August 7, 2003
By Mike Krause
Only about forty percent of eligible voters turned out for Mexico’s mid-term elections on July 6th, not quite the revolutionary drama of election 2000 when Vicente Fox ended over seven decades of authoritarian one party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) and thousands of Mexicans crossed over the border from the U.S to vote. It was a pretty expensive show of apathy, with just over $500 million in public election funding having been handed out to the eleven parties running candidates for federal deputy in Mexico’s 500 seat lower house of congress. Those voters that did show up handed President Fox and his National Action party (PAN) a setback and at the same time gave a thumbs up to authoritarian leftist rule in Mexico.
Votes are still being counted, but the picture has become pretty clear. The conservative PAN lost somewhere between 44 and 54 seats, while the authoritarian PRI gained between 15 and 20. The leftist Democratic Revolution party (PRD) will remain the number three party in the lower house, but will have significantly more say, gaining between 37 and 44 seats. Whatever the precise numbers, President Fox will spend the next three years dealing with a divided congress. And while no party has a full majority, the opposition PRI holds enough power in the congress to continue blocking, as they have for the previous three years, Fox’s promised reforms, setting the stage for the 2006 presidential election.
In the days before Sunday’s vote, the Federal Electoral Institute (EFI) sprang into action, implementing la ley seca– the dry law– a nationwide ban on alcohol sales from midnight Friday to midnight Sunday. Apparently voting under the influence is not an acceptable form of civic duty to Mexico’s election officials. Either that or it’s a pre-emptive strike against mob action to an opposing party’s campaign headquarters should there be any irregularities in vote counting. Local merchants reported unusually brisk liquor sales on Thursday, while the hotel and restaurant industry in Cancun and the Riviera Maya issued a statement predicting that 80% of their membership would probably ignore the ban and risk a fine.( Their logic being that tourists don’t really care about elections in Mexico, so why shouldn’t they be able to have a beer). A Saturday night stroll around town witnessed an unusual number of police and code enforcement officials on cerveza patrol, and the even more unusual row of dark and empty drinking establishments the EFI’s threat of criminal sanctions against prohibition scofflaws apparently worked– along with a fair number of tourists indeed wondering what Mexican elections had to do with their ability to buy a beer…
Days before the election, the local press reported on a rumor– which was in turn rumored to have been started by the local press– that one of the major political parties (party X, the papers called them) was planning to buy off the state’s electoral officials and steal the election in Quintana Roo. The EFI in turn published their game plan for election integrity for the state’s 996 voting stations. In addition to 3000 police from every level of government and over 6000 EFI functionaries, there would be some 20,000-citizen watchdogs from the various parties all keeping an eye on one another. A toll free number was also set up to report election fraud. In Quintana Roo’s 1st district, which includes Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, PRI candidate Felix Gonzalez won with 38% of the vote, taking a seat, which the PAN had held for the last three years. In the Southern 2nd district, the PRI also won, taking 33% of the vote and making a clean sweep of Quintana Roo state. The PRI and PRD?s power to say no to Fox gives both opposition parties the chance to cast Fox and the PAN as all talk and no action in 2006. Part of the PRD?s gains on Sunday included a near clean sweep of the sixteen federal deputy districts in Mexico City, the financial and political heart of Mexico. The PRD’s best-known member, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also happens to be Mayor of Mexico City. There he is posting approval ratings in the high eighties with his cash subsidies for the poor and elderly and massive new public works projects. Obrador is also appealing to business, seeming to take a page from Fox’s playbook. He recently spoke before the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico on the need to attract international investment to Mexico and clean up corruption, which he called the biggest challenge to economic growth (an interesting statement considering that contracts for his public works are considered to have been handed out on a patronage basis). The popular Obrador is currently seen as the logical PRD candidate for president in 2006. The PRI’s national leader, Roberto Madrazo is also thought to be positioning himself for a presidential run. This election he created a scandal within the PRI by personally selecting candidates considered loyal to the national party for the 200 available at-large federal deputy seats. The move angered many of the PRI’s statewide leaders, including Mexico State Governor Arturo Montiel, who is also considered a potential candidate in 2006. It made for a very public and rare look into an internal PRI power play, a party historically known for enforcing loyalty and secrecy with an iron fist.
Don’t look for any significant reform out of Mexico in the next three years. Fox’s tax, labor and energy plans are not popular with the opposition. Fox’s best hope may be to continue his purging of institutional corruption in Mexico, an ongoing reform that resonates well with many Mexicans and is vital to attracting more international investment, and hope that is enough to carry the PAN in 2006.
The Independence Institute
INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.
JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.
MIKE KRAUSE is a Senior Fellow at the Institute.
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