Ten Reasons to Watch Mexico's
by Joshua Holland
www.alternet.org, June 28, 2006
This Sunday, Mexico will choose a new
president in an election with broad implications not only for
the direction of the country, but also for its relations with
the United States and its neighbors to the south.
The race pits center-left candidate Andres
Manuel López Obrador, often called "AMLO" for
short, against center-right Christian Democrat Felipe Calderón
Hinosa. Obrador led most polls through March, when an aggressive
campaign brought Calderón ahead in some surveys by a slim
margin. The Los Angeles Times reports that the two are now in
a statistical dead-heat (Obrador had a two-point lead in two major
polls released last Friday, but that's within the margin of error
for both polls.)
Calderón is a member of the National
Action Party (PAN), the party of outgoing President Vicente Fox.
He served previously as Fox's energy minister. Obrador's Democratic
Revolutionary Party (PRD) leads a coalition that includes several
small parties of the left.
Robert Madrazo, the Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI) candidate trails a distant third.
Also at stake are 628 seats in Mexico's
bicameral legislature, as well as the government of Mexico City.
Here are 10 reasons to watch this race:
10: The democratic revolution continues
The PRI held a virtual monopoly on power
for over 70 years, until electoral reforms in the 1990s brought
competitive elections to Mexico. Vicente Fox's win in 2000 was
the first for an opposition candidate.
9: In terms of running an election, Mexico
puts us to shame
A close look reveals much for Americans
to admire. Election day is Sunday -- as opposed to a work day
-- a long-sought goal for electoral reformers here in the United
States. In 2000, Mexicans turned out at a 13 percent higher rate
than Americans. It will be interesting to see how much of that
difference was due to the novelty of the country's first truly
An independent electoral commission will
run the vote instead of partisan hacks. No Florida 2000, no Ohio
No Mexican will have to cast a ballot
on paperless electronic voting machines. Paper ballots will be
used in a uniform nationwide system. Mexican voters are issued
fraud-resistant ID cards
8: Campaigns receive public financing
One of the most important reforms of the
past decade was the advent of extensive public financing of campaigns,
significantly lowering the impact of special interest cash. All
major parties received $60 million (U.S. dollars) in public funds
for the campaign, and total spending is capped at $80 million.
7: The electoral institutions are squeaky
Observers from across the political spectrum
have lauded the efforts of the Federal Election Institute (IFE)
to ensure a clean vote. José Salafranca, head of the EU's
observer mission, told Inter Press Service that Mexico's electoral
institutions are now among the most reliable and trustworthy in
the world. Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute for
Policy Studies, told me by phone from his Oaxaca home that there's
a sense of calm leading up to the polls, a sea-change in a country
where elections have often been marked by blatant fraud and political
But Mexico's party operatives may not
be as clean as its institutions. The Washington Post reported
that independent election observers have accused all three parties
of buying votes, especially in poor rural communities. Federal
election officials, while acknowledging that vote-buying is an
issue, say it won't impact the outcome. Nonetheless, expect aggressive
challenges if the tally is as close as polls suggest, especially
if Obrador wins by a narrow margin.
The monitors say that the PRI has been
the most aggressive in vote-buying and a surprise win by Madrazo
-- who trailed the leaders by 7-9 points in the latest polls --
would likely spur popular protests or strikes.
6: This is Mexico's first wired campaign
This will be the first campaign in which
the internet will play a significant role. About 20 million of
Mexico's 100 million plus residents have internet access, and
the Associated Press reports that both "campaigns are bombarding
voters with online games, cartoons and attack emails." Calderón,
in addition to meeting with Republican political operative Dick
Morris -- a story that received a lot of attention in the Mexican
media at the time -- reportedly consulted briefly with MoveOn.org
about the campaign's internet strategy (it's unclear how extensive
either of these consultations were).
5: There will be no Swiftboating
This is also the first campaign in which
the attack ad has dominated the debate. Both candidates have traded
charges of corruption, and some analysts fear that voters may
be turned off by the negativity, as well as by a lack of faith
that either candidate can kick-start Mexico's moribund economy.
It's uncertain who would be favored by a low turnout.
