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The 2007 Political Season in Mexico in Underway

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Media watch 031907 FNS

March 19, 2007

The 2007 Political Season in Mexico is Underway

Frontera NorteSur


Barely removed from the tumultuous 2006 presidential election, Mexico is embarking on a new round of elections this year. On different dates, voters in 14 states will elect 1,923 candidates to fill offices at both the state and municipal levels. Besides mayors, city council members and state legislative representatives, voters in three states — Baja California, Michoacan and Yucatan — will pick new governors.

For the 2007 season, eight political parties will be bankrolled with at least US$260 million in public funding channeled by the Federal Electoral Institute. The funding formula, dividing 30 percent of the money equally among the eight political organizations while distributing the remaining 70 percent according to the percentage of votes received by each party in the 2006 federal congressional election, reinforces the domination of the three big parties — President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN), the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). 

The election outcomes will help determine the ability of new President Calderon to implement his agenda. In the round of congressional elections in 2004, the PRI won ten of the races, while the PAN and the PRD each took two. In 2001, the last time governors' elections were held in the three states having such contests this year, the PAN claimed the governorships of Baja California and Yucatan, while the PRD won Michoacan.  For the first time, US-based migrants will be able to vote from abroad by mail in the 2007 Michoacan state election.

A big question is whether a public weary of politicians and expensive campaigns will turn out in big enough numbers to give any one force a legitimate mandate. Voter turnout in state and local elections is usually less than in presidential elections, and the percentage of registered voters who cast ballots in presidential elections has steadily fallen from about 77 percent of registered voters in 1988, to barely 58 percent in 2006. The 14 states where elections will take place this year account for roughly 40 percent of the Mexican population.

The Broader Political Context

At this stage in the electoral process, intraparty conflicts have generally overshadowed any programmatic or ideological difference between the parties. Disputes over candidacies, leadership roles and political direction have erupted within the PAN in Aguascalientes, Yucatan and Chihuahua states, and have broken out inside the PRD in Baja California, Chihuahua and Zacatecas states, among other places. In Chihuahua state, an internal PRD conflict revolves around the candidacy of Ciudad Juarez businesswoman and former Lopez Obrador presidential campaign coordinator Edna Lorena Fuerte for a state legislator's seat.

Non-party political actors will directly or indirectly influence the elections in several states. In Michoacan for instance, a shadowy crime syndicate called "The Family" that reportedly counts several thousand members and controls many drug trafficking routes, could be a force behind the scenes. In virtually all of the states where state and local elections will take place this year, recurrent bouts of narco-violence, political scandals and exposures of law enforcement corruption have characterized the landscape in recent months.

In the southern border state of Chiapas, reports of a resurgent anti-Zapatista paramilitary movement and harassment of non-governmental organizations could foreshadow a new outbreak of political violence. As is customary, the indigenous-based Zapatista movement is not likely to participate in this year's elections based on its political principles.

In southern Oaxaca state, a renewed teacher's movement and a revived Popular Assembly of the Oaxacan Peoples (APPO), which was suppressed by federal and state security forces last fall amid murders, disappearances and arrests, is back in the streets demanding a solution to educational problems and the resignation of PRI Governor Ulises Ruiz. In light of the simmering conflict, it's hard to imagine how authorities will stage their part of the Miss Universe Pageant at the Monte Alban ruins next May. Already pro-APPO counter-protests are being organized for the internationally famous event.  


Some warn of new episodes of Oaxaca-style repression in the southern state and elsewhere. Supporters of the Democratic Peasant Front (FDC) of Chihuahua state denounced the March 9 arrest of FDC leader Jesus Emiliano Garcia in Chihuahua City during a visit by President Calderon.  Garcia's supporters reported that the campesino activist was arrested by the Federal Agency of Investigations on "sabotage" charges related to an earlier occupation of a federal building conducted to protest the corn crisis. Visiting the United States at the time of Garcia's detention, Victor Quintana, another FDC leader and prominent PRD figure in Chihuahua state, expressed fears of being detained along with others if he returned to Mexico.

Finally, it remains to be seen whether Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, self-proclaimed as Mexico's "legitimate president" in a ceremony last November, will stage a comeback. Now largely operating outside of his PRD party, Lopez Obrador is going ahead with plans to hold his National Democratic Convention in Mexico City on March 25.

The convention is likely to challenge President Calderon's economic program, and endorse a campaign to defend state ownership of energy resources. Conceivably, the national convention could add impetus to the gathering labor, campesino and popular protests that are spreading across Mexico against high prices and President Calderon's policies. If Lopez Obrador's partisans leave the meeting better organized than they have been up to now, their influence will certainly be felt one way or another during this year's elections.     

