Sunday, April 22, 2012

Obrador is coming back

It was easy to see it coming. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the left-to center Mexican presidential candidate is already in a virtual tie with Josefina Vázquez Mota. Actually, on Thursday, April 19, Mr Obrador took the second position in ISA-Milenio daily presidential poll, Mexico’s most contested poll these days. The shift is the logical outcome of both some mistakes in Ms. Mota team, and some good moves in Mr Obrador campaign.

The key to this change has been mr Obrador’s decision to avoid all the mistakes he did back in 2006 and the perfect place to show his transformation was the meetings that Obrador and the other presidential candidates had with the Roman Catholic Bishops of Mexico.

The Mexican Bishops hold two annual meetings, one after Easter, and the other right before Advent. Mr Obrador attended the meeting, paying no attention to the most radical wing of his movement, and using it as a way to build bridges with actors that were pretty much against him back in 2006. This approach has been successful enough to get Mr Obrador a key endorsement from laureate poet Javier Sicilia. Mr Sicilia, leader of the Movement for Peace with Dignity and Justice, said that Mr Obrador “is the best” presidential candidate in the race, although Mr Sicilia insisted that he will void his vote.

Ms Mota’s position is by far the hardest at this point, mainly because of the legacy of the current government, and the growing rebellion in her party’s ranks. Ms Mota is not only competing against other registered candidates (Obrador, Nieto, and Quadri), but also against an independent presidential candidate, Manuel Clouthier, who was elected in 2009 as a member of the federal parliament. Mr Clouthier was not only a member of the same ruling party, he is also the son of one of the Mexican right-to-center most beloved leaders. On top of that, Ms Mota faces a series of mishaps in the nomination of parliamentary candidates, and a break-up of the relations between her party and social leaders in the Benito Juárez borough of Mexico City that ended up with a bloody beating.

Ms Mota adhered firmly to the official position of the Roman Catholic Church on abortion and same-sex marriages. In doing so, she dismissed the poor performance of Mexican economy and the growing concentration of income. Her firm acceptance of the Church’s official position on abortion and same-sex marriages probably helped her score some points with some bishops, but is very difficult to assume the same among the public.

As usual, Mr. Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the Revolutionary Institutional Party, the party that ruled Mexico for seven decades, avoided any clear-cut definition. He said that he is against abortion, but he also refused pursuing policies leading to penalizing women who choose to have an abortion.

It is important to keep in mind that 2009 and 2010 were the years when a wave of reforms to state legislation in 18 (out of 32) states set different types of punishments on women and doctors performing abortions. These changes came as a response to reforms in Mexico City in 2007-8.

Mr Nieto unwillingness to make clear-cut definitions on key issues will be the overall approach of his campaign from here until July 1st. It will be up to his party to challenge his rivals’ assertions. Most notably, his party will take care of the accusations from the ruling National Action Party claiming Mr Nieto is a liar.

Such accusations already lead to an unusual debate among leaders of both the ruling National Action Party and Mr. Nieto’s party in the streets of Tlalnepantla, one of Mexico’s City most crowded suburbs. The debate was brief, heated and full of outbursts, and insults, so the moderator called it off.

The ruling party must be careful because, for better or for worse, one can verify, and accept or reject any of  the more than 600 commitments publicly signed by Nieto as the governor of the State of Mexico, the most populated state in the Mexican union.

On the other hand, one cannot do the same with most of the current national government campaign promises. Felipe Calderón, as an example, said back in 2006 that he was willing to become the “president of employment”. One cannot verify such statement. Moreover, the National University released this week a detailed analysis of Mexican labor market. The study states that 55 percent of the newjobs in the last five years were informal jobs. The same study underscores that unemployment in Mexico grew by 33 percent over the same period.

Even when one considers the key policy of the current administration, Mr Calderón’s war on drugs, the results are poor. This week the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees set the number of persons forced out of their homes in no less than160, 000. One should add to this figure any number between 30, 000 and 60, 000people dead because of violence, on top of unreported figures of wounded, widows, widowers, and orphans.

Hence, one should ask what is going to come out of the “mud wars”. Although such “wars” are rather common in established democracies, it is important to take into consideration that there is a huge deficit of trust in the Mexican electoral authorities. Six years ago, it was very hard for Mr. Calderón to be sworn as president in the House of Representatives, and if one is to believe in Mr. Obrador, there was a huge risk of a break-up of social order in the country.

As usual, the wildest performance of the week came from Gabriel Quadri, the candidate of the Nueva Alianza (New Alliance) Party, who refused any kind of evaluation ofthe teachers. Nueva Alianza is a party funded by the coffers of the all-mighty Teacher's Union in Mexico, the SNTE.

One thing to keep in mind as Mexico goes deep in the campaign season is that in France there is a good chance that the challenger, Mr. François Hollande will beat the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr. Hollande’s candidacy is important because he has proposed a bold 75% tax rate on any person with a yearly income of over one-million euros.

This is important because one of Mexico’s key challenges is to develop an overhaul of the tax code. If Mr. Hollande wins in France there is a good chance that all over Europe and, eventually in Latin America, there will be pressure to introduce major changes in the tax code. Without such changes, it will be very difficult for the candidates in the Mexican race to achieve any of their major goals.

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