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FEBRUARY ELECTIONS OFFER GLIMPSE OF CHANGING POLITICAL TRENDS IN MEXICO.

The gubernatorial elections in three states on Feb. 6 offered a glimpse of changing political trends ahead of the 2006 presidential elections. The elections, held in Guerrero, Quintana Roo, and Baja California Sur, appeared to indicate that the wind has shifted in favor of the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD). The PRD scored sweeping victories in Guerrero and Baja California Sur and turned in a respectable showing in Quintana Roo, where the winner was the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

The PRD performance was especially strong in Guerrero, where former Acapulco Mayor Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo took 55% of the vote, compared with only 42% for Hector Astudillo Flores of the PRI. Torreblanca's wide margin of victory provided a strong boost for the PRD, which had anticipated a tight race. (For more coverage of Guerrero election, see separate article in this issue of SourceMex).

The PRD, in partnership with the Partido Convergencia por la Democracia (PCD), also swept elections in Baja California Sur, where Narciso Agundez Montano took 44% of the vote, compared with 35% for Rodimiro Anaya of the PRI and its coalition partner the Partido Verde Ecologista Mexicano (PVEM). The PRD-PCD coalition also won 14 of 16 directly elected seats in the state legislature and four of the five mayoral races, including the state's largest city of La Paz. Agundez replaces his cousin Leonardo Cota Montano, also a PRD member.

The PRD came in a strong second in the gubernatorial election in Quintana Roo, which was won by Felix Gonzalez Canto of the PRI-PVEM coalition. Representing the PRD and its coalition partner, the Partido del Trabajo (PT), was Juan Garcia Zalvidea, the former PVEM mayor of Cancun, who received 34% of the vote. Addy Joaquin Coldwell, who defected from the PRI, obtained only 22% of the vote for the center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) and its coalition partner, the PCD. While the PRI retained the governor's seat in Quintana Roo, the party will no longer completely dominate the state legislature. The PRI-PVEM alliance took 11 of the 25 directly elected seats, with the PAN-PCD and PRD-PT alliances each winning seven state legislative races.

Results negative for PRI

Based on its disappointing performance in Guerrero and its failure to make inroads in Baja California Sur, the PRI was considered a loser in these elections.

The losses were even greater for the PAN, however, which received support in the single digits in Guerrero and Baja California Sur, in what was considered another referendum on President Vicente Fox's performance in office. Even though the center-right party had not expected to do well in the two states, its failure to increase its support does not bode well for the PAN, which came in fourth in Baja California Sur.

The PAN's performance in Quintana Roo was mixed, with its candidate coming in a distant third in the gubernatorial elections. This was offset by moderate gains in mayoral and state legislative elections. In the mayoral races in Quintana Roo, the PRI won handily in Chetumal and managed to recover the mayoral post in Cancun but lost the seat in Cozumel to the PAN-PCD alliance.

While the PRD appeared to be the biggest winner in the February races, analysis offered by pundits was quite different from November 2004, when they declared that the PRI had taken the next step toward reclaiming the presidency in 2006. In elections held on Nov. 14, the PRI swept gubernatorial races in Puebla and Tamaulipas and won a narrow race in Sinaloa (see SourceMex, 2004-11-17). At that time, the PRD was labeled the loser because of its poor showing in the three races and in the Tlaxcala election, which it lost because of major divisions within the party. The PAN's narrow victory in Tlaxcala was more a product of divisions in the PRD and PRI and not of its strength in the state.

Still, when considering trends, the November races may have been an aberration in what appears to be an uncomfortable trend for the PRI, whose performance in other elections in 2004 was less than stellar. The party won elections in Oaxaca and Veracruz states by uncomfortably narrow margins (see SourceMex, 2004-08-04 and 2004-09-15) and was soundly defeated by the PAN in Yucatan (see SourceMex, 2004-05-19) and by the PRD in Zacatecas (see SourceMex, 2004-07-14).

Elections in four states could bring picture into focus

The fortunes of the PRI and other parties could be further defined by upcoming gubernatorial elections in Hidalgo state on Feb. 20, Mexico state and Nayarit on July 3, and Coahuila on Sept. 25. Nayarit and Coahuila will also vote for new state legislators and mayors, while Hidalgo will hold a state legislative election.

