Elections in a country for sale
The midterm elections showed the PRI’s control of the institutions
and its lead role in impunity, corruption, the war against the people…
and the sale of the country.
The elections were crucial for Peña Nieto, who needs a likeminded Congress
to approve the next structural reforms, among them the privatization of water.
This need to assure the legislative majority explains why
he protected his “yes man” ally, the Green Party.
José Rubén Alonso González
In Mexico’s June 7 midterm elections, President Enrique Peña Nieto gambled on maintaining control of the House of Representatives through his own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) plus an alliance with the Green Ecology Party (PVEM) and the New Alliance (PANAL) so he could continue pushing through his structural reforms to privatize Mexico’s natural resources. He did it, but at the cost of letting the new National Electoral Institute (INE) run the local electoral processes without interference.
The election nuts and bolts
This year’s two-track elections kicked off last October with the inauguration of INE, successor to the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), with new rules including the possibility of registering independent candidates, i.e. those not put up by political parties. One track was the reelection of the House of Representatives, made up of 300 “relative majority” legislators and 200 of proportional representation, respectively elected in single-member constituencies, and in a single nationwide constituency. The other involved 16 electoral processes in an equal number of entities to elect 9 state governors and Congresses, plus 887 municipal presidencies and 20 Municipal Boards in Campeche, for a total of 603 local legislators.
With its new centralized faculties, INE designed the local electoral bodies where the elections would be held and appointed their members. The federal Senate did the same with the local electoral tribunes. A total of 8,992 candidates together with their running-mates competed for the two types of federal House seats, 22 of them independent candidates in 20 districts of 12 federal entities.
To accommodate the 83,563,190 registered voters, 148,848 ballot boxes were set up and 1.2 million officials were appointed and trained to manage them on Election Day.
The federal-level parties and candidates received 1,172.8 million pesos (US$74.7 million) in public funding for their campaign costs. In addition they got another 4,301.2 million pesos (US$247 million) for ordinary activities, specific activities and exemptions for postal and telegraphic costs, as well as for promoting women. The political parties and their candidates also received resources from local public funds in the country’s 16 entities, increasing their total public funding by another 50%.
The administration of Enrique Peña Nieto, who recovered the presidency for the PRI after it was in the hands of the National Action Party (PAN) for 12 years, came to this midterm electoral process having concretized a number of structural and privatizing reforms in energy, education, the budget, finances, labor, penal issues, telecommunications, transparency and information access, as well as a political-electoral reform.
These structural reforms were the result of what was called a Pact for Mexico. The leaders of the country’s three political forces—PRI, PAN and PRD (the Democratic Revolutionary Party)—signed it on December 2, 2012, only one day after Peña Nieto assumed the Presidency.
New governmental institutions
In the first two-and-a-half years of Peña Nieto’s administration, the Congress centered its political activity on moving the structural reforms forward, creating new organizations or transforming exiting ones. It turned the Federal Institute for Information Access into the National Institute of Transparency, Information Access and Data Protection and, as mentioned, the Federal Electoral Institute became the National Electoral Institute. It also created the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education in Mexico, the National Natural Gas Control Center, the National Energy Control Center, the National Hydrocarbons Information Center and the National Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection Agency.
The new organizations, in particular those responsible for the electoral processes, information access and the “cleansing” of the educational system are characterized by centralized functions, to the detriment of the federalized approach and of local state power.
Oil and gas for sale
The privatization process, which facilitates the entry of foreign investment capital, began in the energy and telecommunications sectors. The para-state Mexico Petroleum (PEMEX) was reduced to just another company that has to compete with other private companies and foreign capital to explore, transform, distribute and commercialize oil, natural gas and their derivatives, both in the Gulf of Mexico and in the northeast of the country in the case of natural gas, permitting fracking (hydraulic fracturing) to exploit this resource despite the findings of environmental organizations regarding its catastrophic effects.
The doors were also opened to the participation of private capital in creating, distributing and commercializing electricity under the premise that it would lower its price, favoring Mexican consumers, something the family economy hasn’t perceived.
The sale of Mexican oil based on the structural reforms began in August 2014, setting limits and opening bidding to private capital in nationally controlled waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The constitutional changes and the new Federal Telecommunications and Radio Broadcasting Law benefitted the Televisa and TV Azteca companies in relation to their biggest competitor, Carlos Slim’s Carso Group, especially in tele-communications.
