Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 373 | Agosto 2012



Election residues

The size and intensity of the post-election protest is explained by the justified sense of grievance significant sectors of Mexican society are feeling. It isn’t sour grapes, it’s a public resisting and rejecting the organized mockery of their political rights. This election opened a new cycle of struggle in the unfinished democratization of Mexico.

On July 1, in the general elections held every six years, Mexico decided the country’s new President and the composition of the federal legislature: 300 seats in the House of Representatives by direct vote of the respective constituency and another 200 by proportional representation. In addition, 64 senators were elected by direct vote: 32 by first minority and 32 by proportional representation. Furthermore, the capital city’s head of government and other gubernatorial elections in six states were also decided at these polls. It was thus an extremely important election.

The results

The district count results made known on July 8 by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) were: former governor of the state of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico (PVEM) 38.21%; Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who goes by AMLO in much of his propaganda) from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) 31.59%; and Josefina Vázquez Mota from the ruling National Action Party (PAN) 25.41%. Gabriel Quadri de la Torre from the New Alliance Party—basically the teachers’ union controlled by union leader Elba Esther Gordillo—won 2.29%, just enough for the controversial party to stay on the electoral registry and retain its presence in Mexico’s political life.

The Federal Judiciary’s Electoral Tribunal (TRIFE) will resolve any challenges against the election of the legislature in August. Then, with the final figures, it will calculate the composition of the upper and lower Houses according to the principles of direct and proportional representation. Starting in September, it will deal with the task of resolving any dispute over the presidential election. The parties and coalitions will deliver the official reports on their campaign spending to the IFE in late September, so that the following month, based on those reports, it will disclose whether there were any significant irregularities. Before that month is out, the TRIFE will use all these processes to validate or annul the federal election results and issue confirmation that will legitimize the victory of the winning candidates in the electoral districts and constituencies and the presidency. It will then notify the Legislature that there will be a “handover” of the Federal Executive on December 1.

Representatives and senators

The legislative results showed significant advances for the PRI in the Senate and for the leftwing bloc in the House of Representatives (formed by the PRD, the Labor Party (PT) and the Citizens’ Movement (MC). It’s expected that the current ruling party’s bench will be weakened in both houses.

The House of Representatives, whose 500 seats are up for grabs every three years since consecutive reelection is prohibited, changed the structure resulting from its 2009 midterm elections as follows: the PRI-PVEM alliance down from 262 to 240 seats, the PAN down from 142 to 114, the PRD-PT-MC alliance up from 84 to 136 and the New Alliance up from 8 to 10. The Senate changes from its last election in 2006 are: PRI-PVEM up from 41 to 61 senators, PAN down from 50 to 38, PRD-PT-MC down from 33 to 28 and the New Alliance obtaining 1 seat.

Both Houses will still have secondary parties such as the Ecologist Green Party and the New Alliance, whose few votes can play an important brokering role in achieving quorums or blocking reforms. The PRI has lost its legislative control,
a scenario anticipated by its own party members and analysts in the months prior to the elections. Unpopular candidates from the PRI and other formations were defeated in several regions. This will force the Peña Nieto-led alliance to negotiate implementation of its announced reforms of important economic, social and political issues, hammering out parliamentary agreements with the rightwing PAN.

Hasty endorsement of
Enrique Peña Nieto

Even before the dust had settled from the elections, a heated debate broke out in the country about the elections’ legality and legitimacy, starting with Peña Nieto’s own announced victory. AMLO supporters, aligned with various social and civic organizations, challenged several elements: the validity of the victory, the performance of the IFE and the attitude of media and public figures—including current President Felipe Calderón and the defeated PAN and New Alliance candidates who hurriedly accepted Peña Nieto’s victory without waiting for the final tally, even though, based on statistical trends at midnight, it admittedly appeared irreversible.

While this chain of endorsements could be interpreted as a collective statement in favor of democracy, such a rush to legitimate the process could equally well be interpreted as a conscious strategy to disrupt any immediate claim from AMLO, the only opponent with any real possibility of disputing the victory of the tricolor party’s candidate.

Were the elections legitimate?
Were they legal?

Key to analyzing these events is to be able to differentiate the overall result of the electoral process that started in 2011 from the concrete results on election day. The process, which can’t be reduced to mere institutionality, to rules and procedures, was fraught with irregularities that the IFE failed to properly and effectively process: infractions of campaign spending caps (an illicit activity in which several voices insist that the PRI led the field); the use of public institutions’ resources for campaign purposes (perpetrated by all parties where they’re in government); biased or smear campaigns in the media, etc.

Legalities established in the 2008 electoral code were formally respected but substantially violated, since it was written
in such a way that violations to its spirit don’t legally disqualify election results. For example, illegal campaign financing, to use the example imputing the PRI-PVEM alliance, is only punishable by fines, payable over time and with facilities. The massive purchase of publicity space in most of the country’s local press and the excessive quantity—verging on the absurd—of spectacularly painted fences, billboards and all kinds of printed publicity had a, immorally large cost that the IFE was unable to monitor and the Special Prosecutor for Attention to Election Crimes (FEPADE) is unable to punish.