Both the PRD and the PRI have said they are confident of winning the upcoming Hidalgo gubernatorial and state legislative elections. The PRD, however, enters the Hidalgo elections as a fractured party, with many rank-and-file members unhappy that the national leadership imposed Juan Guadarrama Marquez as the gubernatorial candidate. The divisions are reminiscent of the Tlaxcala election in 2004, where the rank and file and the leadership had different ideas about whom to support (see SourceMex, 2004-07-14 and 2004-11-17).

A handful of public-opinion polls in Hidalgo put PRI candidate Miguel Osorio Chong as much as 20 percentage points ahead of Guadarrama.

The highest stakes this year may be in Mexico state, one of the country's most populous states. PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto appears to have a strong advantage because of the popularity of outgoing Gov. Arturo Montiel.

Opposing Pena will be Yeidckol Polevnsky for the PRD and Ruben Mendoza Ayala for the PAN. Both the PRD and PAN candidates have faced their share of controversy. Some state rank-and-file party members oppose Polevnsky, recently director of the Camara Nacional de la Industria de Transformacion (CANACINTRA), because they feel her candidacy was imposed by the national party leadership. Mendoza Ayala was almost disqualified from the race when the state electoral institute (Instituto Electoral del Estado de Mexico, IEEM) questioned his campaign expenditures.

Opposition to party president Madrazo fractures PRI

While the PRI enters the Mexico state election fairly united, the party must overcome major divisions at the national level heading into its second-ever presidential primary. Current PRI president Roberto Madrazo Pintado lost a bloody battle to eventual nominee Francisco Labastida in the party's first primary in November 1999 (see SourceMex, 1999-11-10).

Since that loss, Madrazo has been building up his resume, in an effort to gain the PRI nomination for the 2006 election. The PRI president has made some enemies along the way, however, and could face another bruising battle in the primary, scheduled for sometime in late 2005.

A handful of governors, former governors, and federal legislators have formed a coalition specifically to oppose Madrazo. The coalition, called Todos Unidos Contra Madrazo (TUCOM), is spearheaded by Govs. Enrique Martinez of Coahuila, Miguel Angel Nunez of Hidalgo, Arturo Montiel of Mexico state, Natividad Gonzalez of Nuevo Leon, and Eduardo Bours of Sonora. Prominent legislators such as Senate leader Enrique Jackson Ramirez, Sen. Emilio Gamboa, and Deputy Roberto Campa Ciprian also helped form TUCOM. Others who have joined in the opposition to Madrazo are several former elected officials, including Labastida and former Deputy Arturo Nunez.

Madrazo is perceived to be part of the PRI old guard, associated with corruption and authoritarian policies within the party.

Montiel, Jackson, and Nunez have all declared their intention to seek their party's nomination, but all have said they would relinquish their candidacy if the PRI could find a "unity candidate" who would unite all party factions.

Still, TUCOM did not waste time in blaming the PRI's poor performance in the February elections on Madrazo and his protege, outgoing Gov. Rene Juarez Cisneros, who had dismissed the losses claiming the PRI was recovering.

"There are those who think the PRI is in the process of recovery. Nothing could be further from the truth," said Gov. Montiel, pointing to the PRI's disappointing performances in Guerrero, Veracruz, and Oaxaca.

The internal strife in the PRI was evident in the Congress in early February, where 44 PRI senators endorsed Jackson as their candidate. Two days later, 165 PRI deputies pledged their loyalty to Madrazo.

PRD forges fragile unity behind Mexico City mayor

The fortunes of the PRD in the 2006 presidential election could depend on whether Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador survives an effort in Congress to remove him from office. Public-opinion polls have shown Lopez Obrador ahead of most likely rivals despite a series of corruption scandals that have rocked his administration (see SourceMex, 2004-03-10 and 2004-11-10).

