Friday, January 26, 2018

put another ballot in

"Nothing in Mexico is what it seems."

So says one of President Francisco Maduro's fellow spiritists in C.M. Mayo's Metaphysical Odyssey and the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and his Secret Book, Spiritist Manual* in describing his nation.

Of course, all generalizations brutalize individual reality. But, like most generalizations, it has a grain of truth embedded in it -- quite similar to Octavio Paz's analysis of the masks Mexicans wear.

And when applied to Mexican politics, the truth blossoms. Where revelations of truth are wrapped in layers of contradiction and enigmas. Russian dolls could learn a few things.

OK, class. Put on your cynical hats. Because you are about to hear one gringo's take on the 2018 Mexican presidential election. A gringo with no particular expertise in Mexican party politics. At least, no expertise we are going to discuss here.

So, if you feel inclined to comment that I may not be the best person to hold any opinions about the topic, don't bother. Because I just said it.

Every six years Mexico elects a new president for a single six-year term. This is one of those years. And the candidates are revving up their virtual engines.

Mexico is a multi-party democracy. Using the word "democracy" to describe Mexican politics was a bit farcical until the mid-1990s. Until then, there was usually only one party that won elections in Mexico. PRI. (For the sake of clarity, I am going to refer to parties by their acronyms. It is easy enough for you to look up the full names.)

PRI arose out of the Mexican revolution. Like most revolutionary leaders, the winners of the revolution decided Mexico would be best served by a one-party system that could maintain order and stability. Opposition parties were allowed to campaign, but they were not allowed to win elections unless it served some sort of purpose for PRI.

That changed with the election of 1988. PRI leftists, who were concerned about the liberalization of the Mexican economy, broke from the party and formed a left-wing political vehicle, PRD. The candidate of PRI won, but only by manipulating the vote count in a nation-wide vote tabulation crash. PRD led when the system went down. When the tabulation went back on line, the candidate of PRI won. Almost all commentators agree that the election was a fraud.

To calm the situation, PRI agreed to several reforms. One of the most radical was the establishment of rules that would guarantee votes would actually be counted for the candidates for whom citizens had voted. In the 1990s, Congress was filled with opposition leaders -- leading to the election of a presidential candidate of the conservative party PAN in 2000.

It also led to the proliferation of a number of minor parties who brought their own ideological agendas to the table. Because the small parties have no chance to elect a president on their own, they often join together in alliance with one of the larger parties. The leftist parties would join with one another, the moderates with one another, and the center-right parties with one another.

But not this year. If you look at politics with ideological glasses, this year will look like a French farce. But that is because Mexican politics is often not what it seems.

This year, three 
major candidates are campaigning for president.
The center-right candidate of PAN will probably be Ricardo Anaya Cortes.

The center-left candidate of PRI will probably be Jose Antonia Meade Kuribreña.

The leftist candidate of MORENA will be Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

There are also two announced independent candidates. Both women. Maria de Jesus Patricio Martinez of the National Indigenous Congress, and Margarita Zavala.

That seems to be rather straight-forward, doesn't it? Well, it's not.

Let's start with the personalities. Lopez Obrador is the most interesting. I have called him the Harold Stassen of Mexico because he has run twice for president and lost. He is back again.

He was one of the original founders of PRD, and carried its banner in the past two elections. After his last loss, he decided PRD's leftism was not pure enough for him when PRD agreed to support several PRI economic reforms.

So, he formed his own party -- MORENA. At the time, it sounded like a vanity project. But, having been returned to power six years ago, PRI has managed to anger a good portion of the Mexican public.

Lopez Obrador has been traveling the country since 2012 playing the populist card much in the way the Trump campaign did in 2016. His stated goals being to save Mexican oil from foreigners and to put an end to government corruption.

I heard him speak in San Patricio in 2014 (dr. lopez obrador has a cure for you). It was one of those speeches that could best be described as washing his hair with kerosene and then standing next to a butane lighter. The crowd loved it.

