People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 36

September 09, 2012



Mexico Elections: Return of the PRI


Yohannan Chemarapally


THE Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which had monopolised power in Mexico for most of the 20th century is all set to run the Mexican state machinery once again. A Mexican Superior Court has thrown out the complaints of electoral malpractice against the winning PRI candidate, the telegenic Enrique Pena Nieto, in the last week of August. He won the presidential polls held on July 1 with a narrow majority. The commanding lead in the polls that the pollsters had predicted did not materialise on voting day. Pena Nieto won with just 38 per cent of the votes cast. Coming second was the firebrand left wing leader of the Party for Democratic Revolution (PRD), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, with 32 per cent of the votes. The candidate of the ruling National Action Party (PAN), Josephine Vasquez Mota, came a distant third with 25 per cent of the vote.




The elections were held at a time when the country is caught up in a vortex of violence precipitated by President Felipe Calderon’s decision to launch military operations against the entrenched drug mafias at the beginning of his term. Mexicans had expected the operations to be swift but the well armed drug gangs have fought back with a vengeance. The military, police, government officials and the media have been specifically targeted by the drug gangs which operate like well armed militias. Of course the ordinary Mexicans have paid the highest price. More than 60,000 people have perished so far since the war against the drug lords began.


Pena Nieto has pledged to continue the war against the drug cartels but has also emphasised that the anti-drug campaign “will not be subordinate to the strategies of other countries.” The current Mexican government is conducting its “war on drugs” in close coordination with the Obama administration.


Another hot-button election issue was corruption and the fall in living standards. Unemployment is also rising. Lopez Obrador, while on the campaign trail, said that 6000 jobs are disappearing every day from Mexico. According to official statistics, 52 million Mexicans live below the poverty line, 12 million more than a decade ago. There are reports coming out from the north of the country about rising malnutrition and continuing drought.




Lopez Obrador and the PRD have alleged widespread rigging and other malpractices in the elections and were quick to ask the country’s Federal Election Commission for a recount. The request was partially complied with. Around half the votes cast for the presidential election were recounted. The result of the elections remain unchanged despite the recount showing that the number of votes for Pena Nieto had come down further but not significantly enough, according to the Election Commission, to warrant a repoll. There was no denying that in many areas, especially impoverished ones, votes were brought, mainly by the PRI. When the elections were held, the PRI controlled 20 of Mexico’s 31 states. Poorer voters were paid the equivalent of 40 dollars. It was observed that the supermarkets on voting day were full of shoppers using gift vouchers.


Eduardo Huchim, an election observer whose monitoring group was funded by the UN, said that the recent elections “were perhaps the biggest operation of vote-buying and coercion in the country’s history.” Pena Nieto continues to insist that his party “acted within the law.” Under Mexican law, voters getting gifts from a political party is not deemed a crime. A survey conducted by the Mexican paper La Jornada showed that 70 per cent of Mexicans believed that the polls would be fraudulent. Lopez Obrador has alleged that the PRI had brought debit cards worth five million dollars, and these were distributed to the voters on election day. “There is no doubt that there was not a fair and transparent election,” the defeated leftist candidate said, accusing Pena Nieto of having brought “five million votes.” Lopez Obrador described the electoral exercise as “a national embarrassment.” Around 49 million people (62 per cent of the registered voters) had cast their ballots for the presidential polls. The PRD candidate has refused to acknowledge the PRI’s candidate’s victory despite exhausting all the legal avenues available for redress. His supporters staged a big demonstration in the capital on the day his appeal for a re-election was finally dismissed.


The electronic media, which is very influential, was biased in favour of the PRI’s candidate who is known to have very good ties with big business. After the election results were announced, protestors gathered outside the offices of the biggest broadcaster --- Televisa. The protestors allege that Televisa had “imposed” Pena on the Mexican people. Televisa, which was government owned when the PRI was in power, reaches more than 70 per cent of Mexican households. The other major broadcaster TV Azteca was also an unabashed supporter of Pena Nieto. Together these two media monopolies reach 95 per cent of the Mexican households. Mexican homes have more television sets than toilets.




