Monday 2 July 2012

In Mexico, Peña Nieto’s masters get what they paid for

In the end, if this is the end, it was much closer than many thought.

Mexico’s left-of-centre PRD and its candidate,  Andrés Manuel López Obrador, gained 31.71% of the popular vote in the country’s presidential election, with Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI capturing 38.05%.

Josefina Vázquez Mota of the ruling right-of-centre PAN placed third, at 25.86%, with smaller parties picking up the remainder.

(For results in real-time go here. Also note that, as of this post, López Obrador has yet to concede).

Peña Nieto had been polling in the low 40s, with López Obrador in the high 20s. The spread had consistently been from 13 to 18 percentage points. The closer gap could be due to a higher turnout of young people swayed by the #YoSoy132 youth movement.

#YoSoy132 activists monitoring the vote late into the evening at their 
command post under the Monumento a la Revolucion, Mexico City, July 1 

Peña Nieto was saved by his effective party apparatus, which has spent the past 12 years regrouping. The PRI ruled Mexico continuously from 1929 to 2000, and was infamous for having a well-oiled political machine that bought and stole its way to the presidency every six years.

Since 2000 Mexico has had two right-of-centre PAN presidents: Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. During that time the PRI effectively rebuilt a number of regional power bases. The PRD, which narrowly lost in 2006, again with López Obrador at the helm, may have been simply no match for the PRI’s sophisticated ground organization.

And by ground organization, we mean corruption. During election day the “denuncias” against the PRI were overwhelming. People Tweeted that they showed up to vote and their polling stations were out of ballots, implying that the forms had “already” been used. (To avoid fraud, the Mexican government attempts to match exactly the number of ballots to registered voters). Others claimed outright that they had been offered money.

A voting station at a school in Mexico City's Roma neighbourhood, July 1

Here is a partial list of the issues facing Mexico’s Federal Electoral Commission (IFE), and a major reason why López Obrador has yet to concede:

>  Duplicated ballots in Puebla.

>  Duplicated ballots in the state of Mexico.

>  Ballots marked pro-EPN in Cancun.

>  The famous “ring” video, which implied a system for marking ballots to be destroyed.

>  A PRI truck in Jalisco found full of ballot boxes. The PRI is projected to win the governorship in Jalisco. On election night, Televisa had an extended interview with Aristóteles Sandoval , the new PRI governor-elect in Jalisco.  It was big news because, with 95% of TV share, the Televisa and TV Azteca duopoly were desiring PRI wins wherever they could find them, as the other main parties were actively calling for a more open television market. (It is important to note also that Jalisco – which has Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara, as its capital – is a PAN stronghold).

>  The theft of ballots in Veracruz.

>  IFE trainers – yes, the people who train monitors and other election officials – spreading PRI propaganda.

>  An excess of 144,000 ballots in Tabasco. (Remember, they’re supposed to match with the number of registered voters).

>  35,000 extra ballots in Oaxaca. (That number now seems almost prudent).

>  Using the same companies for quick ballot counts that were used during the highly controversial 2006 election, in which López Obrador lost by only 0.56 percentage points. His response then was to declare himself the legitimate president and to hold increasingly unpopular demonstrations in Mexico City.

>  The discovery of a PRI-held bank account that had 56 million dollars in it, allegedly used via a network of debit cards for campaign expenses and to buy votes.

>  Hundreds – yes hundreds – of YouTube videos documenting vote buying by the PRI.

>  A fine against the news outlet Milenio TV for altering poll results to favour Peña Nieto.

>  The Guardian newspaper’s revelation that TV Azteca and the Peña Nieto campaign had a secret agreement, possibly including payoffs.

>  Evidence that the PRI was offering bribes to electoral officials. This, in fact, was being Tweeted heavily on Sunday during the election. Officials were allegedly being offered 5,000 pesos ($380) to work for the PRI. As Al Capone knew long ago, it is far more effective to pay slightly more to those who have influence over many, than to pay off all the little guys (here known as voters).

