April 28, 2006

Amid Media Blackout, Congressional Campaigns Unfold

Virtually overlooked by the US and international press, Mexico’s congressional campaigns are getting underway in the border and other states. Much of the media’s attention is focused on the 2006 race for the Mexican presidency, but scant international press coverage is being devoted to the battle for the federal Mexican congress.

Given the historic weakening of the authoritarian Mexican presidency, the media blackout of the congressional election is especially glaring in light of the potential power of Mexican senators and deputies. Pre-election polls suggest Mexico’s next president could confront a similar political equation faced by outgoing President Vicente Fox: a divided congress capable of blocking or drastically compromising the executive branch’s political agenda.

In the Baja California border city of Tijuana, the competing political parties recently unveiled some of the strategies they will employ to get their candidates elected to the federal Chamber of Deputies on July 2, 2006.

Currently running Tijuana’s municipal administration, the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) and its Alliance for Mexico will rely on direct, door-to-door contact with the city’s population, according to Carlos Barboza Castillo, the party’s Tijuana leader. As in other Mexican cities, the PRI can rely on a hard-core network in Tijuana of supporters mobilized by colonia leaders, merchant association heads and other political operatives. 

For President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party (PAN), the record of current Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon’s government will be put to the scrutiny of the voters. Salvador Morales Riubi, the state leader of the PAN in Baja California, said the conservative party will ask voters to compare previous PAN administrations with PRI ones.

Members of Andres Ma-nuel Lopez Obrador’s For the Good of All Coalition said they will ask voters to give thumbs down to the performance of both the PRI and PAN parties, or the so-called “Prian,” as the two organizations are sometimes derisively called. Lopez Obrador’s partisans will emphasize the candidacy of their standard-bearer to benefit the campaigns of their other candidates.  Besides the big three, two smaller parties also will field congressional candidates.

Martha Patricia Avalos Valenzuela, the state coordinator of prominent feminist Patricia Mercado’s Social Democrat and Campesino Alternative party, said a lack of resources will demand creative and intense contact with the electorate. As of late last week, Roberto Campa’s Social Alliance Party, which was formed from a split in the PRI, had not publicly announced their Tijuana and Baja California strategies.

  In multi-party alliances that include smaller parties, the electoral coalitions are an unparalleled opportunity for the smaller organizations to inflate their influence by means of congressional candidacy concessions negotiated with the larger parties. Political scrambling in Mexico during the past weeks and months demonstrates that the high-stakes nature of the congressional races has not been lost on the various political actors. Power plays, positional  bargaining, party switching, and top-down candidate impositions all have been features of behind-the-scenes dramas that could strengthen as well as weaken the prospects of the different parties/political coalitions and their respective presidential candidates.

As in Lopez Obrador’s coalition, sometimes polemical candidate selection processes can provoke internal political discord, Dissension over the Chihuahua senatorial candidacy of longtime Priista and sudden Lopez Obrador convert Victor Anchondo, who served as government secretary during the controversial 1998-2004 administration of Chihuahua Governor Patricio Martinez, has threatened splits in Lopez Obrador’s own center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution at a time when the party enjoys its best prospect ever of winning the presidency of the republic.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur: U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico

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