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The Road to 2018: Mexico

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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The past Sunday’s election in 4 states of Mexico City is a pre-cursor of what’s to come in 2018. The states’ gubernatorial race is an important barometer of Mexican politics and they are a major opportunity to test the popularity of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) from the leftist party MORENA.

The results are still being contested in almost all states and most importantly in the State of Mexico, what has been called by many the Jewel of the Crown of the PRI regime, the party that successfully ruled Mexico for over 70 years. A PRI victory in this state would give the party a much-needed boost as the president’s approval ratings have dipped near single digits ahead of the 2018 race for the nation’s top office. But losing a state it has governed without interruption for 88 years would be a devastating blow a year after the PRI lost in several other states it had also always dominated. The loss of the 16-million-strong State of Mexico and its financial resources would be a major blow to the PRI in its bid to stop Lopez Obrador from winning the presidency next year. The State of Mexico is home to one in eight Mexican voters and victory there would have provided AMLO with a springboard to the top job.

For the PRI, the state also holds profound symbolic significance, having been at the core of its power since the party was founded in 1929 after the tumult of the revolutionary era. The party has never lost a gubernatorial election here. President Peña Nieto, himself a former governor of Mexico state, was elected in 2012 in a rousing comeback and reset for the ruling party. The PRI had lost consecutive presidential elections in 2000 and 2006 to the conservative National Action Party. If the PRI loses the state of Mexico that would practically cancel its chances to win the presidency next year

What became evident last Sunday was that not only mistrust is still commonplace in Mexican elections but also that mainstream political parties still lack democratic spirit to participate in competitive elections. Whoever claims victory, reality is that the current electoral system in Mexico does not guarantee governance, does not reflect the majority of the population and does not produce legitimate rulers. Neither MORENA nor PRI, the parties who obtained most of the votes in the State of Mexico, can be called legitimate when they will only represent 10 to 15% of the electorate. While it is true that society has become increasingly participative, this is still not reflected in the number of people that cast their votes: Only 54% of the population voted in the State of Mexico. This should be a wake-up call for the political parties as they have been unable to attract a large segment of the population.

The current structure of the Mexican electoral system since the transition to democracy in 2000 creates minority governments that have been caught up in a legislative paralysis as opposition parties see opposing rather than co-governing as more electorally fruitful. Mexico has an electoral system that favours political fragmentation and the dispersion of useful votes among too many political alternatives with no real chances of ever attaining power.

Ever since the PRI lost presidential power in the 2000, a chant has been repeatedly heard across Mexico: The return of PRI to the power is a step back in democracy: Get PRI out of power to give democracy a chance. After 2 failed administrations of the opposing party PAN and almost no real progress towards a real and consolidated democracy in Mexico, people need to understand that democracy needs more than a change of the party in power to survive and thrive.

Current political parties in Mexico, including the newly created MORENA, have been unable to represent and attract a significant number of citizens. AMLO lost the elections in the state of Mexico not because of an electoral fraud but rather because of his need to be the only and most prominent figure of this party. He was unable to forge alliances with the parties that could have catapulted his candidate to power in this state. The need to become the star of the show has blinded AMLO’s ability to analise and understand the political reality Mexico is currently facing. It has been said that one of the many problems Mexico has is the lack of historical memory of its people. This is also evident in those supporters of mainstream political parties, there are very few people who take the time to analyse the political career of candidates, their political platforms and viability of their proposals; the checks and balances of their past administrations as well as the people they decide to associate and forge alliances with. It is very hard to believe AMLO is indeed looking to create an alternative project for the country when he is surrounded by people who are the living image of corruption and embezzlement in Mexican politics: Elba Esther Gordillo, Ricardo Monreal, Fernado Espino and Napoléon Gómez Urritua to name a few. These should be the last people a candidate that claims to be anti-establishment should be seen around.

