October 7, 2005

Mexico’s Political Map More Defined

Mexico’s electoral transitions acquired momentum in recent days, helping to better define the country’s political map as the 2006 presidential and congressional campaigns take

shape. On all sides of the political spectrum, leading candidates staked out political positions, gained space over rivals and moved to consolidate their forces. Speaking before a crowd of hundreds at Nuevo Laredo’s Lion’s Club last weekend, presidential front-runner Andres Manuel López Obrador of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) sounded familiar populist themes of slashing the salaries and pensions of current and former high government officials, while increasing spending on social programs for the needy.

Addressing an audience that included partisans of distinct political parties, López Obrador took a swipe at the frequent foreign junkets by President Vicente Fox and members of his administration. “Who knows when President Fox will return from Canada?” López Obrador questioned. “These costly trips, where he is accompanied by his friends, represent expenses that affect social projects that benefit the community.”

López Obrador’s presentation in Nuevo Laredo rehashed previous proposals like purging the federal police and customs agencies, but the former Mexico City mayor raised ideas which have received less attention in the pre-campaign. In addition to pledging the construction of three new refineries to help alleviate Mexico’s high energy costs, López Obrador proposed a constitutional reform to give the Mexican armed forces a legal stamp of approval for its anti-narcotics campaigns.

Constitutionally permitting the armed forces a leading role in the drug war plays well among certain sectors in Nuevo Laredo and other border communities under siege from warring narco-bands, but such a reform is likely to be less well-received in some PRD strongholds of the south where indigenous communities complain about army excursions ostensibly carried out for the purpose of curbing illegal drug production and trafficking.  Guerrero’s Tlachinollan Human Rights Center and other leading Mexican non-governmental human rights organizations criticize the involvement of the armed forces in anti-narcotics work, alleging that corruption and rights violations are rife.

In the short-term at least, López Obrador’s base was strengthened in the south last Sunday, when the PRD won a legislative majority for the first time in elections for the Guerrero State Congress; the party also regained power in municipal elections for the key cities of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and Iguala. However, potential trouble for the PRD-and López Obrador-in next year’s election was augured by Sunday’s low voter turnout, as well as the loss of several municipalities where the the left has enjoyed historic influence.

Ouflanking López Obrador on the left is emerging as one of the campaign strategies of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Presidential pre-candidate Roberto Madrazo

said on Monday, October 3, that his party can’t go it alone in 2006 if it hopes to achieve victory. “The PRI has to construct an alliance with other political parties,” Madrazo declared. The former Tabasco governor specifically mentioned the small Labor Party (PT) as one force with which a political pact might be possible. Madrazo’s PRI scored a not unexpected big victory in local elections held in the border state of Coahuila last week.

Meanwhile, political upheaval continued to shake President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party (PAN). Moving up from a previous distant position, former Secretary of Energy Felipe Calderon, who is associated with the PAN’s most conservative wing, won a second upset victory during the weekend against ex-Interior Minister Santiago Creel in round two of the PAN’s three-contest presidential primary.

Once regarded as the leading contender for the PAN’s nomination, Creel’s star faded in recent months after he came under attack for allowing hundreds of gaming concessions to be awarded during his final days in office last spring. Publicly identified with President Fox, Creel also has been criticized for failing to stem violent crime and women’s murders in Ciudad Juarez, even after a much-publicized public security program was unveiled in 2003.

Creel’s back-to-back losses to Calderon are even more stunning in light of the television blitz he mounted to promote his campaign, a political development which could signal that widespread disgust over excessive campaign spending is having repercussions at the ballot box.

The weekend’s PAN primary had the added effect of seriously challenging the viability of “dark horse” candidate Alberto Cárdenas. The former Jalisco governor and one-time federal environment minister only polled 13 percent of the vote. As matters now stand, Calderon is posed to take on López Obrador of the PRD and either Roberto Madrazo or Arturo Montiel of the PRI for Vicente Fox’s seat in Los Pinos.

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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