June 29, 2007

Baja California News

State Election in Crisis

With five weeks to go before voters elect a new governor and other state and local representatives, the election process in Baja California is in turmoil. A state election court threw a wrench into the heated contest June 20 when it annulled the gubernatorial candidacy of gaming magnate Jorge Hank Rhon of the So You Can Live Better Alliance, a group made up of Hank’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexican Green Party and Baja California State Party. The court ordered the PRI and its allies to find a substitute candidate within 10 days of June 22.

Rejecting the possibility of substituting a candidate for Hank, the national PRI leadership announced it will pull out its heavy legal guns and appeal the Baja California court decision to the federal election court.

Accompanied on a Mexicali campaign swing by Alejandro Gallego Basteri, brother of popular singer Luis Miguel, Hank initially said that he would continue giving press interviews as the “non-candidate.” Later, while waiting for legal challenges to take their course, the embattled gubernatorial hopeful suspended his campaign.

The election tribunal ruled that Hank’s campaign bid violated Baja California’s so-called “grasshopper” law that prohibits elected officials from running for another office while still serving terms in their original positions.

Hank abandoned his job as Tijuana mayor to run for the Baja California governor’s seat, but could be considered in technical violation of the law since he requested a leave of absence to pursue higher office.

Hank’s supporters immediately denounced the court’s decision, blaming Baja California Eugenio Elorduy of President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) for interfering in the state election.

“(Elorduy) not only stuck his hands into the election process, but his entire body,” charged Hank campaign advisor Eduardo Bernal. In a June 23 Tijuana ceremony held to honor athletes, Gov. Elorduy declined to comment on the latest political developments.

Obdulio Avila Mayo, a federal deputy and PAN national leader, ridiculed the PRI for shedding crocodile tears over a candidate who was supposedly 8 points behind the PAN’S Jose Osuna Millan in the polls. In apparent reference to the controversial Hank, Avila contended that Mexicans must prevent politics from becoming infested with mafia-like types.

Meanwhile, in the state capital of Mexicali, youthful PRI members staged a weekend protest against the electoral court’s decision to remove Hank from the race.

The annulment of Hank’s candidacy was the latest development to unsettle an already turbulent election process. Earlier this month, the State Electoral Institute (IEE), the state agency responsible for organizing and overseeing the election, warned that the PAN-led state government’s failure to increase the election budget threatened to bankrupt the IEE and force it to dip into the retirement funds of its workers to pay for the August 5 election.

Members of the IEE registered complaints with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the federal government and national political parties, charging that the state government is trying to “sabotage the electoral process.”

Baja California political consultant Felipe Morales predicted that the mounting pre-election day conflicts, coupled with the negative media campaign between Hank and Osuna, will turn off voters and possibly cause many to stay home on election day.

“We can observe that the campaigns in this electoral process have not gone beyond the membership of each of the strong parties,” Morales said. “(The campaigns) consign society to the sidelines in favor of the publicists involved with the politicians, and they don’t offer alternatives to society.”

On the national level, it remains to be seen how the Baja California election crisis will influence the PRI’s collaboration with President Felipe Calderon on economic and social policy questions.

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

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