PRD held the keys to the administration of the State of Mexico for MORENA and it may as well be the party who could finally take AMLO to the presidency in 2018. The danger here is that AMLO has demonstrated to be a leader unable to negotiate and unable to see others at the same level. Far from working out the possibility of an alliance with PRD in these elections, he demanded absolute obedience. In 2006 AMLO frowned upon the possibility of an alliance with Patricia Mercado, the then candidate of the Social Democrats, and whose 2.7% of votes would have been enough to beat PAN’s candidate Felipe Calderon, AMLO repeated the same mistake in 2017: Lopez Obrador eschewed a political coalition in Mexico state with the Democratic Revolution Party, to which he belonged before breaking ranks in 2012 — after his second presidential defeat, which he also attributed to fraud — to form MORENA. An alliance between the two parties would have united the left behind a single office seeker. By doing so, he let the 19% of PRD votes slip right through his hands and helped PRI maintain their jewel of the crown: the State of Mexico.

Since President Enrique Peña Nieto won in 2012, the Mexican presidential elections of 2018 have had one clear contender: Andrés Manuel López Obrador. If AMLO wants to stop being the runner-up and to finally attain power in 2018, he needs to start showing a much more tolerant attitude and open mind. He needs to learn to negotiate rather than to impose.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is an IR lecturer and PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East.

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Venezuelan refugee crisis and how it is altering the surrounding regions

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Venezuela’s migration crisis has been in the news lately and recent UN polls show that nearly 2.3 million have already migrated from their homeland over the past few years. However, other estimates show a figure closer to four million Venezuelan immigrants.

This crisis is rapidly sinking its claws in the neighbouring countries and if the amount of people migrating keeps increasing, it might become the worst man-made disasters since the First and Second World Wars after the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian crisis gave birth to more than six million refugees, and although the number here is still around half of that toll, the Venezuelan crisis doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The inflation over there is nearly a million percent – a number so absurd that the common people around the world are not able to even grasp the sheer magnitude of the situations developing every day in this country. The minimum monthly wage is a few American dollars, putting essentials like food – particularly rations like chicken – into the category of luxurious items. The economy has shrunk by half in five years. To explain the extent of this downfall, Girish Gupta – founder of Data Drum and former investigative, multimedia journalist in Venezuela/LatAm – tweeted: If you’d bought a million dollars in Venezuela’s local currency when President Nicolás Maduro came to power in 2013, it’d now be worth $3.40. Diseases that were once overcome – like measles and diphtheria – are making a comeback. Infant mortality rates are going up while approximately 1.3 million refugees who have already escaped Venezuela were suffering from malnourishment (according to UN officials).

However, these are not the last of the Venezuelans’ problems; the nations to whom the refugees sought to escape to are closing their doors on their faces – literally. Sunday saw Ecuador closing border crossings with Colombia to people who don’t have passports. This was seen as a certain way to reduce the bulk of refugees from entering other countries as passports are fairly difficult to obtain amidst the economical and political chaos. Jonnayker Lien, a migrant standing outside the Peruvian border with his entire family said, “Imagine people like us who have sold everything, down to our beds, to come here, and they close the door on us. We don’t know where to sleep, and we don’t have money to go back.” Crisis broke out in the town of Pacaraima, north Brazil, after local throngs started struggling against the refugees and pushed them back to the border. Already a penurious town, the locals resent sharing their remaining resources with these migrants. However, even a strong military force could not stop these migrants from coming into Brazil. Peru had twenty thousand migrants arriving in the past week.

An emergency regional summit has been called by officials from Ecuador where Venezuela and its neighbours could deal with the crisis. Yukiko Iriyama, a representative in Colombia for the U.N. refugee agency said, “The capacity of the region is overwhelmed. The magnitude of the situation really requires a regional comprehensive approach.” The recently implemented passport checks by Peru and Ecuador aimed to reduce the flow of refugees into the countries. However, all it did was reduce the legal way of entering into these nations and increased the illegal border crossings.  To deal with this disaster and the refugee predicament, representatives from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will meet in Bogota next week. Christian Kruger, the head of Colombia’s migration authoritysaid in a statement, “The exodus of Venezuelan citizens is not a problem exclusive to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador or a single country. This is a regional problem and as such we must address it. Demanding passports from a nation that does not have them and whose government does not facilitate the issuance of this document is to encourage irregularity.” Peru is also calling a meeting at an individual level of the permanent council of the Organization of American States to discuss the migration.

