Panel analyzes the 2018 Mexican Election

From left to right, moderator Dr. David A. Shirk and election panelists, Amb. Jeffrey Davidow, Dr. Victor Espinoza, Dr. Clare Seelke, and Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli.

From left to right: moderator Dr. David A. Shirk and panelists, Amb. Jeffrey Davidow, Dr. Victor Espinoza, Dr. Clare Seelke, and Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli.

10/03/2018 (written by Rita Kuckertz) – On Thursday, September 20, 2018  Justice in Mexico, in collaboration with the University of San Diego’s Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR) program, hosted a panel of experts in order to discuss the significance of Mexico’s 2018 Presidential Election and what to expect from the incoming administration. Panelists included Clare Seelke of the Congressional Research Service; Dr. Victor Espinoza, Director of the Department of Public Administration at the Northern Border College (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, COLEF); Amb. Jeffrey Davidow, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico; and Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli, faculty member in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego (USD). Dr. David A. Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico and the Master of Arts in International Relations program, moderated the panel discussion.

A Watershed Election

Each guest speaker shared their expertise on the topic of Mexican politics in order to reflect on the nature and outcomes of Mexico’s July 1st vote. Given the exceptional nature of these elections, Dr. Shirk asked the panel of experts to especially consider the historic upset of traditional party alignments, the future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship, and the observed increase in political violence leading up to July, 2018.
Clare Seelke explained the triumph of Morena party candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the result of the public’s desire for radical political change. Seelke posited that other candidates running for the Mexican presidency, including Ricardo Anaya and José Antonio Meade, were essentially the same in the public eye. According to Seelke, the simple fact of López Obrador’s singularity amidst other traditional candidates may explain the “magnitude of the victory” at approximately 53% of the total vote.

The Future of U.S.-Mexico Relations

Reflecting on the implications of this outcome, Seelke questioned the future of U.S.-Mexico relations in the context of the shared drug and security crisis, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and Mexico’s energy reform enacted during President Enrique Peña Nieto’s tenure. While Mexico has collaborated with the United States on each of these dimensions under Peña Nieto’s term from 2012 to 2018, Seelke expressed uncertainty regarding future bilateral cooperation on these matters.

The Vote from Abroad

Dr. Victor Espinoza from COLEF spoke at length about the significance of votes from abroad during the 2018 election. He explained that since 2006, there have been a total of twenty-six presidential, senatorial, gubernatorial, and local elections that allowed voters to participate from abroad. However, increasingly, the percentage of eligible voters living outside of Mexico has declined since 2006. In the July elections, Dr. Espinoza noted that this figure was “infinitesimal,” at less than 1% turnout. With 97% of eligible abroad voters living in the United States, this raises questions about the specific factors that have so drastically reduced the participation of eligible Mexican voters there. However, as Dr. Espinoza explained, other trends characterizing the abroad vote in previous elections were reversed; while Mexican voters living outside the country typically opt for conservative candidates, in 2018, the vote leaned left with Morena’s López Obrador.

Radical Change or Return to Ruling Party Politics?

While a historic election, Former Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow argued that, in general, we tend to overanalyze the election of politicians. According to Amb. Davidow, López Obrador won the election because the vast majority of Mexicans who registered to vote were disillusioned with traditional political parties. Concerned about high levels of corruption and what they perceived to be a “rigged” system, the Mexican public opted for a new approach to politics. As such, Amb. Davidow argued that voters did not necessarily stand behind all of López Obrador’s policies; they simply wanted to prevent traditional party candidates from entering office.

However, despite his candidacy representing a change in the political order to many Mexicans, Amb. Davidow argued that López Obrador’s policies are reminiscent of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (Partido Revolucionario Insitutional, PRI) “ruling party” politics of the 1970s and 1980s. In his words, Amb. Davidow described López Obrador as “[tending] to view Mexican politics and policies not as a radical, but as someone who has never really accepted the modernization of Mexico.” Thus, while some have likened the incoming president to Hugo Chávez, Amb. Davidow argues that López Obrador hardly fits this characterization. Much like his PRI predecessors, López Obrador’s platform rests on the centralization of authority and the invigoration of state enterprises. As such, recent reforms, such as the historic energy and criminal procedure reforms, may see changes under the new administration. As Amb. Davidow put it, “Will it be devastating? We don’t know. But it will be different.”

Looking Ahead: Implications of an AMLO Presidency

Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli, adding to Amb. Davidow’s analysis, reminded those in attendance that López Obrador was once a “staunch priista,” and much of his political behavior today is similar to that of thirty years ago. However, despite López Obrador’s steadfastness, Dr. Edmonds-Poli argued that his election was unprecedented in Mexico’s democratic era. As she explained, historically, those observing Mexican politics have argued that no candidate would ever win with a majority in the multi-party system, especially with a majority in Congress. Thus, the July 1 election was unprecedented in and of itself.

