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Column 071309 Wall

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mexico’s Midterm Election – Winners, Losers and Speculation about the Future

By Allan Wall

Mexico’s midterm election was held on July 5th.  It’s a midterm election because it lies halfway between the presidential elections of 2006 and 2012.  The results are relevant to speculation about the future of Mexican legislation in the next few years and, of course, the 2012 election.

As I reported in a previous column, My visit to Mexico – Family, Friends, Politics and More,” I visited Mexico but had to return to the States to take a course.  The wife and kids stayed south of the border, so three and a half weeks later, when my course ended, I flew to Mexico and drove back with my family.

We waited until July 5th to depart, so my Mexican wife could vote in the election before we left the country.

I accompanied my wife to the polling station and observed the voting.  Of course, being an American, I was careful not to interfere in any way.  I´m impressed by the Mexican voter registration system, which I must say is better than ours.

Every registered Mexican voter has a Voter ID card, complete with photograph, fingerprint and a holographic image.  However it’s not just the existence of the card that’s important, but how it is used.

At the Mexican polling station there is a book containing the photographs of every voter in the precinct.  When a Mexican voter presents his or her card, the poll worker looks up the photo to see if it matches up. If it does, a mark is made next to the photo in the book and the voter is allowed to cast his or her ballot.

When I was there on July 5th, a voter’s photo ID didn’t match up with her photo in the book, because she brought her previous voter ID and not her current card. She wasn’t allowed to vote, and had to go home to get her current ID.

After voting, ink is applied to the thumb of the Mexican voter. That way, if he or she shows up at another polling site to vote they know the person already voted elsewhere. (The ink wears off after a few days.)

In contrast, U.S. voter registration is a joke. In many states it’s not even necessary to prove one’s citizenship, or even one’s identity! Registrars have been instructed not to be inquisitive about applicants’ citizenship – or lack thereof.

It should come as no surprise then, that the last few years have seen more and more examples of voter fraud coming to light, including the casting of ballots by non-citizen voters.

Whenever Americans try to require a photo ID, it typically gets opposed by Hispanic activists who say it’s discriminatory.  That’s ironic, since photo ID is a requirement in Mexico, which is the world’s biggest Hispanic country.

The solution for U.S. states is to adopt a Mexican-style photo voter ID system, at government expense.   Why not? We spend money on all sorts of things, why not a secure voting system?

Now, let’s return to the discussion of the July 5th Mexican election. 

The lower house of the Mexican Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, has 500 representatives.  Every three years, 100% of those representatives are replaced (with no reelection allowed). Of the total, 300 are directly elected by electoral districts, with the other 200 selected by proportional representation. 

Besides the elections for the Chamber of Deputies, there were state and local elections in some parts of Mexico.  Hundreds of mayors were chosen, and six governorships were up for grabs.

After the dust was cleared, here are the results.

The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), the former ruling party, got 36.7% of the total vote (and 5 of those 6 governorships).  President Felipe Calderon’s PAN (National Action Party) had 28% of the total vote. The farther left PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), which almost won the presidency in 2006, only had 12.2% of the total vote.  The Greens, largest of the micro-parties, garnered 6.5% of the vote, and it went down from there.

As a result, the correlation of forces in the lower house Chamber of Deputies has changed drastically.

The PRI more than doubled its delegation, from 106 to 241 seats. That means it has 49% of the seats in the chamber. Add to that the 17 seats won by the Greens, who have an alliance with the PRI, and the party has a de facto majority.

The PAN, meanwhile, dropped from 206 to 147 seats, and the PRD went from 127 to 72 seats.

What can we learn from this election about the Mexican political landscape?

For one thing, the PRI has more than survived its previous loss of power and is now coming back as a competitive party that could actually win back the presidency in the 2012 elections.  Furthermore, the party is truly national, inheriting from its one-party state days a vast network throughout the length and breadth of Mexico.  Yet the PRI has successfully utilized this network in a new pluralistic political age. As younger Mexican voters come of age, for the non-PRI parties to bring up the specter of the old PRI one-party state of yore is less and less effective.

By the same token, the PAN can no longer rest on the laurels it received by being the opposition party that overthrew the PRI in 2000.  

I wouldn’t write off Calderon, however.  The man is a talented political operative and he is doubtlessly already at work thinking of ways to work with the PRI in Congress.

How about the PRD, why did it do so poorly?  One might be inclined to blame the ongoing antics of AMLO (Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador) for the PRD’s poor showing.

AMLO, however, was quite effective in this election – just not for his own party.  Though Lopez Obrador stayed in the PRD, he campaigned for two other parties (the Labor Party and Convergence) which together garnered an impressive 6% of the total vote, just half of the PRD’s.  In fact, in the Iztapalapa borough of Mexico City, AMLO publicly supported a Labor party candidate against the candidate of his own PRD, and the Labor candidate won.  So AMLO can’t be written off yet either.  

The newly-elected representatives are set to take office on September 1st.

Mexico faces great challenges, including the economic downturn caused by its close association with the U.S.A., and the ongoing drug gang wars.  The country would greatly benefit from various reforms which have thus far proved unattainable.

So it would behoove President Calderon and the congressional PRI party to work together to face such problems. In fact, it’s in the interests of both to do so.

As for the upcoming 2012 presidential election, the PRI’s Enrique Peņa Nieto, governor of Mexico state, and the PRD’s Marcelo Ebrard, mayor of Mexico City, look like possible standard-bearers for their respective parties.

On the other hand, a lot could happen in three years. In fact, the year 2012 could look a lot different. So, stay tuned….

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at www.allanwall.net.