If Mexico’s electoral authorities confirm the preliminary vote, Mexico will have gone from a “perfect dictatorship” to an imperfect democracy, with the return to power of the party that ruled for 71 years almost without rivals.
The numbers reported by the preliminary system show that the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Enrique Peña Nieto, garnered 38.1% of the vote, followed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) with 31.6%. The conservative National Action Party of President Felipe Calderón trailed at a distant third with 25.4%.
What can be said about the results?
Even without the final results, we can draw some conclusions from the elections of July 1, 2012.
1. Voting day showed few outbursts of violence.
Despite fears that organized crime or electoral conflicts would lead to violence on elections day, the day passed with few incidents. But it wasn’t entirely peaceful. In Tabasco one person died after being hit by a vehicle an an attempt to buy votes for the candidate of the PRI, Ana Luisa Crideli. The IFE also confirmed the theft of ballot boxes by an armed group in section 1513 located in the state of Nuevo Leon. The day before the elections, Nuevo Leon reported the murder of Thomas Gaitán Betancourt, MORENA coordinator in the city of Juarez and Valle de Santiago, Guanajuato reported the assassination of a representative of the PRD. However, organized crime and electoral disputes have so far had a low profile in these elections.
2. Enrique Peña Nieto won by a much smaller margin than predicted.
After the polling companies announced margins above 10% for the PRI candidate, the difference between Peña Nieto and Lopez Obrador reflected in the preliminary count shows a margin of just over 6%, In fact throughout the night there was a steady margin of only 3-4% difference, which after dawn jumped to 7 points, showing a rise in the last-minute vote reports for Peña Nieto. This also happened in 2006, when the voting trend between AMLO and Calderon mysteriously reversed at the end.
The big gap between recorded voting and pollsters’ predictions adds to charges of bias and buying favorable surveys before the elections. On the other hand, the difference of more than 3 million votes between EPN and AMLO will facilitate the argument of electoral institutions that irregularities would not have changed the outcome.
3. The PRI electoral machine and old practices of vote rigging were brought out in force to ensure victory for Peña Nieto.
The vices of this election were demonstrated long before election day. Civil society groups and independent media recorded several forms of manipulation of the vote, including numerous cases of vote-buying (the distribution of Monex debit cards, prepaid grocery cards for the chain Soriana and cash payment for votes); vote coercion in the workplace, especially among government employees; theft of ballot boxes and ballots; overspending and unreported spending; unreported secret dealings with the media; the “carousel” to mark ballots outside the polls by a third party; ballots marked in advance, and so on.
Now civil society, organized by the student movement “YoSoy132”, election observers and independent media, are working hard to document election irregularities and compile the results. For young people opposed to the return of the PRI, the argument that these are isolated cases that do not affect Peña Nieto’s victory will be difficult to accept, especially after what happened in 2006. Their demand is for a democracy where all votes are free and counted.
4. The PAN suffered a historic defeat.
The National Action Party (PAN) candidate, Josefina Vazquez Mota ran a distant third with only 25% of the presidential vote. Not only that but several delegations of Mexico City changed from PAN to PRD and the PAN also lost the governorship of the state of Jalisco to the PRI. It’s tumble from grace seems to be a result of the combination of the lack of unity around the presidential candidate, the political cost of the drug war and its 60,000 dead, a lackluster economy and what for many has been the failure of the conservatices in power after high expectations following th fall of the PRI.
The PAN’s twelve years were characterized by a weak economy and corruption, poverty and unemployment, which drove many people from its ranks. In addition, the PAN is paying the price of leaving intact the PRI political machine. The decision to form an alliance with the PRI against the PRD allowed the PRI to rebuild its forces on the same base of patronage and caciquismo that marked its authoritarian rule. The party’s impunity for past crimes by PRI strong men such as Ulises Ruiz in Oaxaca and Peña Nieto himself in Mexico State meant that the PRI was able not only to avoid being brought to justice, but also to avoid the political costs of its acts of repression and corruption in the past. Now it’s the PAN that is paying that political cost by having given the PRI a safe pass.
5. The 2012 elections showed that the country divided economically into “Two Mexico’s”–north and south–is also split politically.
The PREP map is divided by green (Peña Nieto) in the north and yellow (Lopez Obrador) in the southern states, with exceptions where Peña Nieto won the majority of the vote in Chiapas, Campeche and Yucatan. Since the inception of NAFTA in North America, the division between poverty in the south and poorly distributed wealth in the north has deepened as a result of neoliberal economic integration. These choices reflect the polarization of a country where inequality is increasing.
6. The left, represented by López Obrador, could not replicate its 2006 electoral force.
The PRD made headway in some areas, but in general could not garner enough support to win the majority of the vote as it apparently did in 2006. The PRD candidate for mayor of Mexico City, Mancera, gained over 60% of the votes–a landslide victory and testimony of public approval of the last fifteen years of PRD governments. The party’s advantage in poor southern states like Guerrero and Oaxaca is also impressive, with a nearly 10 points over the PRI in those states.
However, despite the construction of a large force in MORENA (Movement for National Regeneration), 2012 did not see a grassroots movement in favor of AMLO come together in the same way as 2006. This is due in part to the lack of unity in the party, which has seen major divisions and friction between its factions in recent years. Furthermore the decision to treat opponents, especially Peña Nieto, with a white glove to avoid characterizations of “intolerant” being promoted in the media and the effort to win over business sectors blurred the redistribution proposals in favor of the most vulnerable, compared to the slogan “first the poor” in 2006. This left more room for the operations of the PRI to win these sectors with vote buying and marketing with the help of the media to sell the image of their candidate.
