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Will Mexico Go Down the Populist Route in 2018?

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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In less than a year time Mexico will have its presidential election and the country may well elect leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as its new president. AMLO faces a weakened ruling party and a deeply divided National Action Party (PAN).

AMLO’s winning Mexico’s presidency on his third attempt since 2000 is a prospect that thrills many Mexicans and terrifies others. Mexico may now be ready for more drastic politics since majority of the population has stopped believing that either of the two political parties that have ruled Mexico, PAN and the Institutional Revolutionary Party, (PRI) will do anything different to change the current situation.

The PRI’s nominee whoever it will be, will be tainted by association with the current administration and the 71-year dirty baggage of the PRI regime; the likeliest candidate of the PAN, Margarita Zavala is the wife of a former president blamed for the upsurge of violence triggered by his clumsy crackdown on drugs. AMLO has ranted against privilege, corruption and what he calls the political establishment made up of every single political actor bar his newly created party, National Regeneration Movement, (MORENA). Sweep away all that and, according to him, Mexico will suddenly improve. Many others hear in that message the latent message of a charismatic populist who would only weaken institutions and roll back reforms.  

AMLO has capitalised the fact that people are fed up with corruption and he has presented himself an honest politician committed to cure Mexico of the cancer of corruption. His political career and performance though, show a different story. He has shown a common contempt for norms; separation of power and the rule of law. Obrador’s lack of respect for institutions and the easiness with which he is willing to discredit rules that do not suit him would make him an ineffective corruption-fighter. He has also been involved in several acts of corruption: René Bejarano, now a close supporter of AMLO again, was taped several years ago when he was the personal assistant of AMLO receiving enormous amount of money. He backed AMLO in both presidential elections of 2000 and 2006, and has now again made it public he is ready to work closely with him again; the finance minister of AMLO when he was the major of Mexico City, Gustavo Ponce, was also shown betting huge amounts of  public money in a casino in Las Vegas; Carlos Imaz, husband of Claudia Sheinbaum, the most likely candidate of AMLO for the governorship of Mexico City, was also taped being bribed by the businessman Carlos Ahumada; AMLO also received the continuous support of the Abarca family of Guerrero who were later involved in the Iguala incident where 48 students went missing and presumably killed; Ricardo Monreal, a prominent figure in Obrador’s newly created party, was also known for conceding millionaire contracts to the friends of his daughter, a total of 16 contracts for 27 million pesos to supply his administration of stationery material; in 2012, a conversation of Luis Acosta Bonino, a campaign strategist of AMLO, was leaked in which he said 6 million dollars would be more than enough to make sure AMLO won the elections; and the most recent case was the local deputy and ex-candidate of MORENA for municipal president in Veracruz, Eva Cadena Sandoval, who was caught taking a bribe of half a million pesos for AMLO.

AMLO created MORENA in 2014, and its launch came at the expense of his membership of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). MORENA is a one-man party, and AMLO is not willing to let anyone else dictate what he wants or what needs to be done. The creation of his own party will also enable him to run for president for as long as he likes. The past July elections in the state of Mexico have again put his worst qualities at the forefront: his inability to hide the most unappealing aspects of his persona for a long time; his personalism; and the structural limitations of his strategy. Following the loss of his candidate, Obrador blamed the defeat just like he did in 2006 and 2012 on electoral fraud. For him democracy is only democracy once him or anyone of his party is elected.  The loss of that election can only be blamed on himself and his inability to negotiate deals and put his personalism aside. One natural place for AMLO to look for allies would be his former home, the PRD. Teaming up in the State of Mexico would have delivered a 49% victory over the PRI candidate who got 34%. He cannot blame anyone for his lack of vision in that election, and this could also well be a forecast for the 2018 presidential election.

Coming up 3% points short in the State of Mexico left AMLO and his party with hone of the 31 governorships of the country and no access to potential funding. Under such conditions. If he is to win the presidency next year, tapping into voter outrage at graft, crime, and Donald Trump will not be enough. He will need to broaden his appeal and curtail his threats against and establishment that he sees as the mafia of power and that ironically AMLO was part of for nearly 40 years, first in the PRI and then in the PRD.

In a one-round election, AMLO would win with as little as 30% of the vote; if that happens, Mexico will embark upon a perilous political experiment. What would a presidency of AMLO look like? Just like with Trump and Brexit, the world will have to wait and see. For AMLO opponents in Mexico, there are 2 worst-case scenarios. One would be a northern version of Hugo Chávez who upon gaining power set to radically change institutions and concentrate power around himself. The other would be left-wing version of Donald Trump, who would go at politics like a solitary gunslinger without regard for counsel or consequences.