Water for sale
Water was not included in the Pact for Mexico, yet in February, when the political parties and society were beginning to turn their attention more fully on the upcoming elections, four PRI and PAN legislators presented a bill to create a new General Water Law. The bill, which included privatization norms, was fast-tracked through the legislative commission’s findings and approval mechanisms.
The National Water Commission had previously worked on the issue, thus bringing the bill to the attention of civic organizations. They were able to halt the legislative fast-tracking, leaving it to be taken up by the new legislature resulting from the June 7 elections.
Among the bill’s central points ruled on so quickly is the limitation of the human right to water for “reasons of social interest, public order or national security,” the establishment of new criteria for diverting water and for the participation of private capital in the exploitation, use, management and commercialization of water, leaving local communities, particularly indigenous ones, vulnerable to private capital.
Given the positions and concerns of the environmental and civic organizations, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, then president of the House of Representatives’ Political Coordination Board and now a national PRI director, announced in March that the issue would be postponed for “as long as necessary.”
The educational reform
Parallel to these decisions, other actions by the State also had an impact on society. In the area of education, Peña Nieto’s administration began dismantling the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) structure by detaining its leader for life, Elba Esther Gordillo, in 2013 on accusations of diverting 2,600 million pesos (nearly US$200 million at the exchange rate of that time).
Gordillo indirectly or directly ran the teachers’ union since 1989, and was the PRI secretary general between 2002 and 2005. By the time she left the PRI leadership, she had already used the SNTE structure to create her own political party, New Alliance, which gave its support to PAN candidate Felipe Calderón in the 2006 elections. Nor did she offer the support of her union and her party to PRI candidate Peña Nieto in the 2012 elections. Now, with Gordillo in prison, the rest of the SNTE leadership is “supporting” the educational reform, and both teachers and leaders in the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), especially those from Oaxaca, Guerrero and Michoacán, increased the confrontation and social destabilization of these areas on the pretext of the need to back and implement the educational reform.
Looking at Michoacán
Michoacán was the center of national and international attention for organized crime activities in 2013 and 2014. Officials under Governor Fausto Vallejo Figueroa of the PRI, including one of his sons, were shown to have ties with the leadership of the Knights Templar drug cartel. “Self-defense” groups were created in diverse regions of the state to identify and fend them off.
The lack of governability led the federal government to intervene, assuming the public security functions in the state and instigating Vallejo’s resignation as governor “for health reasons.”
Thousands of disappeared
The growing insecurity Mexico has lived with since the Felipe Calderón government (2006-2012) and his declaration of war on drugs, has not only been maintained since Enrique Peña Nieto assumed the presidency, but it very soon increased. By March of this year, the official figure of disappeared or “not located,” as the federal government prefers to call them in the National Register of Missing or Disappeared Persons, had risen to 25,821. Of those, 10,836 people have disappeared in the two years and four months of Peña Nieto’s administration. The rest occurred in the six years of Calderón. In April of 2005, Santiago Corcuera of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances considered this “a true national tragedy,”
The night of September 26, 2014, less than a month before the launch of the electoral campaign, two trucks carrying students from the “Raul Isidros Burgos” Rural Teaching School, known as the Ayotzinapa Normal School, located in the community of Tixtla, in Iguala, Guerrero, were intercepted by municipal police just a few meters from a military encampment. In this action, 43 students “disappeared.” After national and international demonstrations demanding the presentation of the students alive, federal authorities reported that they had been executed and cremated by regional criminal groups associated with drug trafficking.
It was the second massacre in months. The Army’s version stated that they had “repelled the aggression of presumed delinquents,” but through survivor testimonies in journalist reports it was learned that three months earlier, on June 30, 2014, solders had killed 22 people in a warehouse in the community of San Pedro Limón, municipality of Tlatlaya, state of Mexico. Of those, 15 had been shot at close range, ostensibly after surrendering. There was no evidence of a shootout. According to the Army operations manual, the order the soldiers received was to “take down the delinquents in the hours of darkness”.
Before the end of 2014, when the federal government was soliciting bids for the construction of a high-speed train between Mexico City and Queretaro, journalist Carmen Aristegui and her team of reporters revealed that the Higa Group, the same company that won the train bid, had built a house worth US$7 million in the exclusive zone of Lomas de Chapultepec for Peña Nieto’s wife, Televisa actress Angela Rivera. And throughThe Wall Street Journal, it was learned that the same company had also built a house for Housing Secretary Luis Videgaray, this one valued at a little over half a million dollars.
