Jul 2, 2010

Collateral Damage: Votes, tricks and bullets

[Editor´s comment: This column, about the July 4 elections in Mexico, clearly describes the challenges that the current political and civil situation in the country presents to the development of democracy in Mexico.] 

 Original Spanish version at: Votos, trampas ybalas

José Antonio Crespo
July 2, 2010

What guarantees of cleanness, safety and validity can Sunday's election offer?  What options do citizens have?

While the assassination of Rodolfo Torre is a major setback to the fragile Mexican democracy, that democracy has already been systematically stuck by the political class. Before and after the tragedy, we saw a gallery of political pettiness from all parties and many levels of government. Ten years after the first democratic change in our history, we are now facing a scenario not unlike that which prevailed 20 years ago in electoral matters. We face authentic state elections where there are no minimum guarantees of fairness, transparency and impartiality, and there is direct use of public resources in favor of parties and official candidates. There is evidence that election  officials have been under the control of various parts of the Executive Branch. This prevents there being an adequate, minimum credibility in the electoral process.

Electoral confidence vanishes because of the illegal war between political parties nakedly fighting for political booty and control of the budget above all.

On the other hand, the drug trafficker reaches the same goal with the possibility of black money in campaigns, candidates accused of links with the cartels and, even worse, the increasing level of murders by hired assassins. The stings of the agitated wasps are greater each time, and each time fewer spaces in the national house are saved from the dangerous onslaught of political weddings. In the face of the electoral violence of the narcotraffickers and with elections being held in multiple states, what guarantees of cleanliness, safety and validity can the elections of Sunday have? What options do citizens have, facing all of this?

Not long ago, the Interior Minister, Fernando Gómez Mont, predicted that, beginning this month, we would see the level of violence go down. And to encourage voter participation in such difficult conditions, he said, "The State is there to protect them, to go out and vote, to fulfill their political duties." (May 25, 2010) Reality soon took charge, contradicting the Secretary, as much in regard to the decrease in violence as in the State's ability to protect citizens. 

If the State took a hand in the abduction of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, if you cannot provide security for a presumptive governor, if you cannot care for the lives of your prisoners, if people trying to cure their drug addiction in rehabilitation centers are executed, if you cannot prevent a city like Monterrey from being strangled in its roadways by the drug traffickers, could we blame the citizens in the areas most affected by violence if they decided it is best not to take the risk? That already happened last year, as the cities hardest hit by the drug violence showed a very low rate of participation, such as Ciudad Juarez (27%), Acapulco (28%), Tijuana (29%), Nuevo Laredo Reynosa (36%), and Culiacán (37%). It may be possible that, at least in Tamaulipas the reaction of the electorate may be the opposite, to express their outrage and determination not to be swayed by organized crime by going to the polls in large numbers.

Both these reasons that impair democracy -- the lack of respect for the electoral law on the part of the parties, governors and candidates, as well as the insecurity derived from narcotrafficking -- affect the credibility of the electoral process and electoral enthusiasm. That "votes will always be more powerful than bullets" sounds fine, but those who have reduced the strength of voting have been the political class itself, rather than the drug trafficking. 

For this reason, due to the inability of the government at all levels to ensure the safety of the population and the growing rejection of the existing strategy, movements to vote "No" have emerged as a means of protest in Chihuahua. The same in Puebla, due to the unreliability of the process itself and the absence of a genuine conmmitment of the political class to the electorate.

A difficult crossroads confronts the voters next Sunday: vote for the opposition in order to move things towards a hopeful alternative, refrain for fear of bullets, cancel the vote because of lack of faith in the process or lack of conviincing alternatives, or go to the polls and vote for the party that may strengthen our increasingly fragile political institutions. It remains to be seen. 

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