Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Peña Nieto's frontal assault on democracy: Legislation fast-tracks through Mexico State Congress

The initiative by the Green Party (PVEM) to impede the formation of electoral alliances in the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Mexico State, breezed through the local legislature in Mexico State after a cursory hearing with such a speed that designating it a "fast-track" hardly does it justice.  

What it does:
* While the legislation does pretend to block alliances, it will still allow common candidates, in the sense that PAN and PRD can still present a common one for 2011. However, should this legislation pass the full floor vote, they now basically have to register as one electoral party-coalition, rather than four separate parties  (PAN, PRD-PT-Convergencia) with separate lists for deputies and municipal presidents, as well as, crucially, separate funding. They will only have one common representative at the state electoral institute, which arranges the election and addresses irregularities, as well as only one representative at the ballot box. They will, in essence, operate in a "reverse gestalt," for lack of better word, where the total sum of the four parties will be considerably less than their component four parts. 

--> Note here that on the national level, the 2007 Electoral Reform went the opposite direction: While e.g. PT and Convergencia extracted a huge number of "safe seats" from the PRD as a price for going into a full coalition (all votes went to the coalition, not the individual parties) in 2006, this was changed at the federal level as the smaller parties now will have to carry their own weight - they have to present their own legislative/municipal lists rather than negotiating safe seats and "vote transfers" in advance. 

* In addition, however, the legislation also aims at greatly reducing the campaign time from 72 and 60 days for governor and deputies/municipal presidents, respectively, to 45 and 30. Clearly this is directly going to favor the party that already is receiving near total permanent coverage in the media, PRI and its candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. 

* Other measures to reduce party spending as well as methods to designate party representatives at the ballot stations, both intended to favor the sitting PRI. More here later. 

PRI and PVEM voted in commitee to bring the proposed legislation up to a floor vote, and was backed in this by none other than Convergencia, a quintessentially opportunist party that rivals the PVEM in frequency of turnings its cape to the wind (the same party is, to recall, on the national level an ardent backer of Andrés Manuel López Obrador), as well as PANAL and the Partido Social Demócrata (PSD) (the latter is now-defunct on the national level, and its representative in Mexico State is a PRI member in all but name). 

Peña Nieto, in his usual slick doublespeak, claimed he and the PRI were not against alliances at all:
 "What the PRI want is rather to promote a legal framework that permits transparent political competition, and that doesn't create confusion."
Beyond such niceties, this initative is far from aimed at ending confusion, but directly to seek to block a common PRD-PAN candidate in 2011, as well as other measures intended to directly favor the PRI candidate.

Now PRI/PVEM and its backers claims that such amalgams represent a more clear option than common candidacies, where parties run on their own separate labels and lists yet combine to put forth e.g. a common gubernatorial candidate.  The argument does not hold water even in a cursory reading.

PRI/PVEM are using the case of Guanajuato as a precedent; there, the local congress voted to ban common candidacies, which was appealed unsuccesfully to the Supreme Court. Yet the comparison is a spurious one, for a range of reasons, most importantly as it didn't apply to gubernatorial candidates, but municipal-level offices.

Luis Sánchez Jiménez, leader of the Mexico State branch of PRD and one of the most capable of PRD's cadres, deemed Peña Nieto "a danger to democracy and to the country." It is certainly a clear demonstration of the lengths of institutional engineering to which Peña Nieta is willing to go to reach the Mexican presidency.  PRD president Jesús Ortega gets the final word:
"Peña Nieto is on several fronts doing everything possible to prevent the alliance. He knows the risk of a democratic union that can beat him and the PRI in elections in the State of Mexico, and this will be a mortal blow, not only toward his pretensions to be President of the Republic, but a mortal blow to the person who appears today as the candidate of the oligarchy."

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