To deal with these scandals, which were increasing the already existing public outrage, Peña Nieto named Virgilio Andrade, former adviser of the old IFE and now head of the Public Function Secretariat (SFC), to determine responsibilities. Eight months later, in late August, Andrade reported that he had not only found no irregularities, but also found no conflict of interest in any of the involved parties, including his own boss, President Peña Nieto.
Campaign in peace
It is in this context that we come to the June elections. In general, the campaign occurred peacefully, in spite of strong expectations of low participation and predicted outbreaks of violence in Oaxaca, Guerrero and Michoacán. As a precaution, the Army was posted in front of the district electoral boards in those places, especially Guerrero.
The most critical point was Tixtla, Guerrero, location of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching School, where municipal elections were being held and groups opposed to it burned more than 20% of the material for the ballot boxes. Once election day passed, the authorities announced that the election would be repeated there.
Green Party charged with
hundreds of irregularities
On a national scale, the Green Party (PVEM) was charged with more than 300 irregularities and complaints about violations of the law. Among the most outstanding were using public resources from their House of Representatives bench for more than 300 high-profile propaganda spots on TV and in movie theaters, including before the official launch of the electoral campaign. Other violations included contracting spectacular announcements and permanent illegal propaganda in urban spaces, illegal use of personal data contained in the electoral rolls for personal proselytizing, giving out illegal propaganda such as discount cards, signing citizens up as affiliates without their consent, privacy violations regarding phone calls and reiterated contempt for the decisions of the electoral authorities.
In April, before the start of the campaign, opinion leaders used the change.org platform to request that the electoral authorities remove the PVEM from the registry of political parties. The signers included well-known politicians, business people, academics, actors, journalists and intellectuals.
INE reprimanded and fined the PVEM several times, but the federal judicial branch’s Electoral Tribune reduced the fines imposed. The party kept up its campaigns, including attempts to get the support of personalities from public life and show business to promote the party and its candidates on the social networks.
Only 47.72% of the registered voters participated, with 4.76% null votes. Using the district count as the base, the PRI led with 29.19% of the votes, followed by the PAN with 21.01%. The PRD, with 10.87%, placed third and the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), the result of a PRD split, followed its former party mates with 8.39%. The (PVEM) pulled 6.91%, the Citizens’ Movement (MC) 6.09%, Gordillo’s New Alliance Party allied with the SNTE structure 3.72% and the recently created Social Encounter Party (PES) 3.32%.
Remaining outside of the spectrum by failing to reach the minimum requirement of 3% of the votes cast are the Labor Party (PT) with 2.84% and the Humanist Party with 2.14%. The combined votes of all 22 independent candidates added up to 225,500, representing 0.56% the total participation.
PRI and its allies won the House
Based on these results by district, the PRI won 203 of the House seats, the PAN 108, the PRD 56, the PVEM 47, Morena 35, MC 26, Panal 10 and PES 8. Although the PT lost its legal status as a party, it obtained 6 seats, and Manual Clouthier Carillo, a former PAN member and son of the PAN presidential candidate in 1998, won a district seat in the state of Sinaloa running as an independent.
The PRI lost 9 of the 212 House seats it had during the first legislature of Peña Nieto’s administration, presumably thanks to the structural and privatization reforms passed then. Nonetheless, its alliance with PVEM (which won 18 more seats than last time), and with Panal’s 10 legislators gives it 260 votes, more than the simple majority of 251 needed to approve reforms or pass laws. That means it will be able to pass the new water law in what’s left of Peña Nieto’s term even without having to negotiate with the PAN.
In the gubernatorial elections the PRI suffered a reversal since it focused its attention on winning control of the federal House of Representatives. It won Colima, a small state in western Mexico and in alliance with the Green Party retook Campeche in the southern Gulf area and won Guerrero back from the PRD.
The PAN retook Baja California and recovered Queretaro from the PRI. The PRD in turn recovered Michoacán from the PRI. Former PRI member Jaime Rodriguez Calderon, known as “El Bronco,” won Nuevo Leon, Mexico’s industrial state running as an independent. Except for Queretaro’s new governor, all other winning candidates in these state elections had been PRI members at one time or another.
A total of 103 people ran as independent candidates in the municipal elections in 11 states, 71 for mayor or some post in the Federal District, 29 for local legislator and 3 for governor, with Rodriguez Calderón winning one of the latter and two former PAN members winning a mayoral seat, José Alberto Méndez Pérez in Comonfort, state of Guanajuato, and Alfonso Martínez in Morelia, capital of the convulsed Michoacán.