7. The lack of ballots at special polling places violated the right to effective suffrage of thousands of people across the country.
To say that by law only 750 ballots were available at special polling places (for citizens voting out of district) does not justify in the least the fact that thousands of citizens were denied their right to vote. Since this has happened on previous occasions why not correct the error before the election? Why not install more special polling places? The outrage felt by large numbers of people turned away prompted a new movement “I am 751? and spurred spontaneous marches in many parts of the city of people shouting “we want to vote!”
The Imperfect Democracy
Mexico will have a new president from the old political party. The PRI governed in a one-party system through a simulated presidential election every six years, orchestrated through well-known mechanisms to perpetrate fraud and with the help of a system of patronage that guaranteed they would always get the majority vote –for many years without allowing other political parties to really compete. This is the situation that led Mario Vargas Llosa to describe Mexico and the PRI in the now-famous phrase “the perfect dictatorship¨.
Since PRI candidate Carlos Salinas de Gortari came to power as president in 1988 – with the famous ¨systems crash¨ that completely suspended public access to information on the electoral race at the moment that victory was virtually guaranteed for rival candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas – Mexico began to reform its electoral system. What today is referred to as the Federal Elections Institute (IFE in its Spanish initials), was founded 22 years ago and has evolved since that time.
Undoubtedly, there have been important advances in the development of a legal framework and of electoral institutions in the country. Nevertheless, the 2006 presidential elections and the decision not to open more ballot boxes to count all the votes cast significantly diminished the trust many in the population had in the new system, and in spite of the IFE’s efforts to build confidence, they still have not been able to fully restore it. The youth have expressed criticism in the ¨I Am 132¨ movement of an electoral system they feel has not been able to guarantee the free vote, nor a level playing field in the presidential contest.
No longer is the Mexican president selected by the ¨dedazo¨, (literally translated in English as the big finger, to refer to the direct selection by the president of his successor), and after the efforts to reform the system, it cannot be said anymore that the elections are complete farces. Nevertheless, the imperfect democracy that we have seen in Mexico during these most recent elections has real structural problems that have endured and remained in effect since the PRI era. These include traditional practices of vote manipulation, but also include more sophisticated and at times newly created forms.
One central component in these new voter manipulation strategies has been the influence of the relatively new power wielded by the mass media, specifically the giant TV companies. Televisa in particular has been the target of the youth movement for its blatant favoritism towards the PRI candidate. Upon examining the role the media have played and the laws they have allegedly violated represent a critical pending task in order to construct a more equitable system.
Among all the complaints registered by the authorities and those collected by civil society itself, vote-buying is definitely the most common fraud tactic. There two fundamental problems converge. The first one is that the political parties continue to commit the fraud, despite its illegality. Evidence points to a massive operations of vote buying on the part of the PRI.
The second is that the citizens accept it. This is due to two types of deficiencies: the deficiency of an electoral culture that teaches the value of having a free and independent vote as one of the key pillars of democracy, and the second deficiency of money, based on pervasive and extreme poverty throughout the country. Given the choice to exercise their vote or to eat, it really is not surprising that so many people choose the latter, and even less surprising in a society where voting has historically been a farce. Many people interviewed by the media openly admitted selling their vote, considering the practice to be ¨normal¨ during elections. To choose a party or a candidate based on what they offer – not in real proposals for the country, but in groceries, building materials, or cash – is a custom deeply rooted in Mexican electoral culture.
The other complaint formally registered and that is also apparent in the population is the violation of campaign spending caps, again notoriously committed by the PRI. Taking into account that one cannot know the origin of funds spent that are not reported, this violation is clearly a major obstacle on the path to fairer elections.
Very early on, Josefina Vázquez Mota publicly recognized her defeat. Afterwards, in a press conference, PRI president Pedro Joaquín Coldwell (who was met with loud boos and shouts calling him ¨corrupt¨ when he got in line at his polling place to vote) announced the advantage his candidate had and proclaimed that ¨The electoral process has occurred with absolute legality.¨ President Felipe Calderón emerged to congratulate Peña Nieto, coronating him as the next president of Mexico ¨as soon as the (Electoral) Tribunal validates the election.¨ Immediately thereafter, Peña Nieto emerged to proclaim his triumph, saying ¨I assume this new role that the Mexican people have given me today with emotion, great commitment, and full responsibility.¨
For his part, López Obrador announced that he would wait until all of the votes were counted. ¨There is an established, legal procedure that requires us to compile the votes for each district, and next Wednesday they will have to review all the votes and they will have to recognize (those) results. We are going to wait for that (final) result in order to establish our clear position.¨ The candidate will wait for the official results and those of his own analysis of what happened on election day in order to give his clear response to the elections, and also in regards to the claim of multiple irregularities that have also been alleged to have taken place.
Finally, the youth movement represented by Yo Soy 132 (I Am 132) has announced mobilizations and without a doubt those mobilizations will be a critical factor in the new post-electoral environment. The movement´s opposition to Peña Nieto and protests over the biased role the TV news media has played in the elections, and their demand for a democracy that respects a free vote will make it very unlikely that the movement accepts the results and disbands. Since July 1, the movement has established a program of action with demands that include not only significant changes in the electoral arena, but also the economy, the strategy of the current drug war, and social policies. These young people believe that these elections and the possible return of the PRI will define their future, and many see that future now seriously threatened by a PRI government under Peña Nieto.
*This articles was first published by the Americas Program