The Week in Review: 2/27/2012

Katie Putnam, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 2/27/2012

President Calderón came under fire for possibly politically-motivated comments and actions, as analysts try to predict Mexico’s security strategy after the July elections and a series of new polls provide a glimpse into the presidential race, the Mexico City mayoral contest, and voter opinions.

 

 

Calderón and the elections

President Calderón has been criticized for several allegedly politically-motivated actions and comments. First, he told a group of 700 Banamex advisors that Vázquez Mota was “on par” with Peña Nieto, trailing him by a mere four points.  The four percent number used by Calderón differs widely from numerous recent polls released by  independent polling firms. More notably, his optimistic comments were seen by some as presidential intervention in the electoral process, which is not permitted under Mexico’s strict electoral law.

Second, the PRI has filed two complaints against the President and his party related to last November’s Michoacán state elections. The PRI has accused the losing PAN gubernatorial candidate and the President’s sister, Luisa María Calderón, of vote buying during the campaign. Mexican media outlets played a tape purportedly of “Cocoa” Calderón telling her staff to offer cash in exchange for votes. PAN officials called the accusation a “smokescreen” to distract voters. The PRI has also charged that the recent dismissal of José Luis Vargas Valdés, the head of the electoral monitoring board (Fepade), was political. The PRI leadership complained to the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) that Vargas Valdés was removed “arbitrarily and in a frankly authoritarian fashion by President Calderón because he refused to annul the Michoacán election results, as the PAN requested.   Fepade annulled the mayoral race in Michoacán’s capital city of Morelia, but let the gubernatorial results stand. The PAN has denied the charge that the firing was political.

The back-and-forth jabs come shortly after the news that three former PRI governors are being investigated by the federal Attorney General (PGR) for possible links to drug trafficking. Peña Nieto has called the investigations blatantly politically-motivated.

 

Security

Recent news articles have focused on scenarios for Mexican security policy after the July 1st election. The candidates have offered few concrete proposals, The Washington Post reports; instead, all have been vague” about their intended strategies. Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD), the most specific of the candidates, has suggested a greater emphasis on the social ills underlying the violence; he has also called for the army to return to its barracks within six months. Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) too has proposed gradually pulling troops off the streets (no timeline yet), yet has not gone much beyond criticizing Calderón for not having a “clear diagnosis” before launching his offensive against the cartels. The subject is perhaps most difficult for Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN), who must balance celebrating Calderón’s inroads against organized crime while distancing herself in part from the unpopular strategy: she has called for life imprisonment for politicians and public officials caught working for the cartels.

It seems that while Mexicans are outraged about the drug war violence that has claimed upwards of 50,000 lives since President Felipe Calderón took office in late 2006, public frustration has “not translated into a substantive policy debate about how to change course” (The Washington Post). Jorge Buendía, an independent pollster, suggests that “reporters don’t ask, and [candidates] never move beyond generalities.” The consensus, among analysts, the U.S. State Department, and human rights organizations alike, seems to be that little will change in the official strategy against organized crime, no matter who wins the July presidential election. The close collaboration with the United States and the heavy reliance on the Mexican military, which remains far more trusted than any police force, despite allegations of human rights abuse, will likely remain the key characteristics. Perhaps the small shifts, Mexico Institute Director Andrew Selee told The Associated Press, will arise in the way the policy is “implemented.” The next president could, according to observers, shift the emphasis to institutional strengthening, pursuing the most violent cartels, consolidating police forces at the state level (eliminating local police), unifying law enforcement and security bureaucracies into a single federal agency, or giving the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and other department more or less latitude in Mexico, for example.

In another security-related story, the February 19th prison riot in Nuevo León that claimed 44 lives has reignited a debate about the ineffectiveness of the Mexican penitentiary system. Peña Nieto has called for reform, criticizing the federal government for the overcrowded cells jails and the lack of rehabilitation infrastructure. Mexico Institute Senior Associate Eric L. Olson attributes the blame to flaws in the country’s justice system:

“Approximately 40% of the overall inmate population are denied full judicial process and are detained without conviction. In other words, the penitentiary system protects many inmates who could very well be innocent, bringing into question the overall authority and fairness of the system.”


The polls

Four interesting polls were released this week related to the electoral race. First, El Universal has a new poll on the presidential candidates showing that Peña Nieto has stabilized his numbers, as Vázquez Mota continues to rise. López Obrador, while still stuck in third place, has seen a large increase in his positive numbers, suggesting, according the Mexico Institute’s Andrew Selee, “potential for future growth.” Selee highlights voter perceptions of each party as well:

“It is clear that the PRI strong suit is the perception of ‘competence,’ the PAN ‘a better government,’ and the PRD a ‘government that works for the people,’ which have been the central messages of the candidates so far.”

Second, a GCE poll finds that 39 percent of respondents attribute violence levels to social problems. Twenty-two percent blame poverty and unemployment, while 17 percent cite the lack of education opportunities. Just seven percent attribute the violence to “Calderón’s war on drugs,” while 16 percent blamed “previous governments.” Thirteen percent signaled “corruption” more generally as the cause of violence. Sixty-nine percent of respondents agreed that crime had increased in the previous year. The implications for the presidential race are mixed:  a plurality of voters might seem to agree with López Obrador that social problems are to be blamed, yet his third-place position in the polls suggest that the majority do not believe that he is the one to address them.

Third, Reforma polls highlight the unprecedented levels of voter indecision in this electoral race. In their poll published January 15th, 59 percent of voters were undecided.  By comparison, only 28 percent had doubts in March 2006 and only 20 percent in January 2000. Political commenter (and Mexico Institute Board Member) Sergio Aguayo blames the political parties for this “crisis of democracy” because none have “gone beyond the boundaries imposed by their party faithful” to find real solutions for Mexico’s struggles.

Lastly, an El Universal poll finds that the PRD’s Miguel Ángel Mancera holds a significant lead in the Mexico City mayoral race. Even if the PRI’s Beatriz Paredes and the PAN’s Isabel Miranda de Wallace were to join their compaigns, according to Animal Político, their combined support would not be enough to surpass those supporting  Mancera. Mancera polls at 46 percent, Paredes at 23 percent, and Wallace at 14 percent. The election will be held on July 1st, along with the presidential election.

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