Last July 1 there took place presidential and parliamentarian elections in Mexico. Enrique Peña Nieto was elected, the candidate of the formerly hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that after eighty years in power (1920-2000) and two alternation governments in charge of the right wing National Action Party (PAN) (2000-2006 and 2006-2012) is back on the presidency.


Enrique Peña Nieto

There are many topics related to the events before and after the presidential election such as the performance of PRI’s governors regarding the lack of transparency at the local level and the arbitrary use of the public resources, which caused the accusation of thousands of bought votes around the country (there is no official data on this, but estimates go from 5 thousand to 250 thousand votes obtained in exchange for money); the inexistence in practice of the electoral bodies –especially the Specialized Office for the Attention of Electoral Offenses (FEPADE)- either before and after the election; the actions taken by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, candidate of the centre-of-left Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) who finished second in the election and did not accept the results; the performance of the polling companies that overestimated the votes for Enrique Peña Nieto by 5-15%; to sum up, there are many relevant aspects to be analysed in this election, however, beyond the topics around this juncture, it is worth asking ourselves: which patterns are going to shape Mexican politics in this PRI’s comeback to power? What kind of six-year term we have got ahead?

What kind of six-year term is waiting for us?

I think there are some patterns that were born during PRI’s governments, which were kept by PAN’s governments, and which will shape the PRI’s return in the next six-year term: a “tropicalized”-neoliberal-capitalism, an institutional design based in the logic corruption-complicity-impunity; and a political functioning based on corporatism-co-optation-selective repression. Let us see each of them.

  1. Institutional logic

The initial reading of the partisan left on what was going on around the elections was that everything was part of a plot: an implicit agreement between the polling houses, the PAN’s led federal government, the PRI’s presidential candidate, the owners of the two main media’s corporations in Mexico that possess 100% of open TV signal, the councillors of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), and the magistrates of the Electoral Court of the Judicial Power of the Federation (TRIFE), in order to guarantee the victory of Enrique Peña Nieto through fraud orchestrated before the elections through a massive vote buying. If it is certainly true that the PRI governs the majority of the states of the federation (over 70%) and that there is little transparency in these governments where it is common the arbitrary use of public resources (it is not surprising that there was a wide mobilisation of the local state’s structures favouring Enrique Peña Nieto’s candidacy); it is mistake reading the actions of autonomous organs such as the IFE or the TEPJF in terms of a plot. On the contrary, the performance of these two organs must be observed through the series of institutional incentives that, in general, permeate all the logic of government in Mexico. Worse than a conspiracy, there exists an institutional design guided by the logic of corruption-complicity-impunity.

The different institutional players of Mexican politics work under logics of systematic violation of rights whether to “find criminals” or to “win elections” (the current president Felipe Calderón characterized the disputed election he won in 2006 as “haiga sido como haiga sido”, which roughly translates as “[I won] no matter how”). What could be observed in the Mexican political performance is an organisational structure that informs the common sense of political action through a pattern of corruption-complicity-impunity. Under this logic, it is easier to follow the illegal path than the legal one to carry out state action; execute “fake” arrests in popular neighbourhoods to increase the number of detentions; “sow” evidence both to enlarge data regarding recovered weapons and to support legal accounts; keep low standards of transparency and accountability in the states of the federation to make discretional use of public spending via clientelistic and corporatist policies that enable the conditioning of votes; show artificial police action in TV (portrayed as real) to create the perception of an efficient security policy; etc.

It is worth asking ourselves: does this logic applies to all government institutions, including autonomous organs that seem very professional such as the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN), the Federal Institute of Access to Information (IFAI), the IFE, and others? Fortunately corruption does not prevail in these newly formed institutions, where a different logic operates: that of complicity-impunity that needs the organisational performance to focus on making believe that “everything’s all right.” It seems that the “feeling of normality” has become a relevant pillar in the Mexican institutional logic when it comes to seek political legitimacy. Instead of conducting deep investigations that render visible –though scandalous- the structural problem of corruption in governmental functioning, the internal watchdogs are more focused on making us believe that everything is OK. This logic explains why even the Electoral Councillors linked to “leftist thought” quickly declared that this year’s elections were “exemplary”, that everything was very well. Worse, even after judicial proceedings the TEPJF simply concluded that there were not any proofs of vote buying, not a single one, although the reality exceeded it completely. Another example: facing the massive outflow of capitals during the first half of 2012 –which in this occasion four folded Foreign Direct Investment, the Central Bank (Banco de México) –another autonomous organ- declared that this outflow was “normal”, for we live in a free market.

Published in Political Reflection Magazine Vol. 4  No. 1