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MEXICO: Whatever It Takes to Win the Poor Vote

People lining up for a "job bank", guarded by PRI activists on Saturday, Jun. 30, in Jardines de San Lorenzo, Mexico City. Credit: Prometeo Lucero/IPS

TAPACHULA, Jul 3 2012 (IPS) - “It’s like the parties are competing with each other to see who spends the most money. In a state as poor as ours, that’s indecent,” Alex, a 30-year-old taxi driver in this city of the southern state of Chiapas, just 30 minutes from the Guatemalan border, told IPS.

Alex was referring to reports charging that political parties were using the distribution of benefits – construction materials, food, clothing, purchasing cards, and other items – from state poverty alleviation programmes as bribes to win over voters in the Sunday, Jul. 1 election.

With over 95 percent of the ballots tallied in the preliminary count on Monday, Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), emerged as the frontrunner with 39 percent of the vote.

In addition to the presidential bid, 500 seats for the lower house of congress and 128 seats in the senate were up for grabs on Sunday, and 15 states held local elections for mayors and regional legislatures, with seven of these states also electing governors.

The southern states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero are the country’s three poorest. Chiapas has a gross domestic product per capita of 3,600 dollars – less than half of the national average – and only one of its 122 municipalities is not included in the National Population Council’s marginalisation indexes.

Chiapas was one of the states that elected governor, mayors and local legislators. The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) announced that the candidate for the coalition formed by the PRI and the Green Party, Manuel Velasco, had won the governorship with 45 percent of the votes, according to the early count.

Preliminary results show that the PRI won in almost every municipality in that state, with the exception of the capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, which is the only one without high levels of poverty.

In the days leading up to the elections there were numerous reports of social programmes meant to benefit the poorest sectors being used by candidates for their own electoral gain.

On Jun. 26, a group of people from a rural community in the mountainous municipality of Motozintla stopped a truck with bags of fertiliser that they suspected were going to be used to buy votes for PRI candidates. Although the driver denied the accusations, the villagers did not wait for an official investigation and divided the cargo among themselves.

The worst incident during the elections occurred in Rincón Chamula, a community of the Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacán municipality, where three people were murdered as they waited in line to cast their vote.

“Reports denouncing irregularities started coming in at dawn today (Jul. 2), each more serious than the last and increasing in number as the day wore on,” reported the non-governmental organisation Contamos.org.mx.

The NGO documented more than 500 cases of irregularities, 39 percent of which were attempts to buy votes, 33.85 percent were irregularities observed at polling stations, and 19.1 percent were violations of the law banning propaganda during the election.

However, electoral authorities, President Felipe Calderón and Peña Nieto himself downplayed the irregularity reports and assured that the election had been conducted with only “minor incidents”.

The preliminary count also puts the PRI ahead in Tapachula, one of four cities in Chiapas used by drug cartels to move drugs, which is also a stopover for thousands of Central American migrants on their way north.

Just days before, residents of the coastal municipality of Huixtla reported seeing three vehicles from the state capital loaded with fertiliser, allegedly driven by members of the campaign team of a federal representative of the governing National Action Party (PAN).

“The toughest battle for the poor vote has been waged between Piso Firme, a federal government programme, and Chiapas Solidario, a structure created by Governor (Juan) Sabines,” a local reporter told IPS.

Piso Firme (Firm Ground) was one of the programmes touted by PAN presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez as one of her successes in the ministry of social development. But her campaign ads generated controversy as they presented dubious figures that did not match official data. Vázquez came in third in Sunday’s election, with 26 percent of the votes.

Chiapas Solidario is a state-scale replication of the successful National Solidarity Programme created in 1991 by then-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994). It operates through a structure of neighbourhood meetings that are held to determine how resources granted for social purposes will be used.

In contrast, since the Ernesto Zedillo administration (1994-2000), federal programmes are “focused,” which means that beneficiaries receive economic aid directly.

According to the National Council for the Assessment of Social Development Policies, 52 million Mexicans live under the poverty line – that is close to half of Mexico’s 112 million inhabitants – and almost 23 percent of those 52 million live in abject poverty.

Poverty alleviation was one of the leading election promises of all three top contenders for the presidency. However, it stopped being the major issue in the election campaign of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the Progressive Movement coalition, who six years ago had run under the slogan “The Poor Come First.”

The last survey published by the newspaper Reforma revealed a clear shift in the social extraction and education level of the voters of this leftwing candidate, who came in second in Sunday’s election, with 32.5 percent of the vote.

According to this survey, Peña Nieto had twice as many voters as López Obrador among respondents with only basic education. The proportion of respondents with a university degree was exactly the opposite, with López Obrador having twice as many as Peña Nieto.

In the declaration of areas that required priority attention in 2011, the lower chamber identified 1,251 municipalities with high or very high levels of marginalisation. The combined population of these municipalities was 17 million people.

These impoverished areas have seen the highest rates of voter participation in the last seven years, according to studies by sociologist and political scientist Manuel Reyna, of the Institute of Historical-Social Research of the University of Veracruz.

Reyna notes that at least 20 of the country’s poorest municipalities have the highest percentage of participation in elections nationwide.

Several of these municipalities are in the southeastern state of Veracruz. For example, in 2010 Mixtla de Altamirano – the third poorest municipality in the country – 76 percent of eligible voters participated in the local election, and Magdalena – a Naua mountainous district with less than 3,000 inhabitants – had a 91 percent participation.

In the last week before the election, the battle to win the poor vote intensified across the country. In Veracruz, PRI representatives filed a report with the office of the prosecutor for electoral offences charging that the federal government, through its Opportunities Programme structure, was allegedly pressuring and coercing beneficiary families into voting for the candidates of the governing PAN party.

The most controversial case was the discovery of thousands of purchasing cards for self-service stores, distributed by the PRI. These “electronic purses” – as the purchasing cards are known – had a combined value of over 50,000 dollars, exceeding by far the legal ceiling for personal donations to a campaign.

A video taped in the central state of Guanajuato on Jun. 24, at a rally for Peña Nieto, shows people from towns with a high rate of migration receiving phone cards with unlimited long-distance calls valid until election day, as well as other cards that would make them eligible for benefits from social programmes, “if the candidate wins.”

These practices were also witnessed in the capital.

Since early morning on Saturday, Jun. 30, long lines were forming in Jardines de San Lorenzo, a poor neighbourhood in eastern Mexico City, with people waiting to register for a “job bank.” To apply they had to present three copies of their voting card and say what party they would be voting for. While applicants were signing up, PRI activists stood guard at every corner.

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  • http://twitter.com/ElJibaroDeLytle Robert Torres

    When one is dying of Cancer, it is often the result of ignoring the obvious. Corruption is the systemic metastizied cancer, that is killing humanity.
    El Jibaro De Lytle Creek

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