Given his election by majority, Dr. Edmonds-Poli contended that López Obrador does indeed have a mandate. However, what remains to be seen is whether the future president will be able to successfully fulfill this mandate. According to Dr. Edmonds-Poli, the stakes are certainly high; with the “groundswell of excitement” that accompanied the rise of Morena, López Obrador supporters (i.e., the majority of those who participated in the July 1 elections) are expectant of change. Should the future president remain in his 1970s political mold, this could severely damage not only his base of support and future legacy, but also, Mexico’s democracy itself. As Dr. Edmonds-Poli reminded viewers, recent public opinion polls found that only 49% of people expressed faith in democracy in Mexico. As such, given this fragile perception, any failure by the incoming government to fulfill its imperatives could inflict significant wounds on Mexican democracy. As with all matters discussed throughout the course of the panel, analysts will have to wait until December 1 to reevaluate Mexico’s course moving forward.

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Implications of Lopez Obrador’s Security Agenda

06/30/2018 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa)-  On July 1, 2018, in one of the most unprecedented elections of its history, Mexico elected a new President. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commonly known by his initials, AMLO, will be Mexico’s next President. Previously having run for president in 2006 and 2012, his victory, though groundbreaking, is not surprising. AMLO consistently led election polls in comparison to the other major party candidates, Ricardo Anaya and Jose Antonio Meade.

It goes without saying that 2018 will stand out in Mexico’s election history. For the first time ever, independent candidates were able to seek presidential nomination. In addition, aside from electing a new party candidate, Mexican citizens voted for over 18,000 elected positions. With 89 million eligible voters, the highest in Mexican history, election outcomes have the potential to markedly change Mexico’s political landscape. On that note, Lopez Obrador’s victory may significant influence on Mexico’s relationship with its northern neighbor, the United States. Even more so, however, Lopez Obrador’s proposed security agenda could have unique implications on Mexico’s current security.

Lopez Obrador’s Background

Born in Mexico’s state of Tabasco, Lopez Obrador went on to study political science and public administration at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Autónoma de México, UNAM), Mexico’s largest public university. Lopez Obrador’s political experience is rooted in Mexico’s long standing political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI). In 1976, he actively supported and campaigned on behalf of PRI Senate Candidate, Carlos Pellicer.

Lopez Obrador left the party in 1988 to join the National Democratic Front (Frente Democrático Nacional, FDN), a dissident left-wing coalition assembled to challenge the hegemonic rule of the PRI. That same year, Lopez Obrador ran as opposition for Tabasco’s governorship. Although he lost, he ultimately became the president of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, a center-left party founded from the remnants of the FDN. Lopez Obrador served as PRD president from 1996 to 1999.

Throughout his tenure, Lopez Obrador continued to build his political stature, including campaigning for indigenous rights, and organizing protests against Mexico’s behemoth energy company, Mexican Petroleum (Petróleos Mexicanos, PEMEX), and PRI corruption. In 2000, he was elected as Mexico City’s mayor. His time in office was considered to be generally successful as his administration significantly improved Mexico City’s infrastructure, including remodeling the historic metropolitan center, expanding highways and improving public transportation with the introduction of Metrobus, a public transit system.

Lopez Obrador resigned from his mayoral position in order to seek presidential nomination for the PRD for the 2006 Presidential elections. Although he led the majority of the election polls, National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) candidate, Felipe Calderon, edged ahead by less than one percent.  Lopez Obrador protested the election results, demanding a recount and even held a public “inauguration” declaring himself the legitimate president of Mexico. Lopez Obrador ran again for president in 2012, once again falling short and alleging election

Supporters for Andres Manuel López Obrador. (Guillermo Arias, The New York Times)

Supporters for Andres Manuel López Obrador. (Guillermo Arias, The New York Times)

fraud.

Ultimately, Lopez Obrador stepped away from the PRD and founded his own political party in 2014, the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional, MORENA).  In coalition with a left-wing Labor Party (Partido del Trabajo, PT), and right-wing Social Encounter Party (Partido Encuentro Social, PES), Lopez Obrador once again sought presidential candidacy in the 2018 elections.

A Revised Security Agenda  

Under the slogan, “Together we will make history (Juntos Haremos Historia),” Lopez Obrador successfully led a center-left campaign that captured over 50% of the vote with one of the highest election margins in Mexican political history. His firebrand promises to bring change to Mexico, resonated with many Mexican voters. Lopez Obrador emphasized his determination to uproot corruption across Mexico and address rampant issues of poverty and violence.

