Thursday, April 16, 2015

on the street where i live

It is election time.  And I am not talking about the plucked and tweezed campaigns that will bedevil the American public for the next nineteen months. 

Yup.  Nineteen months of campaigning is what Americans have in front of them. Not so, we residents of Mexico.  We have two months.

Every three years, Mexicans go to the polls to elect local and national leaders -- almost everyone except the president (who has a six-year term).  And all the campaigning needs to be done in two months.

Spinmeisters often refer to campaigning in New Hampshire as "retail politics" because the big shots need to actually meet voters at the voters' level.  The politicians up north could take a lesson from our local campaigns.

There are four major parties here.
  • Institutional Revolutionary Party ((Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) 
  • National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN)
  • National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional, MORENA) 
  • Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD)
And, at least, five minor parties (not counting a multitude of socialist party splinters):
  • Citizens' Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano, MC)
  • Ecologist Green Party of Mexico (Partido Verde Ecologista de México, PVEM)
  • Humanist Party (Partido Humanista, PH)
  • Labor Party (Partido del Trabajo, PT)
  • New Alliance  (Nueva Alianza, PANAL)
  • Social Encounter Party (Partido Encuentro Social, PES)
The length of that list looks as if it could have come from Italy.  But Mexico does not have a parliamentary system as does Italy or Britain or Canada.  It is a presidential-congressional system.  Just like the good ol' USA.

Until the 1990s, the congressional portion of the Mexican elections was as monopolistic of political power as the presidency was.  There was only one victorious party -- PRI.

Due to a series of reforms, opposition parties actually started winning elections to congress.  Then, a true democratic miracle occurred -- an opposition party candidate for president won.  And, this is the miracle, power passed from party to party without a whimper.

PAN then held the presidency for 12 years, but PRI (promising that it had cleaned up its act) returned in 2012.  But the voters split the difference in that election.  PRI did not have enough votes in Congress to pass legislation.

A grand coalition of PRI, PAN, and PRD legislators was formed.  And a lot was done -- including some remarkable constitutional amendments.* 

But the coalition was too broad to last for long.  First, some PRD members deserted.  Then, PAN turned on the idea.

This election is going to be a referendum on PRI's stewardship of the presidency.  But it will also be about local issues.

Last month, in my inner mexican, I told you I had recently seen a poll taken in Mexico.  Because each of the four of major parties had negatives so high (up to 40%), the analyst predicted the minor parties may actually score a breakthrough in this election.

I, of course, am writing in an information vacuum.  I do receive regular polling information, but it is not very helpful in such a balkanized system.

Instead, I rely on the activity in our local streets.

Yesterday evening, our main street hosted a sizable group going door-to-door and shop-to-shop showing off their candidate for the presidency of our municipality.  PAN (the blue party), in this case.  Earlier in the week, it was PRI and MC.

That is them at the top of this essay.  Mainly women with children.

But there is also wholesale campaigning.  Such as this fellow on the motorcycle blasting out his party's message.  I have seen and heard at least two of these political sound machines each day this week -- from several parties.  Revolution by the decibil.

Walls and paint are another medium.  In this case, the Citizens' Movement (MC) is showing its colors.  Orange.

And that is an interesting aspect of local politics.  Even though MC designates itself as a social-democratic party, the young attorney who is running for president of the municipality is very conversant with the mechanism of privatization and appears to be receptive to it. 

Of course, all politicians, while campaigning, are receptive to the suggestions of voters.  I know.  Having tried it.  Once.

So far, I have been entertained by bands and canvassers in my neighborhood, signs posted in some of the oddest places, and even the occasional belly dancer.  The last, I assume, is pandering to the elusive gypsy vote.

While watching all the goings on, one of my favorite Carlos Fuentes passages drifted through my head.  It is from The Campaign.  The protagonist, Baltasar Bustos, is listening to one of Fuentes' eccentric generals.

Every time he told more unknown stories, of wars against the French and the Yankees, military coups, of torture and exile, an endless history of failure and unfulfilled dreams, with everything postponed and frustrated, of nothing more than hope where nothing ever ends, but maybe it was better that way, because, here, when anything ends, it ends badly. 
Fuentes often reminds me that what I see with my northern eyes is a Mexican story, not an American one.

* --
One of those amendments makes this election quite different.  For the first time since the Constitution of 1917 was enacted, every office holder (with the exception of the president) is allowed to seek re-election.

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