Monday, August 10, 2009
Intraparty Bloodletting is taking its Toll in Mexico
By Patrick Corcoran
Mexico's midterm elections are
now a month passed, and as is custom, most of the rhetorical barbs between the adversaries have ceased. Yet within the confines
of the two losing parties, the backstabbing, finger-pointing, and mudslinging still rages with mid-campaign fury, providing
a useful reminder of why they lost in the first place.
The infighting has been most
intense in the PAN, the National Action Party. Following the election, party president and principal electoral strategist
Germán Martínez resigned. And subsequently, the only Panista to register as a candidate to replace him was César Nava*, who,
like Martínez, is an ally of President Felipe Calderón.
Therein lies the problem, at
least for a significant portion of the PAN. Many Panistas say that the electoral debacle goes beyond Germán's faulty strategy
and is in fact an indictment of the president himself, and the only way to bounce back from the loss is to reduce Calderón's
influence in the PAN. They see Nava's candidacy as an imposition from Calderón, and claim that the maneuver is an authoritarian
reversal of the party's democratic roots.
The argument from Panistas like
Manuel Espino and Santiago Creel, both of them close to ex-President Vicente Fox, is hard to take seriously. First of all,
Calderón’s approval rating more than doubles the proportion of PAN votes on July 5th, which suggests that the loss was
not an indictment of the president as much as his party. Moreover, when the Fox clique was in power, all of the behaviors
that they are today decrying, from presidential meddling in intraparty politics to turning a blind eye to Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI) malfeasance at the state level, were common practice. Indeed, Espino won the PAN presidency because of his ties
to Fox, and Creel enjoyed Fox’s open advocacy for his presidential nomination.
In any event, all this criticism
is nothing more than a thinly veiled power struggle. With a weakened president, the anti-Calderón group will have a smoother
path to the PAN presidential nomination in 2012.
Oddly, while the campaign was
far more divisive for the Party of the Democratic Revolution, the PRD, than for the PAN, the period following the disastrous
July 5 election has been comparatively reserved, even sensible for Mexico's leftist party. In the Chamber of Deputies, the
incoming legislators have pledged to vote as one unified bloc, a step in the right direction. (However, the same legislators
have not been able to agree on a leader who is acceptable to all wings of the party.)
In the Senate, the PRD has an
alliance pending with the PRI, who together would hold a healthy majority. That agreement is to be formalized with the PRD's
Carlos Navarrete being named the president of the upper house. Add a newly enfeebled ruling party to this alliance with
the PRI, and you have another reason for optimism in PRD circles.
But the last month has also witnessed
some score-settling, and more fighting is inevitable. Some powerful Perredistas (such as former congressional leader Ruth
Zavaleta) are demanding the expulsion of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former presidential candidate who campaigned against
the PRD in some races. Others are calling for the resignation of party president Jesús Ortega. Below the rarified air of the
party heavyweights, some 3,000 lower-level members are in the process of being expelled, punishment for running for office
under the banner of a competing party.
Furthermore, a potentially divisive
battle for the 2012 presidential nomination between Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard and López Obrador looms. López Obrador
effectively announced his intention to run in 2012 last week, and Ebrard has hinted at his ambition on a number of occasions.
The baby steps toward party unity could well be blown into oblivion by a prolonged dispute for the nomination.
In contrast, the PRI remains
blessedly pacified. Differences over tax proposals and economic priorities are bound to spill out in the not-too-distant future
(not to mention the inevitable conflicts stemming from jockeying for the PRI’s presidential nomination), but for the
time being the party seems to have transplanted Ronald Reagan's old dictum – thou shall not speak ill of another Republican
– southward. The various factions playing nice was a major factor in the PRI's resurgence last month, and, at the moment,
everyone in the party is operating from the same playbook.
This remains the most visible
difference between the three parties. The present disputes in the PRD and PAN are part of a natural reordering after an electoral
disaster, but every day that the parties’ dysfunction is headline fodder is a good one for the PRI. The sooner the losers
can heal their wounds and move on, the sooner Mexican politics will be a three-party game once more.
* MexiData.info note: On Saturday, August 8, Nava was elected national president of the PAN for the next 16 months by members of the party's
National Council. The National Council has a total of 370 members, and 348 were
present for Saturday's vote. With Nava as the only candidate, 290 votes were
cast in his favor and 39 were "null and void" (nulo). There were 19 abstentions. Also see Democracy is Being Brought into Question in Mexico (MexiData.info, August 3, 2009).
Patrick Corcoran (email@example.com) is a writer who resides in Torreón, Coahuila. He blogs at