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State of Mexico 2011, Mexico 2012: que será será

10 July 2011

Unlike Aguachile, I don’t see anything outrageous about a daily hiring a failed politico as a columnist.  Rosario Robles, the former PRD party chair and interim governor of the Federal District between Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is remembered mostly for being spectacularly less than successful in both jobs — and for her involvement in the messy “video-gate scandal,  meant to discredit the Lopez Obrador, who kept saying it was a plot orchestrated by Carlos Salinas… which — as it turned out — was true.

Robles is hardly the first hack politico, nor the first disgraced politician ever hired by the media as a “pundit” … neither intellectual depth nor any particular skill as a prognosticator being a job requirement… though perhaps the creeping USAnization (if I can coin a word) of Mexican media, replacing “public intellectuals” — the historians, philosophers, novelists and academics who wrote trenchant columns on politics and public affairs — with failed politicians and (in the U.S.) washed up sportscasters, might be a cause for alarm.

But I don’t think Rosario Robles as a political commentator is nearly as interesting to Aguachile as the chance to return to one of his favorite topics of late:

Now, Robles argues in her column that a PAN-PRD alliance in Mexico State would have been useless, as the parties together were still beat by more than 30 points. This ignores completely two important points: An early demonstration of unity by PRD-PAN and a credible candidate might have created a very different dynamic and polarized the election. In turn, this might very well have elevated the turnout, which was the lowest in decades. It was exactly the much higher turnout, undoubtedly generated by voters actually believing the opposition candidate stood a chance and thus bothered to show up, which nailed the PRD-PAN triumphs in Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa last year.

Preferring to write on culture and history, I haven’t commented much (at least here) on these recent state elections, and I don’t think I’ve said anything about the supposedly watershed state of Mexico elections held last Sunday.  For those who haven’t followed Mexican news, the PRI swept the elections, winning all municipalities, and the governor’s office.  The only surprise was, that despite hopeful predictions by both PRD and PAN, the PRI did better than expected, winning about 63 percent of the vote, the PRD about 21 percent and PAN pulling in only a miserable 12.5 percent.

Robles is right that the two losing parties wouldn’t have even come close to PRI’s margin, but it doesn’t follow that a coalition of the two would have turned out more voters.  I don’t see much point in engaging in “what ifs”, so while it is true that “An early demonstration of unity by PRD-PAN and a credible candidate might have created a very different dynamic,” that would have depended on there being a credible unity candidate available that wouldn’t have turned off as many true believers in either PAN or PRD as it brought to the polls, and that PRI voters would have stayed home, or switched votes.  And, there wasn’t any such mythical candidate, and the PRI did a better job of turning out their voters.

Voter turn-out was only 45 percent, and might have been lower if there was a compromise left-right candidate.  While weather was a factor (Ecatepec was flooded), it’s also true that people are just turned off by conventional politics.  Younger voters are just refusing to vote (although the PRI received 71 percent of the youth vote in this election, I’m not seeing any figures on what percentage of younger voters turned out… the abstention among the young might be much higher than 45 percent).

Mexico Perspective, quoting columnist (or pundit?) Leo Zuckermann, writes on the relative popularity of the candidates that “name recognition” had a lot to do with this election:

[Governor-elect Eruvial] Ávila, unlike his two major counterparts, has been intimately involved in Mexico state politics in recent years, serving twice as mayor of Ecatepec, the nation’s largest municipality (Mexico City is not considered to be more akin to a state than a municipality). His old-guard counterparts, Felipe Bravo Mena of the National Action Party and Alejandro Encinas of the Democratic Revolution Party, both previously lost governorship bids in 1993, and since have been mainly involved in activities outside the state. While Encinas did well in the debates, he was not an attractive candidate, and Bravo Mena even less so.

Again, I have to wonder where the two opposition parties (of very different governing philosophies) would have found a candidate.  And, more importantly, whether just winning the election is always worthwhile.  Aguachile harks back, regularly, to the PAN-PRD successes in Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa.  In Oaxaca, there was a well-known coalition candidate for governor, but he was not from either of the two main opposition parties, but from Convergencia, and it was an all-party anti-PRI coalition in a state where even the national PRI found the sitting governor an embarrasment.  In Puebla, the national party also found the sitting governor a problem, and here in Sinaloa, the coaliton candidate for governor was PRI until the last possible moment, then switched to PAN to run on the coalition ticket.  He is widely viewed as just a change in PRI faction within the statehouse, and as bringing in his own cronies, putting in a “PRIAN” clique that has frozen out the PRD from any meaningful input into state policy.  In Mazatlan, the PAN-PRD presidente municipal has started off his term by alienating youth, gays and tourism operators.  And beer drinkers (enforcing new “blue laws”) which are hardly the kinds of actions dear to the heart of the average  PRD voter… or the youth vote.

Mexico Perspective brings up one other point:

Zuckermann also said Ávila won on the coattails of current Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto, whose heavy spending on public works projects and other actions have kept him popular — so popular that he is the odds-on candidate to win the presidency next year.

At least the “odds-on”  candidate by the pundocracy, and for all I know, they may be right.  Peña Nieto may have an edge with the U.S. government, if they — as I expect they might — feel that a “free market” Salinas-protege is as much in their interest as a Calderonista who will continue the increasingly pointless “drug war”.  In that case, and one really believes the State of Mexico election was a valid harbinger of the July 2012 election, then the PRD should run its own candidates, and avoid a PAN coalition.  PAN will do very badly, and PRD would be a minority party in any case, so it is better off in a leftist coalition.  It has more in common with smaller parties like PT and Convergencia, and in the Chamber and Senate can form a more effective opposition than it could as a left-right coalition which would have to compromise with PAN on economic and social issues (or take them off the table altogether) if it were to have any impact at all.

And, we’re forgetting the abstentions and voto nulo people, not to mention those potential voters that are off the radar right now… groups like MORENA (Lopez Obrador’s movement) don’t seem to show interest in the main parties, and may be waiting to see if it’s worth voting at all.  Or, other things may happen.

It’s somewhat ridiculous to try to predict the election trends when contested presidential elections have only really been around since 1988 (where there was massive fraud), 1994 (when the PRI candidate was assassinated, and the replacement candidate likely won fair and square), 2000 (also likely having been wonbfairly, though not-so-covert assistance from the U.S. Republican Party played a role in the winner’s election) and 2006, still seen by nearly half the electorate as having been fraudulent.

Mexico has never had a normal presidential election, and there’s no reason to think this one will be either.  And, if it were, it would be abnormal.

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