On each passing day another prominent Mexican citizen takes a public stand against the prospect of electoral fraud in the upcoming presidential elections. At times it feels like a walk through a carnival hall, each barker screaming the same words in the same sequence at the top of their lungs. Even the president, the head of a party famous for electoral fraud, decries electoral fraud.
Here’s a list of today’s top headlines:
- “Muñoz Ledo heads movement against electoral fraud”
- “An analysis of electoral fraud and vote buying in Mexico”
- “Peña Nieto urges action against electoral fraud”
- “Political system admits electoral fraud: Lorenzo Meyer”
Fraud has become a national obsession. How ironic that the parties most likely to commit fraud are those who now decry it most. Their logic is simple: if you don’t engage with fraud (and do it well) your opponent will. In a sense, you have to out-fraud your fraudulent enemies. Having fraud as a weapon is not just useful – it’s impossible to survive without it.
Fraud plays a major role in the campaign of Mexico’s leading anti-corruption candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Once a PRI member, AMLO is highly attuned to how Mexican elections work. He’s been defrauded of the presidency twice.
Is Mexico a democracy?
Even after the PRI gave up power in 2000 (for the first time in over 70 years), some claim that Mexico is still not a democracy. Lorenzo Meyer, Mexico’s leading historian, puts it this way:
“Mexico today is neither authoritarian nor democratic. Actually, it’s at a critical inflection point: it’s partially pluralist, so alternatives exist; and there’s room for some debate and citizen participation. But don’t think for a second that the upcoming elections will be clean.”
“We’ve had dirty elections and less dirty elections, egregious fraud and less egregious fraud,” he said, “but we’ve never had a free election that comes even close to meeting 21st century democratic norms.”
Even the election in 2000 (when the PRI was ousted) was rife with fraud. At the time, the Pemexgate and Amigos de Fox scandals implicated both the PRI and PAN in illegal campaign financing. In Canada or Sweden, these scandals could have tanked either party. In Mexico, they hardly made a blip.
Lorenzo Meyer credits the PRI with the creation of what he calls “democracy without content”. Established in the last century as a party open to the masses, the PRI made a deal with its members: generous handouts and perks in return for rigged voting.
Mexicans in effect sold out their voting rights. Some now say they got what they deserved.
“Although democratic principles apply to certain aspects of the Mexican system, it does not apply to voting. Every election to date has been known in advance. Sadly, the famous quote by Vargas Llosa about the “perfect dictatorship” is still alive and well. It’s so perfect that the authorities already know the winning tallies even before the election takes place.”
“This is where the essence of Mexico’s political system bears itself for all to see,” he said. “And things have been like this for decades.”
Meyer claims that it all goes back to the origin of the PRI, a party born, nurtured and promoted by the State. “The PRI is the government, and the government is the PRI. That’s how it started – or rather its precursor, the National Revolutionary Party. Throughout the entire last century, the PRI consisted of mostly government officials and military officers.”
“Many of my colleagues scold me for saying that the PRI is Mexico’s ‘official’ party. But yes… yes it is. It is the party of the State because it was born of the State, financed by the State, sustained by the State… without the State it wouldn’t have remained in power for decades. The military, the nation’s most important institution, is fully behind the party.”
Which explains, I think, why most observers who warn of fraud readily admit that fraud is ‘baked-in’ to the Mexican system. It’s how every party finances their everyday activities; how the moving parts work together. Politics, graft, corruption, influence peddling, vote buying; it’s all part of a package deal, like the legs of a single stool.
The Mexican attorney Diego Velardes asks: “When the State abuses political and economic power to influence voters like they now regularly do, how can the vote be free?”
As ordinary Mexicans say, “si no transas no avanzas” (“if you don’t cheat, you don’t get ahead”). Even AMLO, the nation’s only credible anti-corruption leader, is corrupt. In order to survive, he’s had to be. The system, after all, made him who he is.