The toll of migrants entering Colombia is around a million in fifteen months but nations like Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru are also receiving these refugees. Low skilled Venezuelans have flooded some Latin American job markets to find work and send money back home. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo that he will set up a UN team that will respond to the crisis. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Guterres “told him that he would put together an internal coordination mechanism to make sure that the UN regional response is well coordinated.” “This is something that is not uncommon in these types of crises,” he added. Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution suggested declaring this as a refugee crisis in order to seek help, saying, “It is up to the United Nations, together with the Organization of American States, to step up and recognize this problem as a refugee crisis so that the world can turn the proper attention to it and provide solutions.” He also added that none of the nations in the regionhave taken the initiative to provide a sustainable solution to the problem.

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Trump: The Symbol of America’s Isolation in the World

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The president of the United States, who came to power in 2016 with the slogan of “Reviving Washington’s Power”, has become the messenger of failure and defeat of his country in the West Asian region and in the international system. The U.S. numerous military and political defeats in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon were so outstanding that there’s no way Trump can brag about his achievements in the region.

On the other hand, many Democrats in the United States, and even the traditional Republicans, have been criticizing the President’s costly and barren foreign policy in West Asia. In such a situation, Trump attempts to attribute this failure to the country’s previous administrations and condemn them over what is happening in today’s world, especially in the West Asian region, and he blames Obama for Washington’s constant and extensive failures in this area.

Besides, Trump’s other projections about the hard conditions of the U.S. in West Asia are noteworthy. In his recent remarks, Donald Trump said that if he wasn’t at top of the U.S. political and executive equations, Iran would capture the Middle East (West Asia)! This is while Islamic Republic of Iran created stability in the West Asian region, and besides, has stood against the long-term, medium-term, and short-term and destructive goals of the United States and its allies in the region.

Trump’s strategic weakness in the West Asia is an important issue which can’t be easily overlooked. Of course this strategic weakness did exist during Obama’s presidency, but the truth is that it reached its peak during Trump’s presidency. And in the future, this weakness will bring severe blows to the United States.

The fact is that the strategic calculations of the United States in the West Asia region have all failed. And many of the pre-assumptions that Washington called them “strategic propositions”, have never turned into reality for some reasons, including the vigilance of the Resistance movement in the region. This is the reason why America is so confused in confronting the equations of West Asia.

Under such circumstances, the only way before the President of the United States is to leave the region and confess to his defeat; an issue that many American analysts and strategists have noted. It shouldn’t be forgotten that in spite of his campaign slogans for stopping the military intervention in the region, the current president of the United States has intensified conflicts and created constant security crises in West Asia.

The direct, perfect, and comprehensive support of Donald Trump for takfiri terrorists reflects this fact. Trump started his support for ISIL since the beginning of his presence at the White House in early 2017, and he stood for the terrorists until the fall of ISIL in Syria. Even now, Trump is attempting to revive terrorist and takfiri groups in Iraq and Syria.

Despite passing half of his presidency, Trump has claimed that the defeat in Yemen, Syria and Iraq was Obama’s legacy. There is no doubt that Obama and his two secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, played a major role in creating terrorist and takfiri groups (especially ISIL), and committed bloodshed in Syria and Iraq.

There is also little ambiguity in the strategic, operational and even tactical defeat of the Obama administration in the battlefields of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. However, Trump can’t deny his share in this defeat, and pretend as if he’s the messenger of the victory of the United States in these scenes! The fact is that Trump completed the military and political defeats of the United States in the West Asia region. Today, the United States is defeated in the battlefield, and can well see that its pieces had failed in these wars.

