Wednesday, October 21, 2009
October 20, 2009
Continuing on the path of a centennial reconquest of power, Mexico’s former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) easily won October 18 municipal elections in the northern border state of Coahuila. While the PRI has long been the dominant political force in Coahuila, even during the last nine years of National Action Party (PAN) governments at the federal level, the party born from the blood of the 1910 Mexican Revolution dislodged rivals from the key cities of Torreon, San Pedro and Ciudad Acuna in voting last Sunday.
Coahuila’s second largest city after the state capital of Saltillo, Torreon had been governed by the conservative PAN during the last seven years. Strategically located on highways leading to the US border, the old agricultural center has been the scene of violent competition for control of local and international drug markets during the past five years. Eduardo Olmos Castro will serve as the troubled city’s new mayor.
Situated across from Del Rio, Texas, Ciudad Acuna is a center for border factories called maquiladoras as well as an exit point on smuggling routes into the US. In Ciudad Acuna, Alberto Aguirre, the mayoral candidate for a coalition formed between the PRI and much smaller PANAL, beat Esther Talamas Hernandez, the wife of the outgoing mayor and the candidate of the Coahuila Democratic Unity party (UCD), a local organization which governed the municipality for a number of years.
The PRI also won hands down in the border city of Piedras Negras. Far from a sore loser, the PAN’s Dr. Angel Humberto Garcia Reyes literally embraced winning opponent Jose Manuel Maldonado Maldonado and announced his support for Piedras Negras’ new mayor. “Pepe is my friend,” Garcia said. “He beat me fair and square, and I join his project.”
Statewide, in an election with a turnout estimated at 52 percent of registered voters, the PRI tallied nearly 60 percent of the vote. The victorious party was distantly trailed by the PAN with about 25 percent of votes, the UCD with 4.63 percent and the Mexican Green Party with just slightly above 3 percent- barely enough for the pro-death penalty Greens to keep their legal registration.
Historically enduring a marginal presence in Coahuila, the electoral left was the biggest loser in last Sunday’s contest. In fact, three parties which supported opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the 2006 presidential election-PRD, PT and Convergencia- did not even separately draw the required 3 percent of votes to maintain their registrations and public funding. Coahuila’s election was the latest example of how the parties never managed to build on the surge of support for Lopez Obrador in Coahuila and other northern states in 2006.
Two other small parties, the Social Democratic Party and PANAL, also lost their legal status and were wiped from the current political map as a consequence of last weekend’s ballot count.
The PRD lost San Pedro in the Laguna region, one of its few pockets of support, to the PRI, but managed to eke out a victory in coalition with the PAN and UCD in Castanos, the scene of a 2006 incident in which Mexican soldiers raped dancers in a red-light district.
Local elections were also held in the southern state of Tabasco last weekend. Once again, the PRI swept the race, regaining some ground from the PRD, the second-strongest party in the state. A weaker force in Tabasco, President Calderon’s PAN nevertheless pulled off victories in two cattle-ranching municipalities. According to the state electoral institute, 58.12 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
Like Coahuila, Tabasco has been hit with a wave of narco-violence in recent years. Accusations of vote-buying and violent confrontations between state and local cops marred the Tabasco race. The Coahuila election proceeded without disruption, though the bodies of three murder victims were dumped in front of a polling station in Torreon just prior to its opening for voting.
In the wider political panorama, Sunday’s election results were more good news for the PRI as the old ruling party primes itself to retake the presidency in 2012. Almost like icing on the 2009 cake, October’s victories in Coahuila and Tabasco closely follow the PRI’s decisive win in the July federal elections.
In contrast, the October 18 elections were sour news for the PAN and bitter tidings for the PRD and other center-left parties.
In a time of economic and social crises, the PAN, and to a far greater degree, the left parties, have been riveted by internecine disputes, disunity and public scandals.
In an attempt to extract themselves from the political tar pit, leaders of the PRD, PT and Convergencia announced October 19 the reconstitution of the Broad Progressive Front for elections in 2010 and 2012. Manuel Camacho Solis, a former Mexico City mayor for the PRI and lately a prominent Lopez Obrador supporter, will act as coordinator for the reborn grouping.
Even though the PRI benefits from the current weaknesses of its rivals, the party could pay a political price for moves underway in the Mexican Congress to raise sales and income taxes as a way of staving off a worsening state fiscal crisis. In a grueling, nine-hour meeting on October 19, PRI federal lawmakers were warned of political consequences for backing higher taxes during a deep recession.
“You have to think about the poor people,” said Isabel Perez, a PRI representative from Veracruz. “What am I going to tell my indigenous people?”
Ruben Moreira, coordinator of the PRI group of legislators from Coahuila, voiced dismay at the prospect of having to face down voters who were told during the just-concluded local election campaign that the PRI did not support higher taxes.
“That’s why we won the election yesterday,” Moreira declared. “What do I tell them?”
At the end of the debate, the PRI lawmakers voted by a margin of 124 to 41 to up the national value added tax from 15 to 16 percent of purchases. For border states, the tax would increase from 10 to 11 percent if the proposal passes the full lower house of Congress. Also on the table are tax hikes on income, bank deposits, telephones, tobacco, beer, and liquor.
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