The IFE is a very well-endowed institution for organizing the electoral process, but it is poorly equipped to monitor real campaign spending and state and local media coverage. FEPADE is a merely symbolic, totally ineffective institution, as are the Offices of Attorney General.

All these elements show the shortfalls of Mexico’s electoral democracy, wherein the asymmetry between contenders, rooted in the inequality of access to and use of resources—materials, propaganda, media—ends by fueling arguments about pre-electoral fraud and wrests legitimacy from the winner. And, while the leftist players and social movements are the ones who’ve submitted challenges to the electoral institutions and public opinion, they’ve been joined—albeit in a limited, selective way—by criticism from various members and spokespeople from PAN and even the President of the Republic.

Seriously unlawful but not fraudulent

Despite all this, the development of the July 1 elections was technically adequate, according to various national and foreign observers. They dismiss the idea of massive, direct fraud in the polling booths and/or the institutional processing of citizens’ votes.

This doesn’t mean that seriously unlawful acts weren’t committed, like the alleged delivery of pre-paid debit and phone cards in exchange for votes, a massive distribution of gifts, propaganda saturation and the authoritarian forcing of public employees to work as electoral officials in most of the country. Most analysts identify these acts as factors in the success of the PRI-PVEM alliance and its candidate.

In addition, the federal government’s bureaucratic structure that manages subsidies to help with poverty and other social programs was turned over to the electoral process in support of the PAN candidate. However, this undertaking had limited effectiveness given the lack of unity in Vázquez Mota’s campaign management and of President Calderón’s lack of real commitment to his candidate. To complete the picture, the opportunist parties, the Greens and the New Alliance, mounted an operation of confusion and distraction, taking advantage of the limited political savvy of certain public sectors.

Basically, Mexico’s electoral rights were infringed through exhaustive centralized electoral engineering that flagrantly violates the political-moral principles that should nurture the transition of government: fair competition, governmental nonintervention in the electoral process, a ban on private funding and the freedom of votes. All these infringements are illicit and serious enough to merit investigation and punishment.

Just claims

Disclosing and appealing these unlawful acts would not, however, be enough to “technically” reverse the result. Peña Nieto’s millions of votes were the combined outcome of traditional electioneering strategies (buying votes, taking voters to the polls, etc.) and new ones (long and well-designed media campaigns) melded with the fact that most citizens have wanted a “change” in the country’s situation ever since the rise in violence linked to the security strategy and fight against crime promoted by Calderón’s government.

We must also remember that, a few days before the elections, the four candidates signed an explicit and ceremonial Civility Agreement in the presence of IFE’s president and the media that bound them to accept the official results announced by the electoral arbitrator. All this makes any refusal to acknowledge the results—as some from the political and social Left seem to cherish—a rather unviable and useless strategy in terms of legitimacy. We’re not in a situation like we were in 2006, as some people insist, when there was enough suggestion of fraud for some to believe López Obrador was cheated out of the presidential election. At least for now, the unlawful acts committed before and during these elections don’t appear sufficiently weighty to have modified the final result.

In the present circumstances, what’s plausible—and lawful—is for a broad spectrum of political players and analysts
to present all claims about possible irregularities committed by any of the candidates, with clear and convincing evidence, to the relevant authorities and public opinion. This, besides being the inalienable prerogative of any candidate, would help dispel doubts about the quality of the process and the role played by the IFE itself, clarifying its legitimacy to society and the international community. If AMLO, other candidates and citizens adopt this course of action they will not only be acting totally democratically but will expedite cleaning up the election, which at the end of the day would benefit institutionality and the Mexican people.

So as not to repeat

In the coming weeks and months, the crisscross of accusations—from the PRI about the Progressive Movement and the Progressive Movement and the PAN about the PRI; from the social movements about all the parties as well as others about associations connected to parties, etc.—will continue adding to the legal and institutional challenge. The process will be accompanied by persistent and creative pressure from civil society which, without resorting to physical violence, seems unwilling to either keep quiet or repeat the 2006 strategy of occupying avenues and plazas, earning it strong criticism from part of the public that was affected.

While there is some consensus about the democratic validity of election day, the same isn’t true about the systemic failures of national politics. They must be criticized, and that critique must grow between now and the next legislative elections in 2015, so that the conditions and rules that currently permit inequalities among platforms and candidates with the complicity of the powers that be—as seen on this occasion—are changed. If they aren’t, candidates will have to decide whether it makes any sense to contend again given such a status quo.

Whatever legal and institutional changes are made, they can’t be just cosmetic, lest the claims and problems pointed out be repeated in another electoral process and once again impede fair competition from the progressive opposition.

Citizen awakening
and the #132 Movement

This election’s most positive aspect was its record voter participation, surpassing 63%, and the organization of non-partisan groups such as “I’m 132" (“Yo Soy 132”), throughout the whole electoral process. That movement sparked a widespread—and still inconclusive—debate about the framework and contents of Mexican politics.