Even when Pena was on the campaign trail, university students had protested in large numbers accusing the PRI candidate of “buying” the media. Wikileaks had released documents, in which US diplomats seem to suggest that Pena Nieto was paying Televisa out of public funds in return for favourable coverage. One of the diplomatic dispatches talks about the “extraordinary amounts of airtimes and other kinds of coverage” Televisa provided for the PRI candidate in the run up to the elections.


Lopez Obrador has reasons to feel doubly cheated this time. In the presidential elections that were held six year ago, he had lost to the current president, Felipe Calderon, by less than half a percentage point. Lopez Obrador and many of his supporters on the Left had alleged that it was skullduggery at the highest levels which had deprived him of the presidency in 2006. The media had again played a dubious role in the elections six years ago. Hundreds of thousands of his supporters had occupied the city centre in the capital and had staged big protests for six weeks demanding a recount. Lopez Obrador, on his part, never recognised Calderon as the legitimate president of the country. This time too, Lopez Obrador has rejected the figures put out by the country’s Election Commission. His party may have to eventually accept the hard political reality of the PRI’s return to power after its ouster in 2000. In 1988, another PRI presidential candidate, the notorious Carlos Salinas, had stolen the election from the leftist candidate Cuauhtémoc Cardenas. Mexico should have logically taken a turn to the Left much before the “pink tide” hit the rest of Latin America. 


The PRD overall has come out stronger after the recent elections. The coalition led by the PRD will be the biggest opposition group in the lower house of parliament. In separate by elections held concurrently with the presidential elections, the PRD won the governorship of two important states, including Tabasco, which was under uninterrupted PRI rule for the last sixty years. The PRD candidate, Miguel Angel Mancera, has retained the mayoral seat in the capital with a two-thirds majority. A significant percentage of the Mexican population is concentrated in and around the capital, Mexico City. The mayor post is considered to be the second most important job in the country, after the presidency.




The Obama administration has been quick to congratulate Pena Nieto after the results were announced. It was well known that he was America’s preferred candidate. One of his close aides had told the New York Times that his occasional anti-American rhetoric while campaigning should not be taken seriously. The PRI, in the last two decades of its rule, had grown increasingly close to Washington. It was under the PRI that Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and introduced neo-liberal economic measures. Key state owned industries were allowed to be privatised. Oligarchs like Carlos Slim, among the world’s richest men, today monopolise the telecom and other important sectors of the economy. The president elect’s closest economic advisors are the free marketers known as the “Chicago Boys.” These American trained economists had wreaked havoc to the economies of many Latin American countries in the last two decades. Pena Nieto has already signalled that his first “privatisation” target is the state owned oil giant --- Pemex. Lopez Obrador had vociferously campaigned against the privatisation of Mexico’s oil industry.


Soon after the election results were announced, Pena Nieto said that he wants to deepen the security relationship with the US in the “drug war” and would allow the stationing of US military instructors on Mexican soil. He said that he wants Mexican security personnel to benefit from the counter-insurgency expertise the US is supposed to have gained from Afghanistan and Iraq. In Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and some other countries in the region, American security personnel work jointly with their local counterparts to hunt down drug traffickers and criminal gangs. Pena Nieto also signalled his approval for the continuation of US drone surveillance over Mexico to gather intelligence on drug trafficking. “Without a doubt, I am committed to have an intense, close relationship of effective collaboration measured by results” with the US, the president elect has said. Pena Nieto has already announced the appointment of a former chief of Colombia National Police, Gen Oscar Naranjo, as his top security adviser. Naranjo, who had played a key role in the fight against “narco-terrorsim” in Colombia, is known to be very close to the American military establishment.


President Calderon has on many occasions blamed Mexico’s big northern neighbour for the serious security issues Mexico is facing. He has described the US as the most voracious consumer of illicit drugs and has complained that the weapons being smuggled in from across the American border has fuelled the violence in Mexico. Some 95 per cent of the drugs for the US market pass through Mexico. Calderon had suggested the “legalisation” of drug consumption so as to bring down the astronomical street prices. In 2009, Mexico decriminalised the personal possession of drugs like cocaine, heroin and marijuana. The six years of “drug war” have not produced any results. Figures have shown that the illegal exports to the US have only increased, along with other crimes like rampant homicide and extortions.