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Never say never again

18 July 2010

Nothing happens in Mexico…  until it happens.

(Porfirio Díaz)

I guess the mainstream guys weren’t listening to me, when I said it’s much, much too early to make predictions about the 2012 presidential elections, let alone the candidates.  Two assumptions made by the mainstream guys (and they know who they are) have been that Enrique Peña Nieto would be head the PRI ticket in 2012 (and, as a corollary, would be the next President) and that Lopéz Obradór was washed up, history, a goner.  Neither is holding up.

Who won and who lost the recent by-elections is largely a matter of spin, but one thing is certain … Peña Nieto — and his supporters — are having to change their assumptions.  As David Agren wrote this week:

How much does State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto fear the formation of anti-PRI electoral alliance for the July 2011 gubernatorial race in his home state? Apparently enough to postpone the election date to July 2012, when the country chooses a new president – and he expects to romp to victory as the Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate.

Assuming there is a governor’s election in the State of Mexico there’s no guarantee that the PRI would win… or that a coalition like the quasi-successful left-right one that captured the governorship in Sinaloa, Oaxaca and Puebla would be successful.  If — as proposed — the State Constitution is changed to delay the elections, it could also expose Peña Nieto as a weak candidate and the PRI as a party too insecure to submit itself to the voters.

The left-right alliance may not hold (and probably won’t) but it looks as if the “left-left” alliance is going to survive.

Not completely unexpected, Andrés Manuel López Obradór — AMLO — has announced his intention to seek the Presidency … de facto as well as legitimo … in 2012. Supposedly, there was a pact with Marcelo Ebrard, the sitting Jefe de Gobierno in the Federal District (AMLO’s old job) to step aside and allow Ebrard to become the standard-bearing of a leftist coalition, Ebrard denies this:

He (López Obradór] said “Let’s take a survey on this and see where we are headed. He’s the head of a popular movement, and the agreements we have — not just between individuals, but among the entire left — are still in place .

Commentators, of course, never take politicians at their word, and most have seen this as a fracture of the left-wing coalition, the lopezobradoristas would argue that the willingness of the leftist parties to run as junior partners in coalition with PAN opens the door to a “true leftist”.

They may be right (er… correct).  Magli Marlene Juárez writes in the 16 July The [Mexico City] News:

The Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the Labor Party (PT) and the Convergence Party (Convergencia) all affirmed that they wouldn’t allow the nation’s left-wing to be split in the next presidential elections, and said they would fully support either Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador or Marcelo Ebrard as the candidate, depending on who is chosen.
A pact was signed by members of the Dialogue for Mexico’s Reconstruction (DIA), promising unity during the next election.

Ebrard is no more acceptable to the right than Lopez Obradór, probably less so, since the “social reforms” bitterly opposed by the right — like legalized abortion and same-gender marriage — had to wait in the Federal District until Lopez Obradór no longer dominated the political agenda.

I don’t think Lopez Obradór, under any circumstances, would be supported by the right (though I’ve been wrong before), but Marcelo Ebrard might be open to criticism from social conservatives within the left, like Evangelical Protestant and traditional indigenous leaders.

And, Lopez Obradór is the candidate who draws the crowds. One problem with making assumptions about 2012 is that voter turnout was low… not surprising, really.  It was higher in states like Sinaloa where there were more interesting candidates.  In places where the candidates were uninspiring (like Baja California) or prevented from campaigning (like Quintana Roo), the turnout was low.  Whatever the merits of the case against Greg Sanchez in Quintana Roo, and whatever his defects as a candidate (or an office-holder) he did appeal to the lower-class voters, and turnout would have been much higher (and he might have won) had he been a candidate.  That certainly looked like voter surpression to me, and it was a factor in several state elections.  Jenaro Villamil, in last week’s Proceso wrote of voter turnout:

In analysing the recent elections, historian Lorenzo Meyer starts with a stab at political realism: the elites are not willing to allow the “lower classes” to make decisions that would change the state of affairs in the country, and has blocked the transition to real democracy, no matter the parties, whatever their initials, in partnerships or by themselves. The alternation in power is irrelevant. All seek the same thing: the money and power means electoral triumph. In that sense, the Independence movement and the Revolution can be considered failures.

Lopez Obradór faced down his own attempts to use criminal charges to prevent his running in 2006, and it doesn’t look as if that trick would work again, and — if it were tried — would likely increase his support.

As a candidate, Lopez Obradór would bring in the voters who have been turned off — largely because they believed his election was stolen, or because, even with their vote, they saw nothing changing.  With the Calderón Administration losing more support every day, and the “drug war” getting more, not less, violent as a result of the Administration’s fixation on the issue, and it’s apparent inability to designate a successor to Calderón that — barring a surprise candidate from PAN running as an anti-administration figure (as Calderón did during the PAN primaries) — any PAN candidate will be damaged goods at best.

PRI only managed to get seventeen percent vote in the 2006 election.  Admitted, they had the crappiest candidate of all times, and the party was split by Esther Elba Gordilla’s defection and internal dissention, but for the country’s largest party (and the world’s most successful political machine) this was pathetic.  I’ve always been of the mind that Calderón only eked out his victory (if he indeed did, which I will always doubt) it was because of Esther Elba’s “Nueva Aliaza” managing to split PRI vote in Oaxaca at the state level, while giving Calderón a margin of votes for President that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.  While Peña Nieto remains PRI’s best hope for 2012, he is likely to be a weak candidate, especially compared to a neighbor from the Federal District. And, despite attempts by PRI party chair, Beatriz Parades to move the party back to its socialist roots, it is still the “neo-liberal” party of Carlos Salinas in the minds of most political chatterers and the cartoonists.   The image is going to hurt… especially if, as it is doing now, it becomes tarred with the perception that either it cannot push a viable alternative to Calderón’s economic policies or his “drug war” fixation.   Or, as happens in some places (like Sinaloa), it’s seen as an ally of the narcos.

