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Mexico Votes Against a Background of Disenchantment and Violence

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Election in Mexico, 2006. Photo from Flickr by user Cesar Bojorquez under Creative Commons license.

Candidates gunned down in an environment of growing political violence, institutional scandals and alienated voters: on June 7, 2015, Mexico will host local and federal elections, but citizens are approaching the occasion apprehensively.

Sunday's elections will see Mexicans elect members of the federal legislative branch, as well as governors and mayors of a number of constituencies and townships. Some local legislative organs will also have their mandate refreshed.

Nonetheless, the biggest challenge on election day will be how to avoid the disproportionate violence that affects some regions of the country like Guerrero (on the West coast), where 30 people recently disappeared during an operation carried out by an armed group, or Oaxaca (in the country's Southwest) where a radical group of dissenting teachers calling themselves the National Coordinator of Educational Workers set INE offices on fire and destroyed election materials in the constituency.

The violence has also taken some candidates out of the equation before the vote begins, with a PRD candidate for the federal legislature, Miguel Ángel Luna, shot dead close to his campaign office on June 2.

Luna was the second candidate killed during the campaign. On May 22 national media outlet Prensa Libre reported:

MEXICO. En Tanhuato, Michoacán, this week leftist candidate F: Quadratin M was killed.

The scandal-ridden National Electoral Institute (INE) is the independent state body in charge of organizing the vote, with the task of setting up the voting booths and taking care of counting the votes falling on ordinary citizens.

The election will be a crucial milestone on the way to a presidential vote in 2018 that will determine a successor to incumbent Enrique Peña of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which returned to power in 2012 after 12 years and two administrations of the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

In Mexico's multi-party system some parties have federal presence while smaller ones compete at the local level. Historically the parties that have dominated the legislature and other powerful areas of the government have been PRI, PAN and the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (known as PRD). For over 15 years, PRD has controlled the Executive and Legislative branches of Mexico's capital Mexico City.

The PRI has 33% of the vote according to polling, and has allies — the Green Party — that would help it form a majority in the legislature.

Low trust in the candidates and the INE

Corruption has proven a key theme in campaign battles between the parties. Lawyer Miguel Carbonell wrote on his personal blog:

Hemos atestiguado revelaciones sobre el uso irregular de aviones de los candidatos a la gubernatura de Sonora, sobre los contratos arreglados en la delegación Benito Juárez en el DF, sobre el departamento violatorio de la ley en el que vive un candidato a delegado en la Miguel Hidalgo, sobre el extraño incremento de la riqueza inmobiliaria de la familia del gobernador de Nuevo León, sobre el activismo partidista del padre del gobernador de Jalisco (pese a que es funcionario judicial), etcétera.

We have witnessed revelations about the irregular use of airplanes by candidates to the governorship of Sonora, about rigged contracts in the Federal District for the Benito Juárez delegation, about the unlawful apartment where a candidate for delegate at Miguel Hidalgo delegation lives, about the strange expansion of the estate of the family of the governor of Nuevo León.

Carbonell also points out:

La sensación que queda es de profunda decepción. No solamente por ver la mediocridad y la rapacería de nuestra clase política, habitada por personas que claramente están por debajo de lo que podríamos llamar un nivel mediocre, sino también porque no parece haber ningún resorte institucional al que apelar para salir del enorme marasmo en el que vive el país.

Además, si bien es cierto que los problemas parecen crecer día tras día, las campañas no han servido para entrarle en serio a analizar sus posibles soluciones. No sabemos qué piensan hacer nuestros candidatos en los temas que más nos preocupan: la inseguridad pública, el desempleo, los bajos salarios, la deficiente calidad educativa, la falta de oportunidad de los jóvenes, las violaciones de derechos humanos de migrantes, mujeres, personas con discapacidad y demás grupos vulnerables.

The underlying feeling is one of profound deception. Not only due to the mediocrity and pilferage of our political leadership, populated by individuals that are clearly below par, but also because apparently there is not any institutional means to which we can turn to in order to release ourselves from the huge stagnation the country is undergoing.

