After last month’s mass elections, Mexico is buzzing. Will second-place Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) take to the streets should the nation’s highest electoral court, the Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación (TEPJF), fail to invalidate July’s presidential vote as a result of alleged voter fraud? Will the victorious Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) return to its old ways? And what will ever happen to the outgoing Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN)?
An angry President Felipe Calderón summoned a number of PAN party leaders to Los Pinos for a series of meetings the week after the election. Everyone, except the party’s presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, received a mouthful from the president—with the most severe reserved for private secretary Roberto Zuarth, who ran Vázquez Mota’s failed campaign, and state governor Marco Adame whose political operation failed to prevent the PRD from taking the executive’s seat in the state of Morelos. Calderón also suggested that party president Gustavo Madero resign to allow for a rebirth of the party. It was this last suggestion that caused an intense and divisive internal battle between Maderistas and Calderonistas for power over the PAN. The battle includes naming rights over the PAN’s leader slots in the deputies and senate chambers when the new congress forms on September 1, as well as overall agenda-setting and decision-making over who keeps a job at PAN headquarters.
Calderón and Madero have never seen eye-to-eye. Madero considers the president worn-out, intrusive, a micro-manager, stubborn and the main reason the PAN lost the presidency. Calderón, on the other hand, blames Madero for the PAN’s loss and wants the party to continue pushing his social and anti-narco policies well after he leaves office. Both have taken to the road, meeting with state and local PAN leaders. Calderón asks for Madero’s head; and Madero asks members to respect party statute, which stipulates a vote for new party leadership no earlier than May 2013. It remains unlikely the 300-member National Council will hold a vote before the legal date, but it is not entirely impossible. At the height of power, Calderón expelled party president Manuel Espino from party ranks for “excessive use of freedom of speech”—Espino weighed against Calderón during primaries in 2006 and heavily criticized the president in books and interviews—and replaced party presidents and executive leadership in three separate occasions.
Calderón claims 26 state party presidents have asked him for a change in party leadership. But the party chief, along with other heavy hitters, will not grant Calderón’s power-grab. Madero, the great nephew of President Francisco I. Madero who was assassinated in 1913 days after a coup supported by the U.S., is standing firm and doing everything possible to prevent the president’s men from taking power. His efforts were confirmed after a lengthy mea culpa retreat over the weekend when the National Council agreed to create a special commission charged with renewal of party statutes through local consultations. A vote on the new statutes will take place after Calderón leaves office, but before March 2013.
As the PAN battle continues, so does a legal and public fight in Mexico’s electoral court where AMLO charges the PRI with voter fraud. In the process, Soriana and Monex have become part of the local lexicon, implying vote-buying through charged money cards each with $20-$100 distributed in poor communities to ensure President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s victory. AMLO’s fraud allegations against the PRI include accusations that PRI governors and party officials bought more than $7 million in gift cards through financial group Monex and store chain Soriana. The PRI admits the purchase, but claims the money cards were designed to aid polling stations representatives with food and transport during Election Day. The team has also accused Peña Nieto’s campaign chief, Luis Videgaray, of using an official State of Mexico bank account to pay for campaign expenses and to contract TV giants Televisa and TV Azteca to give the PRI’s candidate preferential coverage during the campaign and while Peña Nieto served as governor of Mexico state from 2006 to 2011.
AMLO’s case, however, is riddled with technical inconsistencies, gossip and illogical assertions. A review of the complaint reveals serious grammatical errors and some obvious legal lapses and lack of quality control. For instance, the complaint refers to Enrique Peña Nieto as a Panista, a member of the defeated PAN party, and alleges in one instance that the PRI surpassed pre-established campaign finance ceilings by $100 million, only to raise the number to $500 million in subsequent pages. Proof of alleged vote-buying is corroborated by YouTube videos and newspaper articles of PRD officials claiming vote-buying occurred. Privately, electoral court officials have opined that AMLO’s case is unsupported and, at best, circumstantial.
All forms of voter manipulation are illegal and harm democracy at every stage of development. It is never to be tolerated. AMLO, regrettably, has been unable to rise to the occasion in presenting Mexicans and the nation’s institutions with well-prepared arguments. His continued lack of attention to detail and inability to command and organize the opposition will cost him and the PRD dearly in public opinion. Before AMLO presented his case, I argued during a CNN en Español interview that AMLO would fail to make his case. Mexico watchers have grown accustomed to AMLO’s tactics and this most recent strategy leaves many of us, asking, once again: Andrés, ¿y la carne? (Where’s the beef)?
AMLO does deserve some credit. His movement has remained peaceful and the team is exhausting all legal options to ensure July’s presidential ballot becomes annulled. To aid the cause, AMLO is leading a four-point national campaign, dubbed Plan de defensa de la democracia y la dignidad (The Plan to Defend Democracy and Dignity), to educate Mexicans on the PRI’s vote-buying antics and breach of constitutional mandate. Ironically, the peaceful campaign also delivers a blunt warning to TEPJF judges: If you validate the results of the presidential ballot, you are validating vote-buying and ceding to the PRI’s corrupt and perverse ways.
AMLO’s plan includes cultural events, press conferences and peaceful marches with several national organizations that range from Mexico’s Electricians Union (Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas—SME), to the Independent Proletariat Movement and #YoSoy132 youth movement. In recent weeks, they carried out symbolic marches throughout the nation and formed a human chain enclosing Televisa headquarters in Mexico City. Youth are without doubt a central part of the movement and their actions correspond with a recent poll released by the Chamber of Deputies’ polling institute, which shows that 60 percent of Mexicans between the ages of 18 and 29 are disappointed with Mexico’s political parties and their leaders.
For their part, the PRI has decided to work over time to overturn the PRD’s allegations. They have also brought light to AMLO’s alleged illegal use of not-for-profit funds for political purposes since his failed presidential bid in 2006—an estimated $120 million through organizations like Honestidad Valiente. AMLO claims the PRI is pushing “lies” out of desperation.
The PRI has also been busy naming congressional leaders, reaching out to diplomats in Mexico City and conferring with retired Colombian national police general Oscar Naranjo over cartel strategy. Not least, the transition team is busy figuring how to provide for Peña Nieto’s campaign promises, which economists predict will require an additional annual cash infusion of $800 billion. Party leaders are also in deep discussion over the recent assassination of PRI mayor-elect Edgar Perez and the arrest of drug trafficker Rafael Humberto Celaya in Madrid. Perez was killed over the weekend, along with his former campaign manager, after a leaving a party in the state of San Luis Potosi. Celaya was PRI campaign coordinator for federal deputies in the state of Sonora and is alleged to be an international lieutenant of the powerful Sinaloa cartel. Several pictures of Celaya and Peña Nieto have surfaced. Indeed, the PRI is already finding itself in hot water.
Juan Manuel Henao is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is a consultant based in Mexico City and former Mexico Country Director for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington DC-based not-for-profit democracy promotion organization.