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Abandon hope.. or, thinking outside the (ballot) box

20 October 2010

Nezua, in riffing on the upcoming U.S. elections (and the failure to pass even minimal immigration reform) compares what was said, with what was done (and not done):

The Obama Administration has proven a dismal failure on immigration reform, and a disappointment to those hoping for change in U.S. policy towards Latin America.  In a way it’s no surprise.  I’m pretty much in agreement with Nez’ point-of-view —  that U.S. political parties are NOT going to change, and have an incentive not to reform, so  I don’t see a hint at using absentionism as a political tool is all that radical, or even surprising.

It’s not my place to argue for, or against, absentionism, but I would note that elections are not the only path to political power, even in a democracy.  There are legitimate arguments made that the two U.S. parties (and the system is designed to limit choices to either/or) have only narrow ideological differences (both rooted in the same 18th century concepts of economic liberty, and 19th century assumptions about capitalism) limits the voter to the less harmful of two choices, neither of which may represent the voter’s own ideology.

A possibly “subversive” motive for pushing abstention is based on the gamble that abstention will discredit the political process itself, and lead to radical change.

Both arguments for abstention are relevant factors in Mexican electoral politics.  Although since the 1990s, perhaps only by accident, the Mexican electoral system has opened up opportunities for dissenting factions to join in  governance (if only as plurinomials in the legislature based on a small percentage of the overall vote), the mostly middle-class “voto nulo” campaign  was grounded in the view that the candidates offered by the parties did not reflect a genuine democratic choice.

The “subversive” argument is used by the Zapatistas, who may recognize that they would fare badly at the ballot-box, or would be considered irrelevant given that there are parties whose platforms and ideology could absorb Zapatismo without problems. Or genuinely believe that the communitarian “council of elders” system that governs their small political units is viable outside their own communities.

But I get the sense that Nezua’s riff on a failure in U.S. politics has more in common with another “outside the ballot-box” strategy for democratic change.  Aguachile, whose excellent website on Mexican politics should be on your webfeeder, has lately been highly critical of Andres Manuel López Obrador for disappointing his own followers… apparently “destroying” the PRD through his “anti-democratic” attempts to keep his social-democratic party from running as a coalition partner with the christian democratic (and capitalist) PAN, even though, as Aguachile and most observers believe, such a strategy offers the best chance of defeating the PRI in districts where that party and its predecessors has not been successfully challenged since the Revolution.

Like the Zapatistas, there is the belief among some in the AMLO camp that allowing the opposition to win (and to misgovern) will shock the nation into accepting an alternative government, but I have no idea how widespread that belief is.

Aguachile gets a little tired of López Obrador’s tendency to blame all ills in Mexican politics on Carlos Salinas, but López Obrador’s point that the 1990s reforms (good as they were) largely locked the then extant political system into place.  Largely the creation of the despised  Salinas, the system, especially the electoral tribunals, seem — according to the AMLOistas — designed for the benefit of Salinas’ favored factions).  And, I don’t think the AMLO-istas are completely wrong in seeing a partnership with their ideological opposites in PAN as ultimately moderating themselves into irrelevance and creating a “tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum” Mexican ballot. In this sense, they are not all that different in their critiques of the ballot box from the voto nulo campaigners, or the U.S. voters who see a choice between the lesser of two evils as no choice at all.

Maybe they’re right.  At least so far here in Sinaloa, where a PAN-PRD coalition take the governorship and the Mazatlán municipal presidency, there’s no indication that the PRD will have anything more than an ameloriating effect on the right wing (and our new governor was PRI until just before his nomination… as a PANista).  The PRD just doesn’t have the organizational structure to win elections here, which it may (in coalition with other leftist parties) it may have in the State of Mexico, where AMLO most strongly objects to a PAN-PRD coalition.

And, given that the PRD is, at most 15 to 20 percent of the electorate, but AMONG VOTERS has an outsized influence by holding a balance of power between the two larger parties, and that non-voting democratic pressure (via alternative media, street demonstrations and other activities) also can sway even the most hide-bound of politicians, maybe winning the election is not all that important.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary O'Grady permalink
    20 October 2010 1:42 pm

    I’m an idiot.
    I realize that every time I see a clip of President Obama like Nezua’s, and there sure seem to be lots of them. (On Monday evening, for example, I got to hear about what President Obama is not doing to uphold the separation of church and state, from the Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.)
    I know I’m not the only idiot. Is that supposed to make me feel better in some way?

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