Thursday, April 15, 2021

ballots are in the air

The Mexican political season is off and running.

On 6 June my neighbors and millions of other Mexican citizens will trudge off to their local polling stations, stand in line, show their national voter identification card, and mark their ballots for their preferred candidates.

Every 6 six years, Mexico elects a president. But that is not this election. The president is only half-way through his term. This election is for candidates for the  Mexican Congress and local government, for three-year terms.

Last night I was having dinner in Barra de Navidad when we heard a large commotion in the street. People chanting. Drums beating. Music playing. For once in my life, I knew exactly what was going on.

On my way to dinner, I had stopped to talk with a local guy ("Polo" Pelayo) who is running to become the president of the local municipality (or county). Most people know his last name. He is a scion of one of the leading families in Barra de Navidad.

One of the unusual aspects of his campaign is that he is not running as a candidate for one of the established parties. He has chosen to run as the candidate of a new party that exists only in Jalisco -- Hagamos (roughly translated as "Let's do it.").

The name echoes that of other parties in Spanish-speaking countries -- parties like Spain's Unidas Podemos ("Yes we can") that are fond of appellations in the imperative. The party is counting on the "clean broom" syndrome.

Maybe because he is local, the town is awash in lucha libre impersonators, and car windshields that sport his name.

As do the walls around town.

But Hagamos certainly is not the only political party in town.

At one time 
Partido Acción Nacional, the National Action Party (PAN) was the party of opposition. That changed in 2000 when its candidate for national president won. The party still has strength in Jalisco, but it is no longer seen as the innovator it once was.

The party that was once seen as Mexico's party of government (because for 70 years it guaranteed that it was the party of government) now looks about as shabby as the sign that hangs across the street about a block from my house -- especially after the voters trusted PRI for a comeback in the 2010s.

Mexico even has its share of left-wing nationalist parties, including Partido del Trabajo, the Labor Party (PT) with its rather startling star.*

Most of the current signs around town deal with the local offices. But not all. This sign supports a candidate for Congress.

If you notice at the bottom, he is endorsed by three of the major political parties who, at the national level, have allied themselves to reverse the majority that the party of current national president, 
Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional, The National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), has in Congress.

The local talk is that the race for the presidency of the 
Cihuatlán municipality is down to two parties -- Hagamos and the current holder of the office, Movimaiento Ciudadano, The Citizens’ Movement (MC). 

In 2015, the Citizens' Movement had brushed up its image both locally and nationally as a reform party. Partly because of that image, the candidate of the Citizens' Movement won the presidency. And he was re-elected in 2018. The party would like to retain the position -- with a new candidate.

There is a certain tribalism associated with local politics here that reminds me of political campaigns in Oregon in the 1950s -- before campaigns became slick public image campaigns.

When I ran for the Oregon legislature (well after the 1950s), some of that tribalism still prevailed. And I loved it. The type of campaign where supporters paraded in the street, and candidates met and talked with voters on their doorsteps.

Pelayo's Hagamos parade last evening was a perfect example. Show people how big your bandwagon is by bringing the troops out in the streets.

The Citizens' Movement answered that challenge this evening. Public buses and lines of cars brought Citizens' Movement supporters to my neighborhood. I would estimate the parade was three times larger than that of Hagamos. And it was much louder.

The candidate himself was there -- dashing from door to meet as many potential voters as he could.

This party knows what it is doing from a campaign perspective. The home-dweller was always asked if a sign supporting the candidacy of Jorge Salas Chavez could be placed on the house. The answer was often "yes." (I will note that on my way home, several of the signs had been removed when the parade had passed by.)

For a political junkie like me, the local political process is fascinating. But, fascinating or not, I cannot be a participant in it.

One of the reasons the Mexican Revolution was fought was because of the political influence foreigners had on the Mexican government. The most egregious may have been when foreigners conspired to have the first president post-Revolution assassinated.

When the Constitution of 1917 was written, the drafters made a point of including a clause in Article 33 that answers the question of how involved foreigners may be in Mexican politics. They can't.

"Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country." And, as I have written before, Mexico is serious about that prohibition. Violators have been summarily deported in the past. One example is a group of Americans with connections to the Costalegre in the 1990s.

From past conversations with candidates, I know they are interested in what foreigners would like to see in the communities of Cihuatlán municipality. But the Constitution makes it clear that we foreigners cannot donate money, advertise our support with signs on our cars or house (because that very notion of "support" is unlawful), or do anything to show preference for one candidate over the other.**

But there is nothing improper about taking an interest in what is happening up until 6 June -- and what will come after.

* -- Oddly, I did not see any signs supporting MORENA, the party of the incumbent national president. I suspect they will pop up later. 

** -- I may have to eat some of those words if I find out that a rumor I have heard is actually true. If it is, I will let you know. 

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