Besides that, although problems seem to grow day by day, the campaigns have not been useful in seriously analyzing possible solutions. We don't know what are our candidates’ plans about the issues that concern us the most: public insecurity, unemployment, low salaries, poor education, lack of opportunity for young people, violations committed against migrants, women, the human rights of handicapped and other vulnerable groups.

The hopeless political landscape has prompted some opinion leaders to persuade citizens to cast an invalid ballot or to abstain from voting generally.

But academic John Ackerman struck out against that suggestion:

El derecho al voto libre y secreto es un derecho conquistado a lo largo de siglos de luchas populares en contra del poder despótico en todo el mundo. No ejercer este derecho fundamental equivale literalmente a regalar las instituciones del Estado mexicano, nuestras instituciones públicas, a los peores intereses corruptos y apátridas.

Quizás tendría sentido dejarse vencer por la tristeza y la desesperación si realmente no hubiera opción alguna en la boleta electoral, si en verdad todos los partidos fueran “la misma basura”. Pero resulta que en México se encuentra en proceso de construcción una nueva alternativa política que podría ser mucho más poderosa y efectiva que las que hoy existen en Grecia con Syriza o en España con Podemos.

The right to a free and secret vote was earned after centuries of popular struggles against despotic power all over the world. Not exercising this fundamental right equates to literally giving away Mexican state institutions — our public institutions — to the most corrupt and stateless interests.

It might make sense to allow ourselves to be beaten by sadness and despair if there were really no options on the voting ballot, if all the parties were really just the “same rubbish.” But it turns out that Mexico is experiencing the process of building a new political alternative that might be more powerful and effective than the one that exists right now in Greece with Syriza or in Spain with Podemos.

Writing in a similar vein, journalist Leon Krauze shared this reflection:

Prefiero, en cambio, atenerme a la esencia misma de la democracia y recurrir al voto de castigo. En el fondo, la democracia es simple: la ciudadanía recompensa a quien hace bien las cosas y reprueba a quien las hace mal; quien las hace bien tiene futuro como servidor público, y viceversa. Ese es el poder básico, ―y quizá único― del sufragio: el engranaje mismo de la rendición de cuentas. Entiendo que en  México también se ha puesto de moda decir que votar no tiene caso porque “todos son iguales”. El argumento es falso y denota pereza. Pero incluso las diferencias de proyecto de quien contiende de verdad fueran mínimas, el voto seguiría importando. Después de todo, la democracia es un ejercicio de apuesta prospectiva pero también de evaluación retrospectiva. Es importante votar por quien nos entusiasma, pero también en contra de quien nos ha fallado.

On the other hand, I'd rather abide by the essence of democracy and turn to the punishment vote. Basically, democracy is simple: the people reward those who do things right and condemn those who do things wrong; someone who does things right has a future as a public official, and vice versa. That is the basic power — and probably the only power — of voting: the mechanism of accountability itself. I understand in Mexico it has become popular to say that voting is pointless because “they are all the same.” This point is false and denotes laziness. But even if the differences in the platforms of those competing were minimal the vote would still be important. After all, democracy is an exercise in prospective betting, but it is also a retrospective evaluation. It is important to vote for those that enthuse us, but also against those that have disappointed us.

Along with general apathy towards the politicians running, the National Electoral Institute overseeing the vote was severely discredited by the leak of an illegally recorded private conversation where the INE's president, Lorenzo Córdova Vianello, appeared to disparage indigenous leaders. Despite public outrage, the National Council against Discrimination (Conapred) said it couldn't open an investigation because the conversation was illegally obtained and Córdova “offered an apology”.

But notwithstanding the understandably dark mood of voters, soccer fans may have something to cheer once the counting has finished. Along with the seasoned politicians competing for the vote, one-time Mexican football idol Cuauhtémoc Blanco — famous the world over for his inimitable kangaroo hop trick — is running as a candidate to the city hall of Cuernavaca with the Social Democratic Party:

With Miguel Ángel Muñoz, leader of Benito Juárez district, I sign off and head for Adolfo López Mateos district.

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