Border Brouhaha

Baja California and Chihuahua are two of the states where increasingly heated contests define the political scenes. Without a doubt, former PRI Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon's bid for the Baja California governorship has taken center stage in the northern border state.  The controversial politician, gaming industry magnate and private animal collector overcame a potential legal obstacle to his political ambitions when Mexico's Supreme Court ruled that an article in the Baja California constitution did not prevent Hank Rhon from resigning his mayoral post and running for governor.

In Chihuahua, sparks are flying over a PAN-sponsored television spot that portrayed a den of con men dressed as wolves learning how to deceive the public. Perceiving themselves as the target of the political ad, PRI leaders filed a complaint with the State Electoral Institute (IEE), which ordered the 30-second spot yanked from the airwaves.  Fernando Herrera Martinez, president of the Chihuahua IEE, justified the move as necessary to prevent a "dirty war." The IEE's decision was welcomed by PRI and PRD leaders, but blasted by local PAN officials who demanded that the IEE reimburse the party for the US$20,000 spent on the ad. 

Chihuahua PAN leaders vow to take the matter to Mexico’s federal electoral court if necessary. But in comments that perhaps reflect divisions within the party, Manuel Espino, the PAN’s national leader, distanced himself from the wolf ad. Espino considers Ciudad Juarez and 15 other cities as must wins for the PAN in 2007, and warns against engaging in campaign tactics that will alienate the electorate. According to the conservative political leader, local and state election victories this year will provide a base for the PAN to win a majority in the federal Chamber of Deputies in 2009, a triumph that would solidify President Calderon's hold on power.

The Media is the Message

Image is the strategic imperative in the Chihuahua election. Usually close to the PRI, Chihuahua's branch of the Mexican Ecological Green Party (PVEM) is undergoing a makeover in an effort to obtain a greater share of political power. Headed by Maria Serna Avila, a former federal deputy who once served on a congressional committee established to investigate the Juarez femicides, the party has contracted public relations specialists and professional trainers to hone the political skills of its cadres.

Several names of the PVEM trainers have emerged in the press, including Jorge Acosta, an associate of Alterpraxis, which reportedly has performed public relations work for Microsoft, GEO and UPS, among others; Jogin Abre, a political consultant and pollster associated with the national Reforma newspaper; and Hernan Rivera, a Tec de Monterrery-schooled marketing specialist who reportedly has advised several political projects, including the campaigns of Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours, Nuevo Leon Governor Natividad Gonzalez, and outgoing Ciudad Juarez Mayor Hector "Teto" Murguia, who has been in the limelight in
recent days. 

Announced only months before the end of his administration, Mayor Murguia's cabinet reshuffle and the appointment of a former journalist and public relations official as the new police chief are attracting lots of press attention and even sarcastic commentaries. One of the first changes announced by new Chief Marco Anonio Torres Moreno, who counts some policing experience in Mexico state under his belt, was the creation of an intelligence department within the municipal police. Chief Torres confronted his first crisis barely five days into office when one of his sergeants was murdered in a crime that bore the hallmarks of a yet another gangland-style slaying.

Sources: Norte, March 7 and 11, 2007. Articles by Ricardo Espinoza, Francisco Lujan, Salvador Castro, and Adrian Ventura Lares. Frontera, March 7, 2007. Article by Luis Adolfo San. El Diario de Juarez, February 24, 2007; March 7, 8, 9, 10, 2007. Articles by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto, S. Macias, A. Salmon, J.M. Cruz, Blanca Carmona, and the Apro news service. El Universal, February 16 and 20, 2007; March 7 and 9, 2007. Articles by Jorge Octavio Ochoa, Julieta Martinez, Ella Grajeda, and the Notimex news service. La Jornada, December 24, 2006; February 9, 10, 18, 27, 2007; March 8, 9 and 10, 2007. Articles by Antonio Heras, Ernesto Martinez Elorriaga, Guillermo Almeyra, Ruben Villalpando, Octavio Velez Ascencio, Alma E. Munoz, Gerardo Flores, Gloria Munoz Ramirez, and the Notimex news service. Proceso/Apro, March 8, 2007. Article by Pedro Matias. Narconews.com. Lapolaka.com, February 12, 2007;  March 9 and 11, 2007. Rebeldia, October 2006. Article by Sergio Rodriguez Lascano. What Country Did Fox Leave Us? Grupo Editorial Norma/IETD, September 2006.  Woldenberg, Jose, et.al,  Mexico in Numbers, Grijalbo, 2002. Aguayo, Sergio.
   
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Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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(Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source.  FNS can be found at http://frontera.nmsu.edu/)

Published Tuesday, May 1, 2007 11:04 PM by Laura Tierney

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