It turns out that MORENA is not a vanity project; it is a serious party with a serious candidate who intends to win thiselection. Lopez Obrador has led in the polls all last year. That may be because of the odd coalition he has built.

In addition to his left-wing MORENA party, he is supported by an alliance of the Maoist PT and the right-wing national populist Social Encounter. That would be a little bit like Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader joining forces with Bernie Sanders.

But something has happened in MORENA. Lopez Obrador has packed away most of his populist ideas and is now running as if he were still a candidate of his former party -- PRD. The scent of victory may be moderating him. Last year, he lost because he scared most of the Mexican middle class. If he scares them again, he still could lose.

Most commentators thought Lopez Obrador'sprimary competition would be with PAN -- the center-right party. It had managed to put together a grand coalition to ensure Lopez Obrador would not win. And an odd coalition it is -- Lopez Obrador's former party (the leftist PRD) and the social democratic Citizen's Movement. Both parties supported Lopez Obrador in 2006 and 2012.

PAN and PRD had formed voting alliances three years ago for local elections. And had done quite well. And Citizen's Movement had scored local victories on its own.

But the alliance truly is a marriage of convenience. Imagine Paul Ryan, Elizabeth Warren, and Al Gore sitting down to draw up a national campaign.

No one gave PRI any chance of doing anything other than showing up to be third -- maybe beating out the indigenous candidate. The current PRI president, Peña Nieto, has made a hash of governing. His landmark reforms were badly marketed, he flubbed the security promises of his campaign, and corruption has struck him and his family. Everyone thought the voters would make PRI suffer.

Then, Peña Nieto surprised us all with a hat trick. Rather than picking another political PRI hack, he fingered his secretary of Social Development, Meade Kuribreña, to be the candidate for PRI. Meade Kuribreña also served in the cabinet of the last PAN president. He was an independent, and became a member of PRI only last year.

PRI has allied with the extremely eccentric center right Green party and the liberal New Alliance party, created by the teachers' union. And analogies fail me. It is almost as if the Democrats nominated Rex Tillerson as their candidate for president, who would then be supported by Ted Cruz and Randi Weingarten.

Here's the kicker, since 
Meade Kuribreña's name was announced, he has been breathing down Lopez Obrador's neck. 28% to 23% in the last credible poll. Everyone expected once the candidates were known and Lopez Obrador did not have the stage to himself, the numbers would tighten. But the PRI candidate? Who would have thought.

And that is not the only bit of Friday surprise cooking on the back burner. Remember Margarita Zavala -- the independent candidate? She is not just any candidate. She is the wife of the last PAN president, Felipe Calderon. She wanted to be the PAN nominee this year -- just like another former first lady further north. When it was obvious that was not going to happen, she drove off in a plush huff sedan, and announced that she would run as an independent.

The word amongst those who have the inside scoop (and who cannot keep their collective mouths shut) is that she will start her campaign and then dramatically announce (when it will do the most good) that she will support -- not the nominee of her husband's party, but the nominee of PRI. 
Meade Kuribreña.

Admittedly, there will be a bit of vengeance in the move, but Meade Kuribreña served in two different posts in her husband's government -- and it may turn out that the anti-Lopez Obrador forces will find a vote for Meade Kuribreña to be the best way to keep Lopez Obrador away from the presidency.
Now, all of this has been filtered through my mind -- a mind that can only marvel at the byzantine turns of Mexican politics.

The election will not be held for 5 more months. On 1 July 2018. I am willing to bet that we are going to see some very interesting twists between now and then.

And I will be here to misconstrue them. Just for you.   

*-- I want to thank fellow blogger and attorney Jennifer Rose for directing me to the book. The writing is a bit tedious. But, Mayo provides an interesting insight into Madero's philosophical reliance on spiritism and how it influenced his involvement in the revolution.

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