By Dr. Jose Z. Garcia, Professor of Government, New Mexico State University
National Election Issues
Elections and electoral reform dominated the news in November. At the national level, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) installed a new president (Jose Waldenberg), a new executive secretary (Felipe Solis Acero), and a Federal Electoral Tribunal (Trife) composed of 22 judges chosen from a list of 66 candidates put forward by the Supreme Court. The selection process removed the Tribunal, whose duties include determining the outcome of electoral disputes, from the executive branch. Only days after this event, however, a carefully negotiated accord between the major parties on election reform fell apart, and the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) used its majority in Congress to pass an amended version of the bill sent by President Zedillo. The action followed a lengthy debate between legislators of the PRI, the more conservative National Action Party, (Partido de Accion Nacional, PAN), and the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democratico, PRD) over the amount of expenditures allowable in the 1997 elections. The PAN argued the PRI’s proposal for four pesos per voter ($2.225 billion pesos, or $275 million dollars) was excessive, amounting to nearly the total public security budget of $2.4 billion pesos. PAN wanted to limit expenditures to 2.2 pesos per voter.
In late 1994, Zedillo had addressed Congress promising electoral reform in the areas of campaign financing, party expenditures, access to news media, and autonomy for electoral agencies. Six weeks later the four major parties signed an agreement to move forward. In his first state of the union address Zedillo continued his support, but stated he would leave it to the legislature to negotiate the specifics of legislation. Then just this past July,1996 the four major parties signed an accord that would modify 17 constitutional decrees and create 15 temporary ones. But that accord broke down at the stage of specifying concrete regulations. Among the differences between the accord and the legislation that finally passed:
- total campaign expenditures were raised by $100 million over the agreed amount
- the number of allowable candidates running in multiparty coalitions was reduced
- the formula allowing access to the news media was reduced to 30 percent equal time (down from 40), with 70 percent of access determined by proportions of the vote in prior elections.
- production of radio and TV programs was removed from the responsibility of IFE and given back to the parties.
- the charge for exceeding campaign spending limits was reduced to an “administrative error” down from a criminal offense
- a special commission empowered to audit party expenditures in campaigns was eliminated
- plans to allow millions of Mexicans living abroad to vote in presidential elections in the year 2000 was abandoned.
Municipal Elections in Mexico, Hidalgo, and Coahuila:
On November 10, about 3 million out of 8.4 million eligible voters participated in municipal elections in the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, and Coahuila. Out of 244 municipalities in all three states, the PRI lost 68. But the number of municipalities won by the PRI is deceptive, when one takes into account the relatively larger sizes of the cities taken over by the PAN. Indeed, when viewed this way, it appears the PAN is now in a highly competitive position in two of the three states. In percentage terms, opposition parties now govern over cities in Edomex (Estado de Mexico) that total 62.2 percent of the population of the state; in Hidalgo they rule over 11 percent; and in Coahuila they rule over 62 percent of the state population.
In Hidalgo the PRI won 74 out of 84 municipalities, the PRD won 7, including Tula de Allende, the PAN won 2, and the PT won one. In Coahuila, the PRI won 28 out of 38 municipalities, but they had controlled 35 until the elections. The PAN won five and the PRD won five. In Edomex, the PRI won 73 out of 122 municipalities while the PRD won 26, the PAN won 23 and the Green Party won one. Previously the PRI had controlled 108. Most tellingly however, was that of the 42 largest municipalities in the three states, the PRI won in 25, and lost 17 to the PAN and the PRD: the PAN won 12, and the PRD won 5. The elections were widely viewed as further evidence of serious erosion in the ranks of the PRI.
Following the elections PAN officials released a statement asserting that the party now governs in a total of 247 of the 2395 municipalities of the country (over 10%), with a population of over 34.5 million citizens, nearly 32 percent of the nation’s population. Aside from having elected governors in Chihuahua, Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Baja California, the party now governs in 14 of the 20 largest cities in the country.
PARTY POLITICS IN JUAREZ
Precinct Workers Chosen by PRI . From November 15-25, PRI leaders were chosen for the 772 party precincts (“seccionales”), to serve for three-year terms. 600 PRI workers assisted in the search for leaders. State PRI officials asserted they hoped the changes would be made in the field rather than at headquarters. Of particular importance were the selection of block leaders, of which only 40 percent were filled during the 1995 elections, according to state representative Pablo Israel Esparza, president of the municipal restructuring commission of the party. On November 30, 79 out of 196 delegates were chosen for the Municipal Political Council of the party, at a convention held for that purpose.
