Anger high for elec­tions in Mex­ico

Vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing can­di­dates’ killings, and boy­cotts loom over midterm vote.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Tracy Wilkin­son wilkin­son@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Tra­cyKWilkin­son Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mex­ico City bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

MEX­ICO CITY — On the eve of na­tion­wide elec­tions in Mex­ico, demon­stra­tors have laid siege to elec­tion board of­fices, torched bal­lots and vowed to oth­er­wise dis­rupt vot­ing as public anger at the gov­ern­ment and the po­lit­i­cal estab­lish­ment boils over.

A move­ment is also afoot among some Mex­i­cans to boy­cott the vote or de­lib­er­ately in­val­i­date bal­lots cast in Sun­day’s midterm elec­tions, which will choose nine state gov­er­nors, 16 state leg­is­la­tures, 500 mem­bers of the fed­eral Congress and 887 may­ors.

Para­dox­i­cally, the protests will prob­a­bly only ben­e­fit the party that many demon­stra­tors seek to pun­ish: the rul­ing In­sti­tu­tional Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party, or PRI, of Pres­i­dent Enrique Peña Ni­eto, as well as some of the large unions.

The well-or­ga­nized and well-fi­nanced PRI is al­ways able to de­liver a solid base of vot­ers in any elec­tion and is ex­pected to do so again. Ditto for unions that many blame for stif ling the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

“If those of us who are most crit­i­cal stop play­ing … we leave the de­ci­sions in the hands of those we least want to make de­ci­sions,” Virid­i­ana Rios, head of a civic or­ga­ni­za­tion called Mex­ico, Como Vamos? (Mex­ico, how are we do­ing?), said in a tele­vi­sion pro­gram ded­i­cated to the elec­tions.

For the first time, how­ever, in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates not af­fil­i­ated with a party are be­ing al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate, and one or two just might give the PRI a run for the money.

The PRI, which ruled Mex­ico with a heavy hand for seven decades un­til fi­nally be­ing un­seated in 2000, re­turned to pres­i­den­tial power in 2012 with lofty plans for great re­forms that would mod­ern­ize Mex­ico, from its os­si­fied ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to the un­der­per­form­ing en­ergy sec­tor.

Those re­forms have stalled. Most con­tro­ver­sially, the gov­ern­ment last week caved on the ed­u­ca­tion re­form, which would have re­quired eval­u­a­tions of teach­ers’ skills, in hope of qui­et­ing vi­o­lent protests by mem­bers of a rad­i­cal teach­ers’ union. The union mem­bers had an­nounced their in­ten­tion to stop elec­tions in the states of Oax­aca and Guer­rero, and the gov­ern­ment de­cided to sac­ri­fice what many Mex­i­cans be­lieved to be the most im­por­tant re­form in terms of trans­form­ing the na­tion.

Dis­af­fec­tion with the gov­ern­ment has been com­pounded by a slug­gish econ­omy, cor­rup­tion scan­dals and sev­eral sus­pi­cious mass killings at­trib­uted to au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the case of 43 ru­ral col­lege stu­dents rounded up by po­lice eight months ago and never seen again, save for a bone frag­ment from one stu­dent found in a mass grave.

It is the vi­o­lence that has grabbed head­lines in the days lead­ing up to the elec­tion. Three can­di­dates were as­sas­si­nated in the last month, and an­other was be­headed in March. Oth­ers have been threat­ened or tem­po­rar­ily kid­napped. By one count, 19 peo­ple were slain in in­ci­dents di­rectly con­nected to the cam­paign sea­son, which started in Fe­bru­ary.

Peña Ni­eto’s gov­ern­ment says the vi­o­lence that has spread through at least seven states rep­re­sents “iso­lated in­ci­dents.” The Na­tional Elec­toral In­sti­tute, which over­sees all bal­lot­ing, said the sit­u­a­tion was “del­i­cate” but not “an emer­gency,” while ac­knowl­edg­ing it may not be able to open vot­ing sta­tions in some ar­eas.

“We have cases that we pro­foundly lament,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Miguel An­gel Osorio Chong said re­cently. “But our coun­try is not in flames.”

Re­gard­less, elec­tions will be held Sun­day, and polls sug­gest that the PRI, de­spite public dis­con­tent, will make gains across the board, in­clud­ing pos­si­bly tak­ing a large enough ma­jor­ity in Congress to be able to pass leg­is­la­tion and bud­gets with­out chal­lenge.

Be­cause of the scan­dals and se­cu­rity dis­as­ters, Peña Ni­eto’s ap­proval rat­ings have hit their low­est. In many coun­tries, such as the United States, a midterm elec­tion would be used to pun­ish the rul­ing party.

But in Mex­ico, the op­po­si­tion is weak.

The left is deeply frag­mented and reel­ing from the role of some of its politi­cians in the pre­sumed massacre of the 43 stu­dents. The Na­tional Ac­tion Party on the right is still suf­fer­ing from dis­ap­proval of for­mer Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderon’s han­dling of the drug war, which has cost tens of thou­sands of lives.

One blip in any PRI plans for hege­mony might come from the odd can­di­dacy of a man call­ing him­self El Bronco, an un­tamed steed who bucks the sys­tem.

Jaime Ro­driguez is tak­ing ad­van­tage of a change in elec­toral rules that this year al­lows in­di­vid­u­als to run for of­fice with­out be­long­ing to a party. The long­time mem­ber of the PRI is run­ning as an in­de­pen­dent for the gov­er­nor­ship of Nuevo Leon, the north­ern bor­der state that is the cen­ter of much of the coun­try’s wealth and in­dus­try and is cur­rently con­trolled by the PRI. And, although some worry about his swag­ger­ing, caudillo ten­den­cies, he stands a good chance of win­ning, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral polls.

In the rally closing his cam­paign last week­end, Ro­driguez hit all the pop­ulist chords that marked his can­di­dacy and set him apart from busi­ness-as-usual pol­i­tics, of­fer­ing to rent with his own money an apart­ment in­stead of us­ing the gover­nor’s palace and say­ing he would refuse to spend mil­lions, as gov­er­nors typ­i­cally do, on pro­pa­ganda pro­mot­ing their states and them­selves.

A re­frain he re­peated of­ten dur­ing the cam­paign, es­pe­cially on his very ac­tive Face­book and Twit­ter ac­counts, also hit a nerve: “One dead son, one kid­napped 2-year-old daugh­ter and 2,800 bul­let holes in my truck,” re­count­ing his own fam­ily’s suf­fer­ing at the hands of crim­i­nal gangs.

If Ro­driguez prevails, he will shake the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem to the core, an­a­lysts say.

“The ap­pear­ance of an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date with real pos­si­bil­i­ties of win­ning is some­thing that has never be­fore been seen in the coun­try,” the Para­met­rica polling agency said in an anal­y­sis.

And the PRI is clearly ner­vous, pulling out all the stops for the closing rally of its gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date in Nuevo Leon, Ivonne Al­varez. In ad­di­tion to giv­ing away tons of food and T-shirts, the PRI of­fered a free per­for­mance by the much-beloved — and ex­tremely ex­pen­sive — Los Ti­gres del Norte mu­si­cal band.

Pe­dro Pardo AFP/Getty Images

GRAF­FITI in Guer­rero state calls for a boy­cott of up­com­ing Mex­i­can elec­tions and refers to 43 col­lege stu­dents who are miss­ing and pre­sumed mas­sa­cred.

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