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Forget mudslinging… time for dirty tricks. Politics as usual

21 June 2006

From the “majesterial” Kelly Arthur Garrett’s column in today’s Mexico City Herald:

April and May were heady months for the Felipe Calderón campaign, a time when the conservative National Action Party (PAN) candidate came back from a distant second to catch and pass longtime frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the polls.Calderón appeared to benefit from López Obrador´s absence from the first nationally televised debate, but his comeback was well underway before that April 25 event. The key to success was a negative ad strategy that quickly evolved into a scare campaign, in which a flood of PAN media spots branded López Obrador as a clone of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and “a danger to Mexico.”

But the tide turned after the June 6 debate when the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) candidate first made the charge that companies owned by Diego Zavala, Calderón´s wife´s brother, had profited disproportionately from government contracts during the Fox administration, and then didn´t pay taxes on most of the income.

Unlike accusations Calderón made against López Obrador during that debate (such as that the son of López Obrador´s driver was attending a college requiring huge tuition sums, which turned out to have been paid by the other side of his divorced parents´ family), this one had legs. If nothing else, the subject has changed from the PAN´s unfavorable description of López Obrador´s economic platform to Calderón´s character.

The new atmosphere may have contributed to López Obrador´s recent surge in the polls, although the rise may also be due to a natural end to what has been described as a media-driven Calderón bubble.Five of six major national polls released since June 6 show the PRD candidate gaining ground, with four of the six putting him in the lead again. The latest, conducted by Parametría for the newspaper Excelsior, gave him a 36-32 edge over Calderón, with Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Roberto Madrazo in third place with 27 percent.

AMLO has been trumpeting his own internal polling showing a 10 point lead over Calderón, but I’m naturally dubious about “interal polling”. I’ve noticed that the so-called “mainstream media” in the U.S. is no longer calling AMLO the “firebrand ex-mayor…” but only the “ex-mayor…” which — I suppose — can be taken to mean they expect him to win, or else have FINALLY realized he’s not another Hugo Chavez.

I haven’t heard from Dick Morris in several weeks now. It appears the PANistas have given up on emulating U.S. style dirty tricks for the tried and true Mexican ones…

Ken Edmonds, also in today’s Herald, writes:

The internet and message-receiving cell phones have registered at least 7 million anonymous messages saying things like, “López Obrador is a danger to Mexico.” No one is sure who does this, but a finger of suspicion points at the National Action Party (PAN), whose candidate, Felipe Calderón, is running neck-and-neck with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former Mexico City mayor….

Many of today’s vote-manipulating tactics are high technology, but some of the tried and true methods are still used — though they have spread from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to everyone with a realistic chance of winning on July 2. Companies are told that they must contribute generously to a party if they are to expect post-election government contracts. Can the vague laws forbidding this practice be invoked to bring justice to perpetrators who do this in private conversations?

…Will polling booths be mysteriously moved on Election Day, as has been done in the past, to discourage some voters from exercising their democratic right? The number and variety of dirty tricks
that can be played is limited only by the imaginations of campaign managers.

And, this… from the same paper:

Felicia González says she was undecided in the last presidential election until campaign workers knocked on her door and offered her nearly US$200 in cash and a basket full of rice, beans, cooking oil and sugar.

That was more than the 35-year-old cleaning woman makes in a month, so suddenly her choice was easy.

“I thought, why not? Who else was going to come along and offer me that much money?” she said.

González, the cleaning woman, said members of Fox´s National Action Party (PAN) bought her vote in 2000. The party also was fined for illegally accepting campaign money from foreigners that year and for violating campaign-spending limits. ..

The PRI was fined for funneling money from the labor union of the state-run oil monopoly to its presidential candidate in 2000.

Even before this year´s campaign, several members of López Obrador´s party were caught on video taking suitcases full of cash. They denied taking bribes, arguing the gifts were campaign contributions. Critics alleged the gifts were not reported.

This year, rivals have accused López Obrador´s party of using public money to lure votes in Mexico City, where he was mayor. Some members of Fox´s party have been accused of conditioning federal aid on political support.

As in the last election, the PAN´s rivals have accused Roman Catholic priests of backing party candidate Felipe Calderón, violating laws that bar the clergy from interfering in elections.

Some companies also have been pressuring workers to vote for a favored party, according to Dan Lund, president of the polling firm Mund Americas.

The president of the Coppel furniture and clothing chain, Enrique Coppel, wrote a letter to his 30,000 employees detailing reasons why they should vote for Calderón – though he also told workers they were free to vote for any candidate. …

There are indications voters are starting to resist outside pressures. Lund said a study of the 2000 elections showed many people took favors from the PRI and gave their support for the party – then went on to vote for Fox.

In other words … it LOOKS like AMLO’s gonna win the vote — but who will win the Presidency is as iffy as President Gore’s victory in 2000 or President Kerry’s in 2004.

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