The fear of AMLO has triggered coalition talk by other parties, namely the PAN and the PRD, who have already teamed up at state level and have had a proven track of victories. If AMLO wants to win the presidency rather than go down as a self-proclaimed martyr of a so-called fraudulent system, he has to be able to convince the voters that he will be less like Hugo Chávez and Donald Trump and more like Brazilian Lula Da Silva. He also needs to rely on the entire left. His loss at the State of Mexico shows that a divided left will only continue losing. The electoral successes PRD has had by uniting with PAN also reduces AMLO’s ability to bully his former party leaders into supporting him. He would then have to do with more negotiation and less personalism. AMLO needs to somehow reconcile with the PRD and unite the left to have a real chance at victory.

AMLO is at heart a populist authoritarian and if he continues with his incendiary speech and non-democratic, authoritarian practices within his own party along with corruption and tainted alliances, he could easily lead voters to settle for unappealing but safer choices. Ultimately, candidates matter more than elections in Mexico, a PRI candidate who can show enough distance from the present administration and a solid career may yet be able to overcome the disaster of this administration. PAN, with or without the PRD need to deal first with its internal divisions just like the PRD, and for the perpetual candidate AMLO, his liabilities remain overwhelming and too serious to claim an easy victory in 2018. At the same time, it is also clear that whoever becomes Mexico’s next president will have little chance of changing the facts on the ground, particularly the unspeakable violence of the drug cartels and the endemic corruption of the Mexican political system despite empty, vague populist promises.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a politics and international relations tutor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. 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. Her research interests include: Democratisation processes, governance and theories of the state, contemporary Mexican politics, Latin American politics, political parties, international relations theories, contemporary USA-Latin America foreign policy.

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Americas

Murder of George Floyd – On Camera Murder by Neo Ku Klux Klan

M. Abdul Basit

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image credit: Flickr, Fibonacci Blue

Now that the doors of racism have been shut down by law, the de facto persecution of blacks carry on. The cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis officers is one of the many such cases. If the four racist cops could strangulate a handcuffed person on camera, one should be fearful to assume what could they be doing off camera. Until the lion learns how to write, every story will keep glorifying the hunter.

The persecution and segregation of colored people has been done since long. Gone are the days when Rosa Parks could be ordered to leave her seat on bus for a white. And gone should have been the days when Eugene Bull Connor could use state authority to subjugate unarmed protestors in Birmingham during Civil Rights Movement while being filmed on Television. George Floyd kept on begging to let the air in for he was suffocating.The racist cop told him to be easy while putting more pressure on his neck while Floyd laid down on ground with his hands cuffed behind his back. The four armed cops apparently could not find a better way to handle him except strangling him to death. Or perhaps they did not wish to.

The inhumane treatment, especially when done by state authorities, develop grievances in vulnerable communities. A liberal state is meant to treat everyone equally. When Jim Crow Laws were on a high and Ku Klux Klan started to target humans on basis of skin color, it led to the formation of violent groups in African Americans like Black Panther. Violence against particular groups cannot sustain for long in a developed world. When USA tries to proliferate liberal values across the world, it should not remain aloof that despite being the world’s oldest democracy, blacks are still victims of oppression in America.

The white supremacy is not a myth. The Minneapolis officers were able to kill a person while being filmed as well as begged by the civilians to do mercy on Floyd for he didn’t put any threat to them. The cops gave him a slow death without any shame like they were living in a pre-Lincoln era. Luckily, the heinous crime was filmed and all the cops have been terminated but it is likely that without being prosecuted for the cold-blooded murder, it may not give a lesson to other state authorities regarding misuse of their powers.

This is simply a Neo Ku Klux Klan where the Blacks are being oppressed on the basis of color and the murderers get a clean chit. A similar case happened in 2014 when Eric Garner was strangulated when he kept saying “I can’t breathe” while dying and the white officers didn’t face federal charges despite being filmed doing the murder. In the same year, a 12 year old black boy Tamir Rice was carrying a toy gun and he was killed by a white cop. In 2016, Philando Castile was murdered in his car when the situation could be handled pacifically but the police used preemptive measure to kill him right away. There are many cases in recent past that make it evident that The United States of America has not fixed the problem of Ku Klux Klan; rather it is a neo Ku Klux Klan that is de facto segregating and oppressing the colored community. One in every 1000 black males can expect to die at the hands of police in USA.

The Neo Ku Klux Klan needs to be stopped. State institutions must function as they are supposed to perform and not to deal humans with discrimination depending on what color of skin they carry on their flesh. Racism should have been buried when President Kennedy got successful in calling civil rights a moral cause. But racism thrives till today and now with President Donald Trump, it is far from possible to end racism in American society when he himself dehumanizes the blacks. If the state institutions as well as the public does not proactively try to resolve the issues that are a direct threat to human security when it comes to black lives, the dreams of Equality, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness will remain a hoax.

