December 23, 2005

Political News

Act One Closes

The first phase of Mexico’s 2006 federal election campaign is over. Since Sunday, December 11, the presidential candidates are beholden to an “election truce” imposed by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). Until January 18, the candidates are strictly prohibited from campaigning.

In the days prior to the “truce,” the three main candidates all engaged in a feverish pace of activities. They cemented their electoral coalitions, attended swearing-in ceremonies and made last-minute pitches for votes. On a campaign swing through Tijuana late last week, Felipe Calderon, the candidate of President Vicente Fox’s center-right National Action Party (PAN) took aim at US immigration policies and border security proposals.

Speaking to a small crowd of supporters, Calderon criticized proposals in the US to build more fences on the border with Mexico. “Mexicans who cross the border aren’t terrorists but people who risk their lives to offer a better future to their families,” Calderon said. The conservative candidate’s views on border walls coincide with the opinions of most Mexicans, but also highlight a growing schism with the US over the issue. A poll conducted earlier this year by the private Ekos firm showed 78 percent of Mexicans were opposed to border walls, while 70 percent of US citizens were in favor of them.

Calderon was highly visible on the eve of the December 11 campaign suspension, running a blitz of warm and fuzzy ads on the Televisa network that featured the candidate and his smiling family giving holiday greetings to viewers.

In Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was formally sworn in December 10 as a presidential candidate before a crowd variously estimated at between 60,000 and 100,000 people. Lopez Obrador, who supports removing corn and bean products from the North American Free Trade Agreement, is the candidate of the center-left coalition formed by his Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD) with the smaller Labor (PT) and  Convergence for Democracy parties (Convergencia).

The three parties filed a request December 8 for the IFE to grant them coalition status. Reaching out to forces outside the PRD, Lopez Obrador is ironically distanced for the moment from PRD founder and “moral leader,” Cuahtemoc Cardenas, who did not attend the Mexico City mega-event.

Concurring on many issues with Lopez Obrador, Cardenas nevertheless has authored his own set of proposed policy reforms called “A Mexico for All.” Long regarded as the front-runner in the race, Lopez Obrador confronts a sudden surge in Calderon’s popularity, according to some recent polls.

In another Mexico City swearing-in ceremony, candidate Roberto Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), launched broadsides both at the Fox adminstration and the Mexico City PRD administration. Madrazo attacked his political foes for allegedly sinking Mexico into an economic and public security debacle.

Noticeably absent from Madrazo’s swearing-in was Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours. Madrazo goes into the race with the PRI divided by the nasty fight between Madrazo and teachers’ union leader Elba Esther Gordillo, who many speculate might take her hundreds of thousands of “corporate” votes to the PAN or another smaller party.

Facing expulsion from the PRI, Gordillo ran an full-page statement in Mexican print media last weekend that portayed her struggle with the PRI leadership like a showdown with the Spanish Inquisition. Predicting a 2006 election defeat for the party, Gordillo lampooned the PRI leaders behind her possible expulsion as “cariacatures of Robespierre.” A high-level PRI meeting to decide whether or not to expel Gordillo from the party was set for December 12, Virgin of Guadalupe Day, but the deliberation was suddenly postponed.

Gordillo has other problems: she is opposed by many dissident teachers who accuse the union chief of conducting violent witch hunts of her own against opponents. Escaping the Gordillo drama for a moment, Madrazo and the PRI formalized a campaign coalition with the small Mexican Green Party last week. Interestingly, the new coalition chose the name of the 2000 PRD-led coalition that ran Cuahtemoc Cardenas for president: the Alliance for Mexico.

Meanwhile, some Mexican media have begun assessing the IFE’s campaign to organize voting procedures for Mexicans living abroad as an outright flop.

Even though more than 4 million Mexicans are deemed eligible to participate in next year’s election as absentee voters, only 3,690 absentee voter applications were received by the IFE by December 12. Given that absentee voter registration closes next month, its highly unlikely a significantly greater number of eligible participants will be added to the foreign-based voter roll. 

An estimated 75 percent of the applications received by the IFE came from Mexicans living in the US, while about 25 percent came from Mexicans residing in other countries- a curious figure since about 98 percent of eligible absentee voters live in the US. Leonel Castillo Gonzalez, the president of Mexico’s legal tribunal that rules on election-related matters, disputed notions that the absentee voter drive has been a total failure.

“At the moment it seems that it has not had the desired success; there are few signs of will in this sense,” Castillo said. “What it did is open a door. We can take advantage of this experience and improve whatever is needed if this is the road that Mexicans decide to take.”

Luis Carlos Ugalde Ramirez, the president of the IFE, acknowledged that absentee voting costs will be greater than in-country voting expenses.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news, Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University.

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