Seven lessons from Mexico’s electoral process

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Seven lessons from Mexico’s electoral process“, published on July 2nd, 2012. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

With an estimate of around 37 percent of the votes, Enrique Peña Nieto’s victory in Mexico’s presidential race will be analyzed from multiple angles, including what this will mean with regard to the war on drugs, the economic model in place, relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world, and many other topics.

For the most part, Peña Nieto’s tenure will not imply radical changes in Mexico, for better or worse but the return of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) to power does say a lot about the way Mexico’s society thinks and operates. This electoral process has opened up an interesting window into the Mexican collective psyche. These are some of the lessons from the 2012 election.

Debates are not yet a vehicle for voter decision in Mexico.  There were three presidential debates (two official ones and one organized by #YoSoy132 to which Peña Nieto did not attend) during the presidential race. Peña Nieto’s participation in these dialogues was considered lukewarm at best. His rhetoric was empty but his poor performance was not enough to shift voter preference away from him and toward a second viable option.

We still have a long way to go to build political awareness and education. Peña Nieto’s success cannot be attributed to a strong and enriched political platform or to his superiority as a candidate over his competitors. One could not say that he is smarter, better prepared or better equipped to be president than his competitors. Peña Nieto’s success shows that Mexican voters can easily be manipulated (or convinced) through robust campaigning, a large TV presence and looks. As different media showed when they interviewed people at political rallies (for the three major candidates), a large quantity of voters had no idea of where candidates stood on relevant issues. “I trust him,” “He’s cute” and “I’ll vote for him because the other one is crazy” were some of the compelling arguments that gave Peña Nieto a victory on July 1. Sadly, we still have a long way to go to create an informed voter base. The candidate you saw more billboards and TV ads from, is the one that came out on top in voter preference.

Short-term memory plays a more important role than long-term memory. Peña Nieto won for many reasons but one of them was definitely that voters wanted to punish the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) for its performance in the past 12 years and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) for his lack of respect for the rule of law during his 2006 post-election shenanigans. Mexico was willing to forgive and forget and make peace with the PRI because as many voters put it “we were better off with PRI,” for the most part referring to the increasing levels of organized crime violence resulting from the active war on drugs set forth by President Calderón.

There is e-Mexico and then there’s Mexico. There is a clear divide among Mexicans with access to social networks and those without. On Twitter, users were appalled with the results. Even when all polls signaled Peña Nieto’s victory, Internet users were not willing to believe them. Conversations on Twitter and Facebook had been significantly dominated by AMLO and Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) followers.  A popular tweet on the night of the election was “I have no idea how they did it. Does anybody here know anyone who voted PRI?” For the most part, the answer was no. Peña Nieto was elected for the most part, by people who do not actively participate online. For upcoming elections, candidates should know that the segment of Internet users in Mexico will only become larger and they will need to actively engage them during the campaign.

The return of PRI does not mean the return of absolutism. This is not optimism; it’s just a very likely reality. Pessimists are evaluating the return of the PRI as a step back in our democracy because they remember the 70 years of absolutism; instead, it is yet another building block in our system which will put to the test whether or not we are a mature enough society to deal with altering power. The PRI will rule a very different Mexico from in the past. Civil society will be more vigilant and we will hold Peña Nieto accountable for his performance as president. Technology will play a significant role in maintaining a non-official discourse, with freedom of speech and free flow of information empowering a growing sector of society. Even with a party majority in Congress, Peña Nieto will have to answer to Mexicans who will either reward or punish his party in future elections.

PRI holding both the executive and a majority in Congress will be an acid test on government efficiency. Both Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón of the PAN had a very good excuse when their effectiveness was questioned. They could just say (and many times they would have been right) that Congress was blocking their ability to operate and put forth structural reforms.  Peña Nieto will have no such excuse with a PRI majority Congress to not pass and implement the labor, energy, security and political reforms that society has demanded and that have been paralyzed by a non-cooperative legislature during the Calderón government. This will also lead us to question if Mexico’s democracy could actually work and be effective if a real system of checks and balances is in place.

Most people did not vote for Peña Nieto. There were more votes against Peña Nieto than in favor of him. Just like Calderón, Peña Nieto will preside over a country that for the most part, did not want him to be president and did not choose him. This is why last night he went on national TV to say that we should “set aside our differences and privilege our common goals […] we may have different preferences but we have something that binds us together: our love for Mexico […] we share the same challenges and must work together to overcome them.” While his inclusive rhetoric is exactly what Mexico needed to hear last night as it attempts to move forward from electoral campaigning divides, the fact of the matter is that winning by a relative majority surfaces yet again the need to implement a run-off electoral process, just like Calderón proposed to Congress (and was blocked). Given the results of last night’s election, would Peña Nieto have won in a second round of elections running only against López Obrador?