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What do Donald Trump and ultra-conservative Pakistani imams have in common?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Authors: James M. Dorsey and Tehmina Qureshi*

US President Donald J. Trump and ultra-conservative Pakistani religious scholars may have more in common than either would want to admit: a belief that congregation is an essential pillar of prayer irrespective of public health concerns.

Mr. Trump, however, may wish that he had the kind of less polarized and/or more compliant audience that Pakistani clerics address.

Scores of religious leaders and groups in the United States have sought to protect their communities by advocating virtual rather than physical congregation at the time of a pandemic in which the coronavirus has yet to be brought under control.

Religious authorities in much of the Muslim world, Pakistan being the exception that proves the rule, have heeded government instructions and medical and public health advice.

That advice ranged from the closure of mosques to bans on social gatherings that precluded traditional iftar meals breaking the Ramadan fast and celebrations of this week’s end of the holy month to Saudi Arabia’s suspension of the umrah, the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca and possibly the haj too.

Leaving aside the question whether he has the legal power to do so, Mr. Trump vowed to overrule governors who refused to open houses of worship, noting that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had issued guidelines that included physical distancing.

The move designed to play to Mr. Trump’s Evangelist voter base received a mixed reception among American faith communities.

It appealed to those segments of the community with an unqualified belief in God’s ability and will to protect and that often are steeped in notions of Christian manhood that have deep roots in American Evangelism and were boosted by the 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Towers and the Pentagon in Washington.

Mr. Trump’s recognition of prayer as an “essential” societal activity further drew a line intended to give houses of worship autonomy in an environment in which state intrusion into people’s lives has expanded greatly in a bid to fight the pandemic.

In that sense, the president was fighting a battle similar to that of Pakistani Sunni and Shia Muslim leaders who rejected a total closure of mosques but were willing to accept guidance on issues such as physical distancing.

The leaders see mosques “as spaces where you cultivate  and express a communal religious identity that is very central to…their vision of the Pakistani state,” said a Pakistani Islamic scholar.

The clerics’ determination to retain control of religious spaces was reinforced by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s flip flops that resembled Mr. Trump’s zig zags.

Mr. Khan initially sought to appeal to religious circles by meeting in the early days of the pandemic with Maulana Tariq Jameel, a leader of Tablighi Jamaat, who initially denied the contagious aspect of the virus.

Mr. Jameel reversed course and embraced physical distancing after his movement’s mass gatherings in Pakistan, Malaysia, India and Indonesia turned into super spreaders of the coronavirus.

Mr. Khan’s government further complicated issues by initially agreeing with religious leaders on a division of labour that would have empowered the clerics to advise their followers to stay at home, avoid congregational prayer and maintain physical distancing and then jumping the gun to announce the measures without coordination.

Mosques in major Pakistani cities were packed in recent days, despite religious leaders paying lip service to physical distancing, in a reflection of the degree to which ultra-conservatism has woven itself into the fabric of Pakistani society and in stark contrast to Saudi Arabia’s pre-emptive response to the health crisis.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled against government lockdowns, suggesting that the coronavirus was not a pandemic. Religious leaders have since backed away from their acceptance of physical distancing, demanding that the advice be abandoned.

Mr. Trump’s recognition of prayer as essential aligned itself with notions of concepts of religious freedom promoted by his administration, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the lead, that in effect serve to legitimize discrimination against minorities of various stripes.

Few doubt that Mr. Trump made his move with an eye on the US presidential election in November. Mr. Trump was embarking on a road on which mainstream ultra-conservative Pakistani clerics were also travelling.

The clerics remained silent when Ahmadis, a sect viewed as heretic by mainstream Muslims, were excluded from a national commission created by the government earlier this month to promote religious tolerance and counter persecution of minorities.

Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry barred inclusion of Ahmadis, who are among Pakistan’s most discriminated minorities, on grounds that they did not qualify as a minority and refuse to recognize the country’s constitution.

A 1974 amendment of the constitution bars Ahmadis from identifying themselves as Muslims because they do not recognize Mohammed as the last prophet.

Compared to the polarising environment that Mr. Trump operates in and likes to entrench, Pakistani clerics have it a lot easier. Except for liberals and human rights activists, few in Pakistan are willing to stand up for Ahmadi rights.

Moreover, the government shied away from imposing its will on the religious establishment during the pandemic as did the military, which built quarantine centres in various cities and helped local authorities implement a lockdown.

Pakistan lacks truly influential, more liberal religious voices in the mould of for example Reverend Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches that groups African-American denominations, the mainline church and the Greek Orthodox Church.

“We listen to communities of colour, and many of our congregations’ people are engaged in representing refugees and immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, even seniors, they’re saying, why the urgency?” Mr. DeYoung said in response to Mr. Trump’s push.