On the other hand, the White House has lost the political arena of the region. The failure of the United States in the Lebanese and Iraqi elections, on the one hand, and the popular support for the resistance groups in Yemen and Syria, has left Trump and his companions disappointed in the region. In such a situation, attributing the recent and ongoing defeats of the United States to the Obama administration is completely expectable, and at the same time, unacceptable!

Finally, we can see that just like Obama, George W Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan and Carter, Trump is stuck in this strategic miscalculation in the West Asian region. Undoubtedly, in his last days in power, Trump will also understand that there’s no way he can overcome this strategic weakness through Saudi and Emirati petrodollars.

However, it seems that the scope of Trump’s defeat in West Asia would be wider than the previous presidents of the United States. Undoubtedly, in the near future, Trump, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley will become the symbols of failure in the US foreign policy, especially in the West Asia. In other words, the president of the United States and his companions at the White House will have to admit to defeat in the West Asian region at a great expense, and this is exactly what frightens the American authorities.

first published in our partner Tehran Times

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Weather and White House Turmoil as Elections Loom

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Hurricane Michael wreaked havoc as it traversed the Florida panhandle.  The first Category 5 hurricane to hit the area since 1881 when records began, its 155 mph winds (only 5 mph short of Category 6) felled massive trees, blew away houses, collapsed buildings and left devastation in its wake.  Relatively fast moving at 14 mph, it was soon gone continuing as a Category 3 into neighboring Georgia and then further up its northeasterly path.  It seemed to signify a stamp of approval for the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on holding earth to a 1.5 degree Celsius warming issued a couple of days earlier.  We are at one degree now so storms can only be expected to get worse.

In northeastern Turkey, a 300-year old stone bridge disappeared overnight.  Villagers convinced it had been stolen called in the police.  Further investigation concluded it had been washed away by a flash flood caused by a sudden summer thunderstorm further upstream — clearly far more intense than in the previous three centuries.

Ever more powerful hurricanes, monsoons and forest fires point to a proliferation of extreme weather events that experts relate to global warming.  Yet President Donald Trump and his administration remain obdurate in climate change denial.

Thins are certainly warming up in the White House.  Nikki Haley announced her resignation in an amicable meeting with the president.  A staunch defender of many of Mr. Trump’s most egregious foreign policy changes, the UN Representative will be leaving at the end of the year to pursue opportunities in the private sector.  So said the announcement.  An astute and ambitious politician she has probably reassessed the costs versus benefits of remaining in a Trump administration.  Some tout her as a future presidential candidate.  Should she be successful she will be the first woman president, who also happens to be of Indian and Sikh ancestry.

The rap singer Kanye West visited the president in the Oval office.  A ten-minute rant/rap praising him was followed by a hug for which Mr. West ran round the wide desk that had been seemingly cleared of all paraphernalia for the performance.  He is one of the eight percent of blacks voting Republican.  Sporting the Trump trademark, Make-America-Great-Again red hat, he claimed it made him Superman, his favorite superhero.  And some suggested it was all further proof the place had gone insane.

A little over three weeks remain to the U.S. midterm elections on November 6th.  Their proximity is evidenced not by rallies or debates rather by the barrage of negative TV ads blasting opponents with accusations of shenanigans almost unworthy of a felon.  A couple of months of this and you lose any enthusiasm for voting.  Perhaps it is one reason why nearly half the electorate stays home.  Given such a backdrop, the furor over ‘Russian meddling’ in elections appears to be a trifle misplaced.  Others call the whole business a ‘witch hunt’ and state flatly the U.S. does the same.

The old idiom, ‘put your own house in order’ is particularly apt when we realize the beginning of this affair  was a Democratic National Committee email leak showing ‘the party’s leadership had worked to sabotage Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign’.  It resulted in the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Always fair, aboveboard elections?  Not bloody likely, as the British would say.  Given the rewards, it’s against human nature.

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