Former Mexican President Misses the Mark on Drugs

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Here’s a link to my most recent article on AQBlog, titled “Former Mexican President Misses the Mark on Drugs”

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2241
Date published: Feb 11th, 2011 I hope you find it interesting. Please feel free to comment.

Here’s a copy of it:

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This week, while participating in a university event in the Dominican Republic, former President Vicente Fox went out on a limb and pointed his finger toward Colombia and Venezuela for presumably being culprits in Mexico’s drug-cartel violence problem.

Ignoring the basic economic principle that demand drives production, Fox ridiculed himself by saying that Mexico’s challenges in combating drug-related violence are mainly due to the fact that “Colombia continues to produce way too many drugs. And Venezuela continues to make it easy to smuggle drugs.”

Reminding us of the fact that during his presidential term, diplomatic ties between Mexico and Venezuela were severed, Fox went on to say that “it seems that there is an association between Hugo Chávez and the drug cartels. This is what happens when someone loses the compass of democracy. Such is the case of Hugo Chávez, who has lost his head.”

Vicente Fox made a mark of his presidency by constantly blurting out things without thinking about them beforehand (Mexico’s own version of the very famous “Bushisms”). Here are some examples of them:

  • “Seventy-five percent of all Mexicans now have washing machines. And I don’t mean the ones that stand on two feet.” A sexist joke not taken lightly by our female constituency.
  • “Mexico should escape ‘the perfect dictatorship’ as famous Nobel Laureate Vargas Llosa once said.” Vargas Llosa had not received the Nobel prize at that time.
  • “I did a lot of mischief when I was a kid. I continue to do mischief now that I am President.” Speaking at a Children’s Day event (April 2001).

Fox’s recent declarations about Colombia and Venezuela can now be officially added to the “Foxisms” list.

The fact that Colombia and Venezuela are origin countries for some of the narcotics that travel through Mexico is the least of all the causes of rampant violence in the country. What about corruption and cajoling between law enforcement agencies and Mexican drug cartels? What about a weak rule of law that does not allow us to effectively prosecute drug trafficking offenders in Mexico? Shouldn’t we also crack down on local production of these narcotics? (They don’t all come from South America, you know).

Now as I mentioned earlier, demand drives production. If Fox is pointing fingers, shouldn’t he also look to the North? The U.S. is where the highest demand for these illicit products lies. You can’t address the drug problem without looking at the demand side. Also, drug cartels are not shooting at each other with packages of cocaine from Colombia. They are throwing hand grenades and shooting with AK-47s and AR-15s bought in the United States and brought into Mexico without any resistance or actual vigilance on the U.S.-Mexico border. Where is our binational responsibility in stopping this?

Whether Hugo Chávez is associated to Venezuela’s drug cartels or not is beside the point. The shootings and executions are not going to go away because our former president has a chip on his shoulder about unfinished business with South America.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Seven Ideas for Defeating Drug-Related Violence in Mexico

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Here’s a link to my AQBlog article “Seven Ideas for Defeating Drug-Related Violence in Mexico”, published on Feb. 17th, 2010
http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1322

Here’s a copy of it:

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As headlines continue to report a tale of horror, violence and massacre in what had seemed to be a peaceful country, a growing debate stirs on whether or notMexico’s government stands a chance to win the war on drugs.

The general consensus is that President Felipe Calderón has inherited a cancer that the Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI regime) had contained through institutionalization of corruption. This is a cancer that former President Vicente Fox was unable to effectively cope with when he took office, ending the PRI’s hold on power. Now Felipe Calderón is trying to get rid of this disease by beating it with a big stick and empowering the military to crack down on criminal organizations such as the Zetas and Beltrán Leyva’s group , but as Ana María Salazar has stated recently, “Mexicans are paying a huge price

Calderón’s war on drugs seems limited if the goal is to effectively address the complex issue of drug-related violence. A recent conversation I had with a group of Thunderbird School of Global Management and Tec de Monterrey postgraduate students proves there are at least seven more ideas that the President should consider incorporating into his strategy:

1. A hard line political and militarily line is needed, but we should recognize this is not the path to a solution. This part of the strategy should be seen as mere containment. Just like the Planarian worms if you try to cut the head off a criminal organization, it will grow back and sometimes even multiply , but you need to keep doing so to prevent the worm from growing stronger.

2. Strengthen the rule of law. Don’t just prosecute dealing. Make possession and consumption outside of tolerance areas punishable by law. Help law enforcement not just by providing better salaries, but by providing the means for officials to get access to credit and health insurance. Bring the police back to your side. Work withU.S.law enforcement and border officials to crack down on arms trading.

3. Accept that the problem is not going to go away entirely. Create drug-use and related industry tolerance zones (relocate casinos and gentleman’s clubs) and tax entry to these areas. Inject the funds allocated though taxation of unhealthy habits into the comprehensive strategy to combat drug-related violence.

4. Create an alliance with the media. Get the national media to understand that its sensationalism is hurting Mexico’s reputation worldwide. Most of Mexicois not facing the level of violence of Ciudad Juarez, but the printed press is making it out to be that way. Responsible, objective coverage is needed to avoid a contagion effect with creative yet less powerful deviants.