In particular, his rule of law and security-specific proposals include: creating a National School of Public Security to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on corruption among law enforcement, establish state-level entities and obligatory trainings to monitor and increase the professionalization of law enforcement officials across Mexico, target the socio-economic roots of organized crime to reduce the incentive of organized crime, reform the 19th Constitutional Article to allow for preemptive imprisonment for corruption crimes, and analyze the efficiency of the Judiciary Council and revise the structure of the federal judiciary, in particular the Supreme Court, accordingly.

One of Lopez Obrador’s most controversial security proposals includes amnesty legislation for the purpose of reducing cyclical patterns of socio-economic insecurity in Mexico. Following his election, Lopez Obrador held his first security cabinet meeting to further develop the parameters of this proposed legislation. According to Alfonso Durazo- Lopez Obrador’s selection for Secretary of Public Security, a newly reinstated position of state- amnesty would be key to the new administration’s security agenda.

Notwithstanding that amnesty is a politically ionized concept, particularly in Mexico’s current state of insecurity, some see it as a step towards the de-escalation of Mexico’s violence. Raúl Zepeda Gil, a security expert for the Institute Belisario Domínguez of the Senate of the Republic (Instituto Belisario Domínguez del Senado de la República), identifies three ways in which amnesty could introduce effective mechanisms for reducing violence, including: the perspective of post-conflict pacification, alternative sentencing for minor/non-violent acts, and revised drug regulations. Although, he concedes that implementing amnesty comes with another set of issues, such as sustainability and corruption, Zepeda highlights the benefits of amnesty negotiations and transitional justice strategies applied in Colombia, a country which experienced violence and organized crime similar to Mexico. Ultimately, he argues that amnesty legislation for Mexico may in fact be an effective formula to redressing systemic patterns of violence and socio-economic instability.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Olga Sánchez Cordero.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Olga Sánchez Cordero. (Marco Ugarte, Associated Press).

These aforementioned and often controversial mechanisms are already under-consideration and open to public debate, according to Olga Sánchez Cordero, Lopez Obrador’s selection for Secretary of Government. In a recent Seminar on Violence and Peace: Forget, Truth, or Justice? (Seminario sobre Violencia y Paz: ¿Olvido, verdad o Justicia?), she affirmed that the new administration will be open to transitional justice mechanisms in their bid to uphold a human rights-focused agenda. In the words of Sanchez Cordero, Mexico needs new institutions and new systems to amend its reality, including amnesty negotiations, but also alternative and reduced sentencings, the decriminalization of certain drugs, reparation polies, and socio-economic policies targeting the recovery of public spaces.

Lopez Obrador’s intended approach has already elicited a response from the White House, in particular the topic of narcotic policies. In answer to the possibility that Mexico may legalize drugs, Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, asserted that the United States no way supports the legalization of drugs. However, Sanchez Cordero’s proposals have thus far only suggested the decriminalization of marijuana and opium.

Although Lopez Obrador is adamant in his promise to reinvent the security strategies used in Mexico, critics are skeptical, pointing out that his proposed security policies are relatively experimental in Mexico. Regardless, on election day, Mexican voters were willing to take a leap of faith. In the words of Laura Chinchilla, former President of Costa Rica, recent populist elections reflect a regional demand for change. “The results are not endorsements of ideologies, but rather demands for change, a fatigue felt by people waiting for answers that simply have not arrived (New York Times).”

Upon accepting his appointment as President elect, Lopez Obrador stated that under his leadership he will “establish an authentic democracy” in Mexico. Political promises, apprehensive criticisms and hopeful constituents aside, only time will reveal the attainability of Lopez Obrador’s proposed security agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

“Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. July 2, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Andres-Manuel-Lopez-Obrador

Palacios, Surya. “Perfil: Quien es Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO)? Alto Nivel. July 2, 2018. https://www.altonivel.com.mx/elecciones-2018/amlo/perfil-amlo-lopez-obrador/

Lafuente, Javier. “La Victoria de López Obrador lleva al poder a la izquierda en México.” El Pais. July 2, 2018. https://elpais.com/internacional/2018/07/02/mexico/1530496335_470433.html

Najar, Alberto. “5 razones que hacen históricas las elecciones presidenciales en México.” BBC Mundo. July 1, 2018. http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-43578377

Ahmed, Azam and Paulina Villegas. “Lopez Obrador, an Atypical Leftist, Wins Mexico Presidency in Landslide.” The New York Times. July 1, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/01/world/americas/mexico-election-andres-manuel-lopez-obrador.html