An election official Tweeting that she was offered 5,000 
pesos to change votes in favour of Peña Nieto

The concern with regard to a Peña Nieto presidency is that he’ll go back to the old days. Then again, that may just be what many people want. Tired of a ruinous drug war that has claimed over 55,000 lives, and suspicious of the left-leaning PRD that threw Mexico City into chaos after the 2006 elections, the PRI could win some voters on nostalgia alone. Or 36.58% of them, minus those who have already spent their bribes or eaten their care packages.

500 pesos, some food, and a reminder of who to vote for 

Given the level of PRI corruption and – this may sound strange – its efficiency, we can expect many of the PAN-led market reforms to enter low gear, and for social policy to avoid a sweeping leftist reorganization in favour of politically calculated spending in regional strongholds.

Expect also to see a strengthening of the oligarchy, with regional PRI caciques continuing to exact tribute, and judges hired and fired to serve their purposes. Ongoing corruption scandals, such as those surrounding the former PRI governor of Tamaulipas, Tomás Yarrington, will fall to the side unless they are actively pursued by the Americans. In the case of Yarrington, his alleged cartel connections are simply too big to ignore.

Thumbs up - the left went to the PRD for president 
and the right to a PAN senator (for real)

Many people think that the PRI will cut a deal with the cartels – just as many think that the PAN had already cut a deal with the Sinaloa/Pacific cartel.  But this is a tough call. The ultra-violent Los Zetas like to call their own shots, and it’s hard to see any government having success dealing with them.

In fact, with Peña Nieto’s top security adviser being the Colombian Gen. Oscar Naranjo, we can expect further co-operation with the Americans and a continuation of the “war” on drugs, though it may be less militarized.

With a PRI win, many Mexicans also fear the return of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who was PRI president from 1988 -1994 and set a new standard for graft and corruption. He almost certainly stole the 1988 election, and his brother Raúl Salinas de Gortari has been implicated in numerous crimes. We don’t have the space, but if you are interested in accusations of murder, money laundering, and other nefarious deeds related to Raúl Salinas de Gortari, you can find them here.

Specific to Salinas de Gortari, his time in office saw the murder of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio (March 24, 1994) and of Salinas' brother-in-law, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu (September 28, 1994), who was president of the PRI at the time.

As well, on December 6, 2004, Salinas's youngest brother, Enrique, was found dead in his car with a plastic bag wrapped around his head. The murder, which occurred in the state of Mexico, remains unsolved.

These are tragedies, and there is no evidence that Salinas de Gortari was implicated in these crimes, but they do offer some evidence of how the PRI, and Mexican underworld in general, play hardball. If you owe people favours, you better pay them back, and if/when Peña Nieto assumes office in December, there will be a lot of paying back to do.

Peña Nieto will also be inheriting one of Salinas de Gortari’s most pernicious legacies, something that numerous administrations have had to grapple with. During his administration approximately 350 state-owned industries were sold to the private sector.

As a result, a lot of politicians got rich, and a lot of businesspeople acquired monopolies. These new oligarchs – which include Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world and the lucky purchaser of Telmex – are willing to shell out considerable sums of money to stymie competition. And of the three main political parties, the PRI is the oligarchs’ best bet.

Carlos Salinas de Gortari has, perhaps wisely, spent the majority of his time since his presidency outside of Mexico, mostly in Ireland and England. But he decided to come back and help out Enrique Peña Nieto. That would seem like a disastrous move politically, but it doesn’t matter, because it certainly wasn’t on television, and the PRI’s election strategy was to deliver the votes on the ground.

He's back! Salinas de Gortari voting on July 1 

Also, if Salinas de Gortari wants to help, it’s wise to let him, because he and many other PRI “dinosaurs” will be lining up at the trough.

These are the masters that many fear Peña Nieto must now serve. He may have no choice. His good looks helped get him elected, but he is not the sharpest tack in the box. He didn’t do this on his own, and in Mexican politics, nothing comes for free.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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