5. A comprehensive strategy to strengthen education. This does not relate to the naïve idea that educated people don’t do drugs. However, better schools give children the tools to go out into the world and to have better possibilities of succeeding with an honest job. Investing in education does not just mean a “Don’t do drugs” campaign. It should be seen as a long-term strategy to make it harder for drug dealers to recruit “mules.”

6. Make the economy work for you. Drug consumption inMexicobecame relevant when theU.S.economy dropped and security tightened to the point where profit margins for drug sales plummeted in theU.S.market. It will be way more effective to figure out ways to cut their margins inMexicothan it will be to capture or kill a drug leader and wait for the next one to come along.

7. Make it easier for businesses to become your allies. Instead of overtaxing private enterprise, the government should provide incentives to grow. This creates more jobs. People with full-time jobs that are fairly paid have neither the time nor the need to engage in illicit activity. Help business by running an international public relations campaign. Just like he recently did inJapan, Calderón needs to become a better spokesperson and attract foreign direct investment back intoMexico. Volume drops resulting from the recent crisis have temporarily leveled the playing field with regard toChina. This window of opportunity is closing and Calderón needs to act on it now.

Mr. President, you need to be more intelligent and creative than they are.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

 

Mexico’s PAN-PRD Alliance

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Here’s a link to my AQBlog article “Mexico’s PAN-PRD Alliance”, published on Jan 28th, 2010.

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1184

Here’s a copy of it:

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Mexican politics are frustratingly fascinating

This seems like a paradox, but then again, so does our history as a modern state. With presidential elections 2.5 years away, unlikely candidates and alliances are already beginning to form. This leaving me wondering if this country has any recollection of the political roads we’ve traveled and the costs they’ve instilled on us.

Let’s retrace our steps for a minute. The Mexican Revolution that started 100 years ago was supposed to set the basis for a system, which would alleviate the poverty gap, provide better worker conditions and at the very least, treat citizens with respect and provide the political rights that people lacked.

But this complex era in Mexican history resulted in what Luis Aboites Aguilar called (in a very politically-correct manner) “a political arrangement which made stability possible in the long term.” Along came the time of the PRIismo, an authoritarian regime with a masked one-party system run by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). As they had with Diaz, once again Mexicans deposited their trust in a strong presidential figure who fed them with the possibility of a better tomorrow.

Tired of instability and revolt, society happily welcomed a structure that turned huelguistas (protestors) into sindicalistas (organized union advocates). Far from a democracy, this electoral system continuously rigged elections and left the poor-rich divide unattended, replacing it with a constant rhetoric of “institutionalized revolution.” The message during the first decades of PRIismo was “we’re working on it.”

After their 70-year chance at “institutionalizing revolution” a strong opposition led by a right-leaning party (Partido Acción Nacional–PAN) that had been denied access to power at the federal level was able to bring PRIismo to an end. A young (mostly middle class) generation filled with hope rallied behind soon-to-be-President Vicente Fox under the cry of “Sí se puede” (“Yes, we can”). And on July 2, 2000, yes, they did.

But the 2006 election was characterized by a polarized and heated debate between PAN candidate Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and a charismatic left-wing radical, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). Left and right battled it out. One crying out against “the rich tyrants that oppressed the peoples” and the other promising that development would result from attracting FDI and promoting employment via a partnership with the private sector. Calderón got the job with 35.9 percent of the vote, only 0.58 percent more than López Obrador.

The aftermath of the 2006 election is well-known: López Obrador did not accept the results, labeled Calderón “The spurious president,” set up camp in Mexico City’s Zocalo, and blocked off Paseo de la Reforma (the city’s most important street).

Now there is a new twist in this long-standing political telenovela. The “Yes we can” promise has not produced expected results, leaving Mexicans disillusioned to the point that many believe the next elections will be a landslide. The assumed victor: the PRI.

But how is the incumbent PAN party preparing to avoid this? With the most unlikely (and ridiculous) of alliances. César Nava, national president of PAN has publicly accepted that his party is working on a deal with the PRD to have joint candidates for the upcoming state elections.

The two political parties that were at each other’s throats three years ago, now say “we have some differences, some topics in which we have different views, but those will be left aside.” It seems that the candidates will run under “unity in our conviction to change things.” Change things into what? I guess they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.

Do the PAN and the PRD believe that Mexicans have forgotten a country under siege after the candidate from one of these parties would not accept the victory of the other one? And for that matter, have all of us forgotten the empty promises made by the PRI for 70 years? Are we now ready to give them another chance at “working on it?”

I am not sure who is lacking political memory, the political parties or the citizens subject to their game. What I am sure of is that the same reasons that brought turmoil to this country a 100 years ago are present and relevant. We are not ready for history to repeat itself.

*Arjan Shahani is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.