The curious case
of Pedro Kumamoto
A novel case of an independent candidate occurred in the state of Jalisco where 25-year-old university graduate Pedro Kumamoto, who together with others had formed a group called Wikipolitica, ran for a local legislative seat in one of the most emblematic zones of metropolitan Guadalajara. District 10 in the municipality of Zapopan is an upper class area with high participation levels and a strong history of voting for the PAN. With no previous party affiliation, Kumamoto and his team aimed their strategy at youth, visiting house by house and financing his campaign with an effective and novel use of social networks.
With 57,215 votes of the 152,467 votes cast (37.53%), Kumamoto beat out the PRI’s 24,981 votes and the PAN’s 19,573 votes. His campaign expenses totaled only 242, 900 pesos ($15,475), of which .07% was public funding and the rest individual contributions. His total campaign expenses represented only 19% of the fixed amount the electoral authority allows for a local legislative candidate.
To finish off the electoral process, INE rated the federal election, monitored the resources granted to the political parties for federal and local campaigns and addressed the complaints and charges presented against candidates and parties.
The total amount of resources invested in the two months of political campaigns equaled 61.3% of what the government allocates to this year’s food support program to families in extreme poverty.
Among other things, INE estimated that the parties had spent no more than US$12.7 million and had presumably used the rest
of the $74 million for ordinary activities. The citizenry complained that the money should not have been left with the parties but returned to the public treasury. Various suits were filed with the Supreme Court of Justice on the grounds that the funds were given for a specific purpose and are not to be used for another purpose.
The Green Party:
An “extremely grave” case
The Green Party’s situation is a special case. On August 12, in the concluding stage of the process, INE addressed the request that this party be denied its legal status. In the evaluation it was established that before and after the electoral process the party incurred 26 infractions classified as grave, with accumulated fines totaling the equivalent of US$38 million.
Nonetheless, with seven votes in its favor and four opposed, the PVEM retained its legality. Lorenzo Córdova, president of the INE General Council, recognized in his arguments that the party had systematically transgressed the law but pointed out that it had already been sanctioned for this by both INE and the Electoral Tribune, pointedly failing to mention that the latter had reduced each fine to less than half the original amount. Córdova also invoked the right of members and sympathizers to the maintenance of their party’s status, without noting that it massively increased its membership without people’s consent by distributing discount cards and passes for film functions.
INE Council member Pamela San Martín, who voted against letting the PVEM keep its status, alleged: “How can the a political party’s conduct not be grave when before and throughout the electoral process, its electoral strategy intentionally and systematically violated the rule of law? I claim that the gravity, the extreme gravity lies precisely in this element.”
already in their sights
The political-electoral ritual indicates that the midterm elections are the starting point for the next election.
The 2018 elections are now in in the parties’ sights. That election year includes the President of the Republic, all seats in both houses of Congress, as well as 6 gubernatorial seats, 875 mayoral seats, 16 Federal District delegation chiefs, 14 local Congresses and the Federal District Assembly.
In the two years prior to that, the electoral machinery will again operate in Mexico’s states. In 2016, voters in 12 other states, among them Veracruz, Puebla, and Oaxaca, will elect their governors, 1,015 municipal mayors and 13 local Congresses. And voters in the states of Mexico and Nayarit will elect their governors in 2017.
The three main political forces have already started to readjust their leadership. The PAN and the PRI gambled on transferring their outgoing leaders from the House of Representatives to head up the final stretch of Enrique Peña Nieto’s term in office, with a view toward the 2018 federal and local elections.
The PRD has an internal renovation process pending, including the choosing of the successor to its current leader, 57-year-old Carlos Navarette, now a federal senator. The party will be facing the coming challenges weakened by the departure of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who split to form MORENA, and by internal struggles between the so-called “tribes” or “currents.”
There will surely be
The privatization of electricity, tele-communications and water will very likely be consolidated in the next two years given that the House and Senate benches of both the PRI and the PAN—the country’s two main political forces and the ones that already pushed through President Peña Nieto’s structural reforms—are respectively headed by former legislative operators and also given the PRI’s de facto alliance with the Green Party and PANAL. We can expect a return to centralism.
José Rubén Alonso González heads
the Social Sciences and Humanities Department of the University of Atamajac Valley (UNIVA), Zapopan, Jalisco.