Lopez Obrador has been accused of violating the Mexican Constitution by ignoring several orders from the courts (see SourceMex, 2004-05-06). Congress is expected to vote before this summer on whether the mayor should be removed. If ousted from his post, Lopez Obrador may have to serve time in prison, which would bar him from seeking the presidency in 2006. The former Mexico City mayor has defied opponents from the PRI and the PAN, pledging to continue a campaign for the presidency even if he is behind bars.

The effort to oust Lopez Obrador has united most factions behind his potential presidential candidacy. Even three-time candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who has officially announced his intention to run a fourth time in 2006, has said he would withdraw from the race if Lopez Obrador was not allowed to run.

Still, there are other signs of fracture in the PRD, including a controversy regarding the selection of the party's new leader to replace outgoing president Leonel Godoy. Some critics grumbled that the Mexico City mayor imposed outgoing Baja California Sur Gov. Cota Montano as the next party president. Cota, who was chosen over Camilo Valenzuela, Saul Escobar, and Alfonso Ramirez Cuellar, left the PRI to run as the PRD candidate in the Baja California Sur election in 1999.

"This is a political nightmare," said former PRD Deputy Marco Rascon. "The PRD has been picking up a group of very mediocre politicians who have risen to power in our party when they were unable to do so in the PRI."

Valenzuela, who heads a PRD faction known as the Red de Izquierda Democratica, said Cota lacks knowledge of the challenges facing the PRD at the national level. "He has made valuable contributions in [Baja California Sur], but has not been involved in the internal matters of our party," said Valenzuela.

Still, some high-profile PRD officials endorsed Lopez Obrador's choice for party president. "[Cota Montano] has leadership qualities, experience, and knowledge of our country's problems," said Zacatecas Gov. Amalia Garcia. (Sources: Spanish news service EFE, 02/07/05; The Associated Press, The New York Times, 02/07/05; The Herald-Mexico City, El Financiero, 02/07/05, 02/08/05; The Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, 02/08/05; The Christian Science Monitor, 02/11/05; Agencia de noticias Proceso, 02/07/05, 02/09/05, 02/10/05, 02/11/05, 02/14/05; La Cronica de Hoy, 02/07/05, 02/09/05, 02/10/05, 02/13/05, 02/14/05, Notimex, 02/07/05, 02/15/05; The Financial Times-London, 02/08/05, 02/15/08; La Crisis, 02/07-09/05, 02/16/05; El Universal, 02/07-11/05, 02/14/05, 02/16/05; La Jornada, 02/07-10/05, 02/12/05, 02/16/05) .HEADLINE PRI DYNASTY FALLS IN GUERRERO AS PRD SCORES COMFORTABLE WIN IN GUBERNATORIAL RACE .TEXT

By Kent Paterson [The author is a public-radio producer and freelance journalist. He visited Guerrero in late December during the height of the state's gubernatorial campaign]

Residents of the southern state of Guerrero are already marking Feb. 6, 2005, as one of the most important dates in their history. Crowds poured into the main plazas of the state's cities that evening to celebrate the defeat of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) after more than 75 years in the governor's office.

Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo, a charismatic federal deputy and former mayor of Acapulco (1999-2002), trounced the PRI's Hector Astudillo Flores in an intensely fought election. Torreblanca was the standard-bearer for the center-left Alianza por Guerrero coalition led by the Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD). Other partners in the coalition were the Partido Convergencia por la Democracia (PCD) and the Guerrero-based Partido de la Revolucion del Sur (PRS).

Torreblanca won with slightly more than 55% of the ballots, compared with 42.2% for Astudillo, said Guerrero's electoral agency (Consejo Electoral Estatal, CEE).

The defeated PRI candidate, a federal senator, was also supported by the Partido Verde Ecologista Mexicano (PVEM) and the Partido del Trabajo (PT) in the Todos por Guerrero coalition.

President Vicente Fox's Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), long a marginal force in Guerrero politics, barely registered any showing. PAN candidate Porfiria Sandoval received a mere 1.05% of the ballots cast. The PAN chose to run solo in the Guerrero election, in contrast to the race in neighboring Oaxaca in 2004, when it formed part of a broad coalition (see SourceMex, 2004-08-04).