But, unlike the United States, where the
only thing that deters candidates from blatant lying is the fear
their strategy may backfire in the press, there's a limit to how
far one can go in Mexico, as both camps discovered. As El Universal
reported, the Federal Election Institute "has waded into
the fray involving the three top candidates, ruling that some
television spots are too false to be on the air and others simply
too rude." It also "enforced an order of silence on
President Vicente Fox, telling him not to interfere with the campaign,
even to help his party's candidate."
On two occasions, the IFE put the kibosh
on ads calling Obrador "a danger for Mexico," saying
they amounted to defamation. They also banned ads from Obrador's
camp calling Calderón a liar. Karl Rove would be appalled.
4: It's a real choice -- no DemPublicans
The leading candidates couldn't be more
different. Calderón, a Harvard-educated economist, is a
technocrat, a policy wonk, while Obrador is often described as
a fiery rhetorician. Obrador, who became a household name when
he was beaten bloody by police while protesting for indigenous
rights, accuses Calderón of catering to the "privileges"
of a powerful oligarchy. Calderón in turn warns that Obrador
is a "leftist horror show."
Both candidates have made the requisite
campaign promise to fight corruption in the government and the
federal police. Calderón has campaigned as a tough-on-crime
candidate more broadly.
3: The shocking truth: There's more than
one way to run an economy
Mexicans will enjoy something else American
voters don't see: two distinctly different visions of how to run
According to a background brief by Mark
Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval of the Center for Economic Policy and
[Calderón has] emphasized the government's
achievements with regard to economic stability, low inflation,
and attractiveness to foreign investors, arguing that the country
should continue along the path of reforms implemented over the
last 25 years and by the previous administration. López
Obrador ... [has] focused on poverty, advocating a greater government
role to help the poor, redistribute income, invest in infrastructure
and create employment.
Calderón is running on macroeconomic
stability and warns that a vote for Obrador is a vote for stagflation
and economic ruin.
Obrador, who created a pension for elderly
residents of Mexico City, has said that he'll take a cue from
Franklin Delano Roosevelt to get Mexicans working and the economy
moving. According to the Washington Post, "López Obrador's
economics team has developed a blueprint for what they call the
'Mexican New Deal,'" a plank that they claim will create
millions of jobs "by undertaking huge public works projects,
including a railroad network, vast housing developments, ports
and timber replanting." Obrador has promised to renegotiate
NAFTA if elected.
2: Then there's immigration ...
The migration issue itself will not play
a prominent role in the election. The three top candidates are
all opposed to militarizing the border, and all three agree that
the sluggish Mexican economy -- which, over the past 20 years
hasn't created enough jobs to keep up with a growing population
-- is at the root of the issue.
Calderón is promising to maintain
the economic status quo of the last 25 years, but Weisbrot and
Sandoval note that while Mexico's per capita GDP grew by 99 percent
between 1960 and 1980, it grew by only 15 percent from 1980 to
2000. In the first five years of this decade, Mexicans have seen
their economy grow by an anemic 2 percent. As I've argued in the
past, there's only so much that our own immigration policies can
achieve as long as the economic "push factors" that
drive immigration prevail. If Obrador's New Deal were to live
up to his campaign's hype, it would have a huge impact on the
number of people entering the United States from Mexico -- far
greater than any policy that might be cooked up in Washington.
Which brings us to the top reason to watch
this race ...
1: An Obrador win will drive Bush and
his right-wing cronies batty!
The demonization of Obrador has already
begun. The conservative Times of London warns, ominously, of a
"Mexican standoff" as a "firebrand of the left
edges ahead in polls." After his meeting with Calderón,
Dick Morris returned to the United States and penned an op-ed
titled "Menace in Mexico" for Rupert Murdoch's New York
Calderón has said repeatedly during
the campaign that Obrador will join an anti-American axis led
by the right's perennial bogeyman, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez,
and the charge is likely to stick in the conservative noise machine
here in the United States. (Even the Washington Post, traditionally
hostile to any Latin American leader to the left of Augusto Pinochet,
dismissed the charge, noting that Obrador "has rarely traveled
abroad and has little interest in foreign affairs.")
Significantly, an Obrador win would leave
only Colombia, among all of the major states of Latin America,
in Bush's camp. That alone makes this race worth the price of
Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.
the Electoral Process