“Esto fue lo que dijo López Obrador tras su Victoria electoral (discursos completos).” Animal Politico. July 2, 2018. https://www.animalpolitico.com/2018/07/discursos-lopez-obrador/

Zepeda Gil, Raúl. “Pacificación a la mexicana: apuntes sobre la propuesta de amnistía de López Obrador.” Nexos. July 9, 2018. https://seguridad.nexos.com.mx/?p=886

Discussing Mexican Elections with Dr. Denise Dresser

Dr. Denise Dresser Presents on May 8, 2018

Dr. Denise Dresser presenting at the University of San Diego on May 8, 2018

05/15/18 (written by Lucy La Rosa)- Last week, Justice in Mexico was honored to host Dr. Denise Dresser, a renown Mexican political analyst, columnist and academic, to speak on the upcoming presidential elections in Mexico. The event, “Discussing the 2018 Mexican Presidential Election,” gave a comprehensive snapshot of the context and challenges relevant to Mexico’s presidential candidacy. Held on the USD campus, Dr. Dresser’s presentation was attended by approximately 90 students, professors, government officials, media representatives and members of the general public from the San Diego/Tijuana region.

Dr. Dresser’s work is primarily centered on Mexican democratization, corruption, the construction of citizenship and political economy issues from a comparative perspective. She is a professor of political science at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM). She writes a political column for the Mexican newspaper, Reforma, and Proceso magazine. She also participates in the weekly political roundtable hosted by Carmen Aristegui and the political talk show “Es la Hora de Opinar” hosted by Leo Zuckerman. Dr. Dresser is a winner of the National Journalism Award and was awarded the “Legion of Honor” by the government of France for her work on human rights, freedom of expression and human rights in Mexico. Forbes magazine named her one of the 50 most powerful women in Mexico and one of the most influential people on Twitter. She is the author of the bestselling El País de Uno, reflexiones para entender y cambiar a México. Her forthcoming book, Manifiesto mexicano: cómo perdimos el rumbo y cómo lo recuperamos, will be published in May 2018.

To frame her political analysis of the 2018 presidential elections, Dr. Dresser began by outlining the public sentiments surrounding Mexico’s sitting President, Enrique Peña Nieto, and the impending conclusion of his term. She highlighted the unfavorable ratings of both Peña Nieto and his affiliated Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) due to a variety of tarnishing corruption scandals. Dresser noted that the current political climate features a disgruntled citizenry looking for an end to systemic issues of crony capitalism, rent-seeking elites, corruption and impunity.

Following this frame of reference, she outlined the political background and current opinion poll rankings of the following presidential candidates: Jose Antonio Meade, Ricardo Anaya, Margarita Zavala, and Andres Manuel López Obrador. She probed the intentions and track record of each political candidate, respectively analyzing their party platforms and proposals for change in Mexico. In her thorough appraisal of each candidate, Dr. Dresser emphasized the candidates’ proposed solution to the challenges facing Mexico’s democratic functionality. She specifically underlined candidates’ response to structural issues of corruption and impunity.

Dr. Dresser, in reference to scholar Guillermo Trejo, agreed that regardless of which candidate wins the presidential seat, Mexico needs an “accountability shock.” She highlighted the need for candidates to address the issues perpetuated by an ineffective judicial system and a lacking “institutional design”. Moving forward, she argued, Mexico and its presidential candidates need to focus on strengthening rule of law in Mexico and improving a fight for civil rights. Accordingly, she reasoned that the candidates’ political background and action plan for addressing these challenges should be at the forefront of voters’ judgements on election day.

Bringing her political discourse to a close and in a final reference to Mexico’s need for greater political accountability, Dr. Dresser concluded, “If we don’t look up, those who aspire to govern us won’t do so.”

Dr. Dresser with Justice in Mexico staff

Dr. Dresser with Justice in Mexico staff

The Mexican presidential elections will be held on July 1, 2018. Voters will elect a new president, 128 senators, and 9 governors for 6-year terms, 500 federal deputies, 982 local deputies, 1,612 mayors for 3-year terms and a number of other municipal level positions. Approximately 88 million Mexican will be eligible to cast their vote for a total of 3,416 federal, state and municipal positions, one of the largest elections in Mexican history. For an extensive and intelligible overview of the upcoming elections, electoral processes, candidate and party platforms, Justice in Mexico highly recommends the 2018 Elections Guide by the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

Justice in Mexico would like to thank Dr. Denise Dresser for her time and commitment to Mexico’s democratic development, as well as thank all of those who attended and supported the implementation of the event.

 

Please find the archived Facebook Live video here:

Sources:

Mexico Institute’s 2018 Elections Guide. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.