Guerrero only held gubernatorial elections, with citizens scheduled to hold a separate vote for 76 mayors and a new state legislature in October of this year. The PRD used a strong performance in the 2002 state legislative and mayoral elections as a springboard for the 2006 gubernatorial race (see SourceMex, 2002-10-16).

Observers attributed Torreblanca's stunning victory to several factors, which included splits in the PRI; PRD control of local governments in the state's most populated centers; the ability of the center-left party to overcome potentially fatal internal disputes regarding the governor's candidacy; and the impressive deployment of opposition poll monitors on the day of voting. Several prominent individuals who had previously identified with the PRI defected to the Torreblanca camp.

Despite the enthusiastic support for Torreblanca, only about half the registered voters cast ballots.

Torreblanca's victory was considered by many the culmination of a decades-long struggle for the democratization of Guerrero, a bloody undertaking that witnessed army and police massacres of unarmed civilians, guerrilla uprisings, mass disappearances carried out by government security forces during the "dirty war" of the 1970s, and the killings of hundreds of PRD activists after 1989.

Speaking about his historic victory to supporters, Torreblanca said he intended to bury the old Guerrero of social and economic backwardness and replace it with a new state in which "liberty, justice, and equity" prevail.

The PRD began winning local, state, and federal offices in the early and mid-1990s. In 1999, PRD gubernatorial candidate, then federal Sen. Felix Salgado Macedonio, lost a narrow election to Rene Juarez Cisneros of the PRI amid widespread charges of fraud (see SourceMex, 1999-02-10). To protest the fraud, Salgado's supporters organized a march, which included 10,000 participants, from Guerrero to Mexico City that was called the "Exodo por la Democracia" (Exodus for Democracy).

Besides promising to shake up state politics traditionally dominated by a handful of rich families aligned with the PRI, Torreblanca's win could have significant repercussions in the 2006 presidential race. PRD president Leonel Godoy, who had rated the Guerrero governor's race as his party's number-one priority for 2005, said Torreblanca's triumph was comparable to the party's achievement in Mexico City in 1997. That year, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas won the mayoral election in Mexico City after decades of PRI dominance.

A riveting campaign

Characterized by vibrant campaigning on the part of Torreblanca and Astudillo, the Guerrero election stood out at a time when politics and politicians have fallen into disfavor with broad sections of the populace. "The PRI has always won the governorship," said Acapulco supermarket worker Francisco Martinez. "But there is an expectation now because the PRD is strong with Zeferino."

Torreblanca's campaign logo, a striking "Z" styled after El Zorro, the masked champion of the downtrodden, was everywhere--on billboards, on bumper stickers, and on buttons.

As mayor of Acapulco, Torreblanca was credited with attacking corruption, fixing financial irregularities in city government, and bringing public works to poor sections of the municipality.

Boasting a reformer's reputation, Torreblanca's bid for the statehouse took on the air of a mass citizens' movement for change and attracted tens of thousands of participants to rallies.

The campaign was fought on an ideological terrain framed to the left. Sounding similar themes, both Torreblanca and Astudillo called for greater support of the ailing countryside, for creating jobs, instituting better social programs, and respecting the cultural integrity of Guerrero's four indigenous groups.

With an estimated 800,000 Guerrero citizens currently residing in the US, the Astudillo campaign organized an immigrant committee in a bid to reach out to US residents who might convince their relatives back home to vote for the PRI.

In a touch of irony, the PRI--historically identified with state and national governments that repressed popular movements in Guerrero--attacked Torreblanca from the left. In particular, PRI opponents called into question Torreblanca's background as a businessman. Among other things, Astudillo's supporters accused Torreblanca of being the veritable flip-flopper, blowing whichever way the political winds took him. "I don't know what [Torreblanca's] ideology is," commented Alejandro Areco, an Astudillo campaign coordinator in Acapulco. "If it's with the political group he belongs to, the PRD, or the right."

PRD leader Felix Salgado, who this year served as Torreblanca's campaign coordinator in Acapulco, countered that his candidate was a "nationalist businessman" who seeks to develop Guerrero's economy for the benefit of the people and restore its crown as king of the tourism trade, a title long ago lost to rival Cancun.

