05 October 2008
Guerrero´s Sunday votes a litmus test for governor
BY DAVID AGREN
Residents of the southern state of Guerrero head to the polls on Sunday in legislative and municipal elections. But rather than being just your run-of-the-mill local political process, the elections are shaping up as a referendum on Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca´s administration <00AD>- and even one on his Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, itself.
Torreblanca rode to power in 2005 on a wave of discontent that also swept the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, out of office after 75 years of oppressive rule in the impoverished state.
The Acapulco retailing magnate ran for PRD on an agenda of change in what is one of the republic´s most marginalized, underdeveloped and conflictive states - a place where 40 percent of the homes have dirt floors, 42 percent of the population is illiterate and the murder rate is double that of the national average, according to federal government statistics.
"The election of Zeferino Torreblanca was historic," said human rights lawyer Mario Patrón, who worked in the La Montaña region of Guerrero until recently.
"After more than 75 years of PRI rule, the civil society took to the streets and voted. There were high expectations," Patrón said.
Guererro residents overwhelming opted for turfing the long-ruling incumbent party - not unlike what had occurred on the federal level five years earlier - in a result that one national broadsheet welcomed as, "Moving toward the end of the outlaw Mexico."
But local observers say that the initial euphoria diminished quickly, as few of the expectations that people had - corruption being reduced, education and social programs being fixed, and oppressive governance being stamped out, for instance - began to materialize.
"They´ve just reproduced the same old practices and the same governing policies," Patrón said. "What we have is power being alternated. There´s been a change of colors, but there has not been a transition."
Ironically - but perhaps unsurprisingly, given the left-wing PRD´s divisions stemming from internal elections both nationally and in Guerrero earlier this year - many of the ballots that could be cast against the PRD are expected to come from disaffected party members, who differ with the governor on policy and party politics.
Some in the PRD predict a humbling at the polls for their party, which is expected to lose seats in the state legislature and could lose numerous municipal races - perhaps most embarrassingly in Acapulco, the state´s largest municipality.
"There´s no possibility of the PRD keeping its majority in the legislature," Alvaro Leyva Reyes, a former campaign coordinator for Torreblanca, told the newspaper El Universal.
Making things even tougher, the PRD is now battling a rejuvenated PRI that has been winning local-level elections nationwide over the past two years, and has shown unity in Guerrero after previously being torn apart by infighting there.
Torreblanca, meanwhile, has drawn the ire of some factions of his party for not adequately financially supporting Andrés Manuel López Obrador´s alternative government, as well as working cooperatively with the PAN administration of President Felipe Calderón.
Torreblanca also has butted heads with the PRD mayor of Acapulco, Félix Salgado Macedonio, according to José Luis Rosales, director of the Rural Development Institute at the Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero.
Salgado has accused Torreblanca of sending that municipality inadequate resources for social programs and urban development projects and described the governor as "PANísta to the core," according to Rosales.
With the PRD stumbling, political observers predict a strong showing from the PRI, which sent its big guns to campaign in Guerrero.
Party president Beatriz Paredes and State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto both made appearances. In Acapulco last Sunday, Paredes described the PRI as united and agents of change.
Patrón, the human rights lawyer, expressed skepticism over the PRI´s pledges to carry out change, but acknowledged that the party was on the rebound in his state.
"The PRI is in the process of reconstruction, and it´s most likely that it will win various municipal governments [in Guerrero]," he said. "It´s starting to regain ground, but this isn´t a result of PRI policies. It´s a consequence of the image of poor governance by the PRD."