Mexico News and Analysis: July 6-12, 2009

1. Mid term election report
2. US demands report on drug war


1. Mid term election report
“Mid term elections to renew the Lower House developed in general without major incidents, other than accusations of vote buying, threats, violent confrontations between supporters of different parties, widespread bussing of voters to polling stations and arrests of activists,” according to a report published by La Jornada on July 6, the day after national mid-term elections.  The sarcasm apparent in the article was directed at the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which claimed an idyllic election, despite widespread reports of irregularities.  While the IFE may be pleased with the results, it appears that the general population is fed up with politics as usual.  Sixty percent of the electorate refused to vote or turned in spoiled ballots.  Nearly 2 million votes (6%) were null or spoiled, part of a national protest movement that calls the entire institutional political process into question.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won a political “knockout” while taking 12.8 million votes (46%) from a possible electorate of 77 million – hardly a mandate, though most media are interpreting it as such.  The PRI will control a majority in the lower House with 237 Deputies, plus 22 seats for their Green Party (6.5%) allies who ran on a pro-death penalty platform.  The PAN lost big, taking 9.7 million votes (31%) and will have 143 seats, a steep decline from their current 207.  The badly divided PRD also got a scathing message from voters, winning only 71 seats (12% of the vote) after taking 29% for the lower House and 35% in the presidential elections in 2006.  The Labor Party (PT) will have 13 seats, Panal (an invention of Elba Esther Gordillo and affiliated with the National Union of Education Workers) will have 8 Deputies, and Convergencia will have 6.  The Social Democrats lost their party registry by winning less than 2% of the votes. 

The PRI landslide was predicted.  After nine years of largely inept PAN control, the PRI ran on a platform that highlighted its seven decades of experience in government, though promising a new face.  The PAN debacle claimed its first victim the day after the election when party President German Martinez resigned.  The extreme rightist Martinez has been closely aligned throughout his political career with President Calderon. 

The badly divided PRD took only 12% of the vote after winning the 2006 presidential election, though losing the presidency through fraud.  The party was unable to hold clean internal elections last year, and voters apparently saw a group of inept ex-PRI members leading the so-called “left” alternative.  The PRD is now involved in internal debates about the future direction of the party, with no end in sight for party divisions based largely on access to money and power.  PRD President Jesus Ortega initially called for expelling PRD members who campaigned for other parties.  He later modified his position, apparently after someone pointed out that expelling thousands of party members, including the influential former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador whose coattails brought the PRD to second place in the lower House in 2006, was not the way to win elections.

Voters apparently overlooked Green Party corruption in giving them a stunning increase in Deputies based largely on their promise to initiate a death penalty.  According to research published last year in La Jornada, the misnamed Greens have pushed through exactly one piece of environmental legislation during their history.  The party is largely controlled by a single family.  Only hours before the election, Arturo Escobar, the Green representative to the IFE, was in an airport with $1.1 million pesos in his suitcase.  He couldn’t explain where the money was headed.

At the state level, the PRI won governorships in Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Campeche, Colima and Nuevo Leon, losing only in Sonora where voters punished the sitting PRI governor for mishandling the recent day care center fire that claimed the lives of 48 children.  The PRI is well-positioned for the 2012 presidential run, with Mexico State Governor Enrique Pena Nieto the likely candidate.  Pena Nieto is notorious for his handling of police human rights violations in San Salvador Atenco in May of 2006 where officers killed two youth, sexually molested at least 30 women, and arrested over 200.


2. US demands report on drug war
The Obama administration demanded a full report this week on the actions of federal forces in President Calderon’s war on drugs.  The State Department threatened to cancel funds from the Merida Initiative, a US$1.4 billion three-year program of military assistance, if the report is not thorough and convincing.  The demand comes amidst dramatic increases in human rights abuses by federal army troops involved in police activities in dozens of cities around Mexico, though sources within the Mexican government claim the State Department is not insisting on a full accounting of illegal detentions, torture and other abuses committed by the army.  The actions by the State Department follow an article published in the Washington Post documenting abuses by military personnel, including torture, beatings, rape and illegal home searches.  Calderon will send a delegation to the Washington to clear up any “misunderstandings” the Obama administration might have about his war on drugs.