Juarez PAN Leader Replaced. In an atmosphere of deep division, elections were held on November 10 to replace Cd. Juarez party president Hector Mejia Gutierrez, who had been ousted as party leader a few weeks earlier when tensions surfaced between him and Juarez’ PANista Mayor Ramon Galindo. Jose Marquez Puentes was elected by a group of more than 600 party leaders at a convention. Marquez faced opposition from three other candidates for the job: Rosario Garcia de Blancas, Adalberto Balderrama Fernandez, and Juan Alvarez Medina. Balderrama and Alvarez were considered part of the pro-Mejia faction of the party, while the other two were part of the faction that eliminated Mejia. Marquez supporters denied, however, that Mayor Ramon Galindo and state party president Javier Corral Jurado (who were instrumental in Mejia’s ouster) were supporting Marquez. There are only 2037 members of the PAN in all of Juarez. Membership in a political party in Mexico, in contrast to the United States, requires among others, registration with the party and payment of dues much like membership in a labor union. Mexican voters do not designate their political party affiliation when registering to vote as is done in the United States.
Marquez announced plans to create more than 200 vacant subcommittees such that there will be one for each of the party’s 1000 precincts. Subcommittees will train party activitsts and improve communications with them, including a bimonthly newsletter. On Monday, November 18 Marquez announced he had chosen two of his opponents, Adalberto Balderrama and Juan Alvarez, for top jobs in the party, Liaison with Public Officials and Ideological Training, respectively. He stressed that party members from the different factions will be invited to participate, including former party leader Hector Mejia. The leadership of the local Party at the end of November was as follows:
Secretary general: Juanita Luna de Arrieta;
Public relations: Alfonso Arronte Dominguez;
Electoral action: Geronimo Arecco Lopez;
Ideological training: Juan Alvarez Medina
Liaison with officials: Adalberto Balderrama Fernandez
Organization: Jose Meraz Renteria
Youth: Armando Duran Alire
Presidents of the district subcommittees: Jose Luis Reyes, Adolfo Lopez Rodriguez, Ramon Devora, Gregorio Meza, Alberto Juan Torres, Carmen Reyes de Sanchez, Ricardo Martinez, Carlos Angulo Parra, Miguel Fernandez Iturriza, Juan Saldana Rodriguez, Manuel Rivero Rodriguez.
The new secretary general for the municipal PAN organization, Juanita Luna de Arrieta, asserted that dissidents within the PAN “damage the party” because they go beyond reasonable limits, polarize excessively, and are “either sick or infiltrators.” Expressing concern for the feelings of those ousted in the assembly, she stated, “we are not deeply divided. We are divided over the means by which we seek to win…Many left the assembly with resentments…but I hope all will return to take their place in the trenches because we need everyone we can get.”
Chihuahua State Politics and the Juarez Municipal Audit By a partisan vote of 15-7 the oversight committee of the state legislature in Chihuahua, and then on November 7, the legislature as a whole, (both controlled by the PRI), rejected the municipal audit report of expenditures for Cd. Juarez during 1995, claiming there were irregularities in the account. The period in question incorporated the last nine months of the administration of the late mayor, Francisco Villarreal and the first three months of the current mayor, Ramon Galindo, both of the PAN party. This was the first time in memory that the state legislature had questioned Cd. Juarez municipal expenditures. According to PAN officials the PRI-controlled legislature was extracting revenge for PAN’s actions, taken between 1992-1994, when PAN controlled the state legislature and questioned expenditures of 14 PRI mayors around the state, including those of the mayor of Chihuahua City.
Now the tables have turned and the PRI has retaken control of the legislature. In the 1992-1994 cases the oversight committee’s actions resulted in the indictments of 27 municipal officials. No indictments have been issued in the current case. State attorney general Arturo Chavez Chavez, however, may decide to investigate further to determine whether crimes may have been committed. Charges include:
- accusations that payments were made for goods totalling more than $10 million pesos without supporting documentation
- payments adding up to nearly $2 million pesos were made to municipal workers without receipts.
- payments were made to unknown providers totalling $1.48 million pesos
- one case of alleged corruption in which a public servant charged for services made to the city.
Since the total amount of funds allegedly misspent adds up to more than $15 million pesos, the accusations, if supported, could lead to criminal indictments. Mayor Ramon Galindo characterized the accusations as “mere gossip,” and said the honesty of the former mayor was “above reproach.” He added that the precedent established by the legislative action was “terrible,” since it amounts to “vindictiveness by the (PRI-controlled) state legislature.” The secretary of the oversight commission, Fernando Palma Gomez (PAN) challenged two PRI members to a public debate on each point of alleged irregularity, an offer not accepted by the PRI members of the commission. He asked them to explain why, before the accounting issue was decided by the commission in secret session, Juarez’ PRI leader, Hector Gonzalez Mocken, was announcing that the account would not be approved. Municipal treasurer Antonio Fernandez also accused the legislature of political motivations, and asserted that problems with the 1995 accounts were “miniscule,” amounting to nothing more than personal opinions.
On November 18, Governor Francisco Barrio Terrazas (PAN) stated he believed the state legislature would eventually approve the audit report since there was no serious evidence of wrongdoing and the commission had handled the audit report in a highly partisan way. Should the audit finally be rejected by the legislature, this would give everyone an “opportunity to look at the audits of previous years (when the PRI was in power in Cd. Juarez) to compare the size of anomalies today with those in the past.”
Sources: El Norte, Diario de Juarez