By José A. Álvarez
The Mexican peoples’ trust in their political parties was higher than normal during the 2000 presidential election when the opposition finally came into power. That faith had disappeared by the time the mid-term elections came around three years later. The electorate distrust, a 2004 survey showed, had shot up to the same levels as before the history-making election.
“People thought that after the 2000 election, the parties would be held more accountable, more responsible to the citizenry,” said Esperanza Palma, a Sociology Professor at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Azcapotzalco in Mexico City and a guest scholar at the University of California-San Diego. “What the 2003 elections showed is an increasing social distrust. The political parties are more discredited than the police,” added Palma during a seminar on the political parties and democracy in Mexico after the 2000 election.
During her presentation, Palma showed statistics from a 2004 survey by the Federal Election Institute (IFE, in Spanish) conducted to determine the high absenteeism in the previous year’s elections, when the members of Congress are elected. In 2003, nearly 60 percent of voters did not vote; the highest rate ever.
According to the survey, in 2000, nearly 34 percent of voters believed things would improve in Mexico. Four years later, however, people were disillusioned with the govern-ment’s performance and the level of trust dropped to 17 percent, the same percentage as during the mid-term elections of 1996.
Some explanations of this phenomenon could be that Mexican citizens have not seen real changes in their lives, leading many to believe that a true change will not take place, whether they vote or not. Another reason may be the empty promises from the parties and a lack of true political proposals.
“People tend to believe that parties act according to their own selfish interests,” said Palma, whose most recent book examines the political bases of the National Action Party (PAN) and the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). “Another reason is that people believe the parties are unable to resolve the main problem in Mexico, which is insecurity.”
What the survey also revealed is that 80 percent of the respondents were not educated about the parties or the political process and only 20 percent were able to answer the five questions they were asked. Furthermore, the poll also showed that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for more than 70 years, remained dominant in rural areas and among the less educated and low-income population, while the PAN’s and the PRD’s base was stronger in urban areas and the higher educated.
One major problem all the parties face, Palma noted, is that they have not been able to acclimate themselves to the new democratization process. While many believed that the PAN’s win of the presidency would result in the PRI’s demise, the party continues to be the largest in Congress and in the 2003 elections it regained most of the seats it had lost.
“This could be indicating that the PRI is far from collapsing because it can adapt very well to new democratic conditions,” said Palma.
Palma did not want to make any projections as to what impact the high level of distrust in the political parties will have in the upcoming 2006 presidential election.
“The parties will have to fight to get the support of the nearly 70 percent of independents (voters). Just because the PRI is the largest does not mean that it will win the election. That will depend on the candidates and the ability of parties to reach independents,” said Palma, indicating that “new forms of participation” are necessary in order to move the democratic process forward.
For the first time in history, Mexicans living abroad will be able to cast their vote for president in the upcoming 2006 election. When asked what impact these new votes will have in the election, Palma said she did not know, especially since no one has measured the level of distrust in the political parties from Mexicans living abroad.
Palma indicated that while the IFE is considered one of the most reliable institutions in Mexico, Mexicans abroad “don’t trust the way the IFE is organizing the vote.”