Noticeably low in the political debate, however, was the issue of the environment. Even though Guerrero suffers from a host of environmental problems ranging from deforestation to water pollution, the candidates did not mention any specific plans to address the growing environmental crisis, according to columnist and environmental activist Silvestre Pacheco of the Zihuatanejo-based nongovernmental organization SOS Bahia. "All of the candidates' pronouncements are very general when they talk about the environment," said Pacheco.

Guerrero a "laboratory" for 2006 presidential race

Pacheco and other observers view the governor's race as a laboratory for the 2006 presidential election. If the fight for Los Pinos (the Mexican White House) resembles in any way what occurred in Guerrero, then 2006 promises to be an image-smashing, politically polarizing, psychologically numbing, and exaggeratedly expensive bout.

As the Guerrero campaign unfolded, widespread reports of old-fashioned vote-buying in low-income colonias and campaign spending above the limits established by state election rules, especially by the PRI, proliferated.

Additionally, an array of newer tactics--many of which mimicked US-style politics--was also unveiled. Notable was an apparent press assault on Torreblanca's personal integrity, featuring murky stories erroneously reporting that a Cuban advisor was directing the opposition candidate. There were also some pieces that tried to link Torreblanca with individuals responsible for the 1970s dirty war, a carnage really unleashed by PRI-run federal and state governments.

Imitating the triviality of much of the North American media, stories appeared that delved into Torreblanca's divorce and alleged estrangement from his daughters. Suddenly, family values were an issue.

Contrasting an effort to portray Torreblanca as a dour and heartless man was the image promoted in television spots of Astudillo as a friendly and loving family man surrounded by a smiling wife and children. At the height of the Mexican Christmas-tourism season, Astudillo's supporters projected a giant portrait of their man onto the wall of one of Acapulco's towering hotels.

Other tactics likewise grabbed public attention. To the apparent annoyance of many, Astudillo's supporters engaged in heavy phone banking, making repeated calls to potential voters at home. Another innovative campaign technique was the direct mailing of personal birthday greetings on a targeted individual's birth date. Surprised recipients opened up the modest cards to see personal wishes from their new "friend, Hector Astudillo." How the Astudillo campaign managed to obtain voters' birth dates and addresses has not been publicly revealed.

A furor then arose when stickers were found anonymously plastered on public telephone booths in Acapulco. They featured a prominent "Z" embedded in the acronym EZLN and included a photo of hooded members of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional next to the question, "Will Guerrero Be Better?"

Torreblanca's campaign coordinators were not amused with the obvious poke at the candidate's name and slogan and announced plans to file a complaint with the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR), charging election-law violations. Astudillo's spokesman Alejandro Arceo denied that his organization had anything to do with the stickers.

Possible light was shed on the origin of controversial campaign tactics just days prior to the election when media in Acapulco and Mexico City published a document purported to be from the national PRI leadership and entitled "Faro 2005." An alleged blueprint for a PRI victory, the document recommended employing many of the tactics used during the election campaign as well as inhibiting voters and annulling opposition votes. Opposition activists immediately denounced "Faro 2005" as a plan to destabilize democracy, but PRI leaders denied any connection with the document and even suggested that the PRD was the real author.

Heightened tensions were evident prior to election day, as violence erupted in several corners of the state. Among the incidents were the gangland-style murder of the director of the scandal-ridden Acapulco Convention Center, the shooting of a PRD activist in the rural town of Tlapa, and the killing of three municipal police and a youthful bystander in Acapulco by shooters firing automatic AK-47 rifles.

In the end, calm prevailed on election day, although a few minor incidents were reported in different parts of the state.

Even as he basks in a bright ray of popularity, Torreblanca, who assumes office on April 1, faces the toughest job of his political career as he attempts reforms in a state steeped in semi-feudal political traditions, poverty, and violence. While vowing not to tolerate corruption or impunity, Torreblanca is toning down his comments and appealing for Guerrero's citizens to put aside past differences and unite for the common good. Addressing supporters in the state capital of Chilpancingo, Torreblanca called for "patience and more patience," asking citizens to give him time to implement the sweeping changes for which so many are hungering.
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Publication:SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Feb 16, 2005
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