“I’m 132" is an ongoing Mexican protest movement focusing on democratization, the media and opposition to the PRI. Last May 11, students heckled Peña Nieto during a campaign event at the Ibero-American University about the 2006 Atenco incident, when state police brutally repressed a protest by flower vendors at his instigation—he was the governor of the state of Mexico at the time—killing two of the protesters and sexually assaulting others. The PRI-biased media claimed that the hecklers weren’t really students but professional agitators brought in by the opposition. In response, 131 students who had attended the event posted a video on You tube showing their student IDs and expressing their discontent with the media. People started expressing their solidarity with the students by tweeting “I’m the 132nd student” and the name #I’m 132 Movement was coined. The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark key words or topics in a Tweet. Any user can categorize or follow topics with the Hashtags service, so the hashtag emphasizes the movement’s connection to Twitter. This movement has been described as the “Mexican Spring” and the “Mexican occupy movement” in the international press.

If we share the idea that democracy isn’t confined to the voting process or to its institutional components, then we need to acknowledge that part of the equation is this “citizens’ awakening” and the timid rebuilding of political-programmatic options—currently more visible in progressive segments—as desirable derivative outcomes of the electoral process.

The #I’m 132 movement in particular has made its position clear on several issues that are key to the future of Mexican society and democracy: the need for the media to be regulated and opened up beyond the oligopolistic control currently in force; defense of the autonomy of citizens’ movements from any attempt at partisan penetration or affiliation—including by leftwing formations and candidates; solidarity with individuals and collectives fighting against and suffering from or resisting neoliberal policies; repudiation of the criminalization of protest; and the promotion of progressive agendas (culture, the rights of sexual diversity and of women, ecological issues, etc.) within the national policy debate. This is a movement that will surely undergo redefinitions, struggles and conflicts—through advocacy by outside powers interested in neutralizing it and through the heterogeneity of internal currents—but it has so far managed to build consensus as a way to settle positions both internally and with respect to society, shaping a healthy, concise program with a clear anti-neoliberal, anti-authoritarian and radically democratic content.

What will the Left do?

This election appears to have closed certain cycles and opened others. It’s the end of an era of national political protagonism both for the PAN and for personalities like AMLO. This reality will force PAN to rebuild its party structure and project and will oblige AMLO to make way for new leaders from within the motley center-Left alliance that has backed him as a candidate in 2006 and 2012.

The Left organizations in particular should rework their political project, combining the results of good management seen in such landmark places as Mexico City with their capacity to organize their supporters the length and breadth of the country using the figure of AMLO as a moral and social leader.

If an ad-hoc “rightwing” bloc forms that is capable of pushing through reforms held in check over the last six years, thus deepening neoliberalism even further, it would worsen the socioeconomic situation of the working class and aggravate conflicts in certain regions of the country. This would force the political and social Left to face the challenge of updating their programs and agendas, incorporating the demands of those affected and developing alternative proposals for public policies and structural reforms in areas such as energy, social, political, tax, media, etc.

What to expect from Peña Nieto

In the new situation, despite Peña Nieto’s democratic rhetoric, a drift to the right is expected but, given the globalized world and a more vibrant national society, this won’t amount to the impossible return of the old regime.

If the current government’s security policies continue and old practices such as clientelism persist, it will affect the democratization of human rights. Peña Nieto’s personal makeup and meager managerial experience, together with the PRI tradition, would seem to presage it. The modernizing agenda that certain analysts predict—based on the presence of technocratic experts and criteria on the future leader’s team and agenda—isn’t the same as a democratizing project, as Mexicans have already learned in the sequence of events from 1982 until today.

The DNA of Mexican parties

Political parties cherish certain traits that make up their organizational DNA. The PRI carries clear authoritarian and clientelist genes. The PAN champions a Catholic and neoliberal conservatism. The PRD displays tribal fragmentation and the harmful personality cult of its leaders. Then there are the lesser parties’ specters: platforms based on family and union interests.

All share a way of working permeated by characteristics such as corruption, ideological poverty and pragmatism
which, coupled with the precarious public regulation over the business and media powers that be form a complex scenario for our democracy. The political culture of the former authoritarian regime would seem to dominate all political groups and their practices, delineating their “values” and notions of what constitutes the attitudes and characteristics of a politician (“a poor politician will always be poor at politics”) and of a citizen (“Give me a hand up to where I can help myself… to the goodies”) permeating national political life with clientelism, institutionalized corruption, corporatism and personalization of power, among other seriously anti-democratic evils.

This will force active citizens and pro-democratic public intellectuals—a minority compared to the orchestra of systemic pundits—to discuss their own errors and shortcomings, restructure alliances and take advantage of all possible forums to defend the modest progress made in Mexico’s still incomplete transition of government, deepening its real content in the future.

Beginning a new cycle

The size and intensity of the post-electoral protest is explained by the justified feeling of grievance suffered by important sectors of Mexican society. It isn’t sour grapes, it’s people resisting the organized mockery of their political rights. A new cycle of struggle to democratize Mexico has already begun, but it has a long way to go.

Alberto J. Olvera is a sociologist and economist, Armando Chaguaceda is a historian and political scientist; and Israel H. Ceballos is a sociologist.

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