And both PAN and PRI are stuck with being “insiders” in the drug war.  While PRD is also an insider, less so than the two bigger parties, and Lopez Obradór has been an outsider during the “Plan Merida” era.  Calderón loses more and more popularity in Juarez every day, and — as the news of the “drug war” gets worse and worse (and there is more and more U.S. pressure for a quick fix) the more unpopular PAN and PRI become.
PAN has no real up and coming candidate, and is likely to be even more split by internal dissention — and this is the irony of Mexican politics —  after taking 10 percent of the nation back from PRI in the governor’s elections.  Notice that the winning coalition candidates were all ex-PRI figures and it only did so by allying with all anti-PRI forces while not trying to expand voter turnout.

Calderón loses more and more popularity in Juarez every day, and — as the news of the “drug war” gets worse and worse (and there is more and more U.S. pressure for a quick fix) the more unpopular PAN and PRI become.

PRD, and Lopez Obradór, has always been open to defector candidates from other parties and — for all his personal faults — Lopez Obradór has been a master at building coalitions.  As a candidate, he brings out voters who otherwise would stay home — especially youth voters (a la Barack Obama.  He’s been pushing an alternative agenda which is likely to appeal to those who haven’t bothered to vote until now.

Giving speeches in the campo and writing books has kept him under the radar (Sanborns supposedly wasn’t going to carry La mafia que se adueño de México … y el 2012, but does have it.  I had to ask for it at my local Sanborns,  which sort of surprised the clerks, though they’re used to this weird foreigner with a taste for lefy Mexican publications now).

Books and speeches were Madero’s weapons in 1910… and, like Madero, Lopez Obradór is no prose stylist.  Of course, when Madero’s La sucesión presidential en 1910 came out, it was criticized for having no literary or academic content.  Which, as Francisco Bulnes, one of the more astute of Don Porfirio’s cientificos pointed out, was exactly what made it so dangerous…   it had mass appeal and was readable. By the way, it’s been reprinted — and available at Sanborn’s too.

In Don Porfirio’s day, it wasn’t all that hard to freeze Madero out of the media (who turned to   alternative media strategists like Pancho Villa to get the message across).  Harder in the days of mass media and corporate domination of the airwaves.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one’s political persuasion, and/or investment in political theater) Lopez Obradór’s  alternative media presence (Regeneracion for example) seems amateurish.

Of course, all this depends on what happens through the rest of 2010, and into the first half of 2011… stay tuned.  Nothing is going to happen… until it happens.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 July 2010 2:28 pm

    Have you read, _La mafia que se adueño de México … y el 2012,_ yet? Is it worth reading? The comparison with Madero’s book is interesting. I am curious, do you think enough younger politically aware Mexicans will be aware of his book? Or will only, you and Lorenzo Meyer read it?

  2. 18 July 2010 2:46 pm

    Gee, I never thought of myself in the august company of Lorenzo Meyer, but I’m guessing it’ll have better sales than that. I only picked it up on Thursday and haven’t had time to pick through it yet. One thing I notice about it is that — like Madero’s book — besides being easy to read — is that Lopez Obradór uses popular history to build his arguments for change, while suggesting that the changes are in the Mexican tradition. His last chapter is entitled “El regreso de PRI sería el returno de Santa Anna” — a memorable way of making his point.

    At the same time, a lot of it seems to be a political memoir, sort of an “informe” on his “presidencia legitima” and an analysis of what he sees as the deficiencies of the Calderón Administration. I’ve read other books he’s written (or — maybe his staff has written?) that always struck me for being easy-to-read (compared to other politicos who like to overwhelm you with their literary style, or — like Fox — are obviously ghost-written) and sounds like his speeches.

    I don’t know if younger Mexicans will read it, or just old fogies (and weird old fogie foreigners like me) or not… I think this is his real challenge (and that for all Mexican politicos) … to come up with new media means of reaching younger voters and non-readers.

  3. 19 July 2010 7:10 am

    I am going to read “La mafia que se adueño de México … y el 2012” I hope the writing will manage to re-convert voters (including myself) who were so hopeful AMLO would lead Mexico towards sanity and then absolutely horrified at the insane way he handled the post electoral fiasco. Yes he was defrauded, yes the machine did plow right over him but he (perhaps fearing his political fate would be like that of Cardenas) played right into the PAN/PRI game, managing to turn nearly everyone off. ¿Cuando, cuando, cuando… will sanity return? and ¿Como, como,como?

  4. Jose Garcia permalink
    19 July 2010 8:50 am

    I sure hope that Manuel Lopez Obrador wins the election. We all know what the Pri gave us, and have already had a taste of what PAN is able to offer us. Why not PRD? Maybe they can close the huge gap between the rich and the poor.Also, I sure hope that Jenaro Villamil is wrong about PRD being like all of the parties; that is, being like money hungry and all. Because, If they win, and PRD turns out to be just like he described all the political parties, then like my grandpa used to say “Ya valio madre”.

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