“They’re…directly affected. They’re actually afraid in many cases to go into group gatherings…We feel that we need to make our decisions based on good science and the recommendations of our health department,” the reverend added.

Mr. DeYoung was joined by his Muslim counterparts in contrast to their Pakistani brethren.

“American Muslim scholars and community leaders have already determined that mosques will not be open in the near future because of the health concerns brought on by the pandemic. That’s a determination for them to make not for the president to make,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, the largest US Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.

To be sure, the United States and Pakistan are vastly different countries. Pakistan has been hard hit by the pandemic with 55,657 cases of infection to date and 1,155 deaths. Yet, that is  a far cry from the United States’ 1,613,324 cases and 96,659 deaths.

Pakistan, nonetheless, saw its number of cases quadruple during the month of Ramadan and the rate of new infections jump by 30 percent in the last week as the holy month neared its end .

Yet, when it comes to employing religion to entrench power at the cost of striking a balance between faith and science, Mr. Trump and Pakistani religious scholars share the kind of opportunism and worldview that serve their short-term interests irrespective of the cost to human life and potentially to already battered economies.

*Tehmina Qureshi is a multi-platform journalist and editorial writer at Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper.

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COVID-19’s Weakness Is Its Strength

Rich Berdan

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About 4/5ths or 80% of the deaths come from 1/5th or 20% of the Canadian population. Our seniors and those living in long-term care facilities have been held with obscure and unregulated measures to say the least. Conversely, roughly 1/5th or 20% of the deaths have come from 4/5th or 80% of the population that are younger than or senior community and perhaps some underlying health issues. While not short of devastating to families affected, it is roughly a thousand deaths in 80% of the population or about 1 in 40,000 deaths in this sizeable wedge of our communities. The mortalities equate to a relatively small number of 2.5 per deaths for every 100,000 Canadians.

In contrast, the top 5 leading causes of death in Canada per 100,000 are:

  1. Cancer: 68,000 deaths or 207.7 per 100,000
  2. Heart Disease: 50,000 deaths or 152.8 per 100,000
  3. Cerebrovascular Disease: 14,000 deaths or 42.3 per 100,000
  4. Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases: 10,000 deaths or 30.0 per 100,000
  5. Accidents: 9,700 deaths or 29.5 per 100,000

In 2018 there were 4,157 suicides in Canada: making it the 9th leading cause of death behind Alzheimer’s Disease. With an economy currently on life support in some sectors, the number of suicides will likely climb higher this year as people succumb to job loss, the inability to pay their mortgage or credit loans, and bankruptcies. In the last month alone, there have been nine spouses murdered in domestic violence and likely thousands of cases of abuse and violence in family homes going unreported.

While the initial unknowns and actions around the pandemic were undoubtedly justified, Canada and the world should be better equipped to understand what is necessary to sustain a more robust economy if there is indeed a second wave of the virus. The most dangerous characteristic of COVID-19 is its weakness to kill. Unlike more deadly viruses that dispatch the host quickly and have a tapered prospect to vault to others and dies out, COVID-19 is carried by asymptomatic humans who unknowingly infect those most vulnerable to the illness.

The best solution following a crippling downturn in the market from the first wave will not be a nation-wide shutdown in the next go around. It would rather be a laser focus to take care of our seniors, specifically in our long-term care facilities, and self-isolate our most at-risk population and those with underlying medical issues. One must wonder how the leading causes of death in Canada will pop well above the number of COVID-19 related deaths with postponed cancer treatments and the like over the year.

One then must also examine whether the prolonged lockdowns and restrictions throughout the country, not to mention the crippling debt load and taxes to ensue, was the best reaction overall. It is safe to say, lives were saved through physical distancing practices, and the sacrificial deeds by individuals taking coronavirus very seriously was prudent. If only intense attention were placed on long-term care facilities during the onset, Canada would have come out relatively unscathed by the pandemic.

A full financial recovery will be painful for many, and it will likely take several years to see some semblance to a roaring economy. We do know many life savings for retirement have withered, numerous sectors in the marketplace. Such areas as automotive, travel, hospitality, and oil and gas will not bounce back any time soon, and many Canadians will never return to the jobs they once worked.

It is also apparent through this pandemic that if you have an alternative opinion, one is quickly shunned or dismissed as irresponsible if you are not a medical professional or virologist. Specifically, predicting models of death or advocating ever-changing protective measures or restrictions that shifts the goalposts almost daily.

Rule changes and lockdowns are more readily accepted when one’s income stream is uninterrupted. However, it is a far different story for those on the cusp of their business dissolving in debt or a neighbor prevented from earning a living and placed in the dire predicament in having to choose between paying their rent or buying groceries to feed the kids.

The effects of COVID-19 are far-reaching today and will be far-lasting tomorrow. One thing for sure, the adversity we have all faced through the pandemic has introduced us to ourselves.

From our partner RIAC

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