's of protests in Mexico City after the July 2006 election, and attempted to implement the project by a coalition in the Congress. A later collapse of the coalition, as well as political infighting, quashed implementation of this program and left the PRD in a tenuous position for future elections.

PRD is expected to lose forty of its 126 seats in the Chamber of Deputies

PRI. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled Mexico from 1929 through 2000. Its rule has been characterized both by socialist and leftist tendencies, and the enforcement of a command economy with heavy traces of crony capitalism and tight controls over access to media, capital, public services -- and political office. Under such a "one-party" system, the PRI typically gained 75% of the vote. During a forty year period, PRI accomplished the "Mexican Miracle," which increased economic production six fold while the population only doubled.

The PRI has frequently been criticized as "wishy washy" in the war on drugs. PRI has advocated better implementation of law and policy. At the same time, the party has criticized for possibly having deep ties to the cartels trafficking in narcotics.

Economically, it is difficult to understand PRI's platform or approach. It's also hard to tell how the voters see PRI's economic policy. Historically, the PRI fell from influence during pressures for openings for foreign development of the Mexican economic system. More specifically, the party took the blame for the post-1988 failures of US-led "open market" economics. Yet PRI remains a party closely identified by many with the nation itself.

Pre election polls strongly suggest that the PRI will be the biggest apparent "winner" on Sunday, more than doubling its current 106 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

"Nullification!?!" A forth major candidate on July 5 will be "voto nulo," (null vote). Voters are urged to deliberately void their ballot to cast a vote of "no confidence." The recipients are those who run a political system that continually fails to accomplish anything. The "null" option has also been described as the best statement possible of disillusionment and distrust with the electoral system and institutions. Voto nulo is the sleeper in this election (see part 3 of this series on Election Day). It's was pegged at 11% in a poll just reported on June 30th.

Voto Nulo: Voting this way nullifies your ballot. The null ballot total becomes the total vote for those who reject the dominant parties and the electoral institutions.

Will the winners end up losing?

The July 5th elections will choose the 500 members of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies. Voters in 11 states plus the Federal District will elect governors. Within those states and the Federal District, 565 mayors will be elected.

What challenges will the winners face?

Mexicans are watching a "dirty war" fought in their streets, parks, and resorts. At the same time, the citizens are the victims of that war. The war is a PAN invention that models the U.S. war on drugs.

There are some important differences. The PAN government is more than willing to fight cartel gunmen on the streets. In the last two months, 18 were killed in an Acapulco shootout and 53 cartel gunmen were freed form a Mexican jail with no resistance. Drug lords competing for territory in the cocaine transit trade are kidnapping members of opposing gangs, decapitating them, and sharing the videos for an unfathomable purpose. The nation is peering into the abyss and may see a narcostate emerge soon without effective opposition. Slaughtering cartel gunmen on the streets has failed.

What will those elected do to address this madness?

Gross inequities in the economic system present a fearsome burden for the nation.

The wealthiest 20% of Mexicans control nearly 60% of the nation's wealth while the lowest 50% has only 12%. This is somewhat better than the U.S. where the top 10% control 71% of the wealth. But Mexico has a Gross Domestic Product of $1.1 trillioin compared to the $14.3 trillion for the U.S. There's less to spread around.

What's left for the vast majority and what is their incentive?

Year after year, the poor see their job opportunities and wages drop while the cost of food, energy, and other essentials rise. For them, it's not a matter of giving up their medicine to eat. Simply having that choice would be a luxury.

Mexico has an annual outbound migration of 800,000, mostly workers. That's three times the annual outbound migration of India and four times that of China. An estimated 12 million Mexicans live out of the country. This reduces the population on Mexican soil from 107 to 95 million and the active work force from 45 million to 33 million, less than a third of the total population. Workers left at home are placed in the increasingly arduous position of coming up with the revenues that run local, state, and federal programs.

Mexicans 19 years old and under comprise 40% of the population (ILO Laborsta). Will the state be able to educate and train this resource to capture the creativity of the people or will it squander this valuable opportunity as it has Mexico's oil wealth.

The winners may end up as the ultimate losers as these imminent dangers reach maturity over the next few years?

Part 3 of this series will accurately predict the winner of elections and comment on an irresolvable inconsistency in the PAN war on drugs.

END

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