07 April 2006

PAN courts young voters


National Action Party candidate Felipe Calderon works the crowd at a youth rally in Tepatitlan de Morelos, Jalisco last Sunday.

Story by : David Agren

Four young breakdancers, dubbed the Beat Boys, performed to Kool & The Gang's "Get Down On It" at a National Action Party (PAN) youth rally in Tepatitlán de Morelos, Jalisco last Sunday, briefly enlivening the campaign headed by presidential hopeful Felipe Calderon - a man jaded members of the Mexican media covering the event described as lacking "charisma."

"He's a gray candidate," said El Universal reporter Sergio Javier Jimenez, using a Spanish expression for dull.

But on a campaign swing last weekend through the PAN heartland of Los Altos, a semi-arid region northeast of Guadalajara famous for tequila and ranching, Calderon scheduled a rally for young voters, an effort to claim the nearly 60 percent of Mexico's youth vote that PAN President Vicente Fox captured in the 2000 election. And while the press views Calderon as non-charismatic, he courts young voters through rallies, appearances on youth-oriented media programs and by offering an online video game that features the PAN candidate slaying dinosaurs - an unmistakable dig at old-school Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) operatives.

To the sounds of a specially-made pop track - of a somewhat more contemporary nature than Kool & The Gang - Calderon rushed into the Auditorio Morelos with less flash than the Beat Boys, although he drew a far more enthusiastic response than the pride of Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco. An especially rowdy section called out soccer chants, substituting, "Felipe," for the names of popular club teams.

Although not sporting ripped jeans, stud earrings or an "I'm too cool for you" attitude like the Beat Boys, the PAN candidate struck his own rebellious note. His campaign tour bus bears the slogan, "The disobedient son," a reference to his spats with President Fox, Calderon's upset victory over former interior minister Santiago Creel, the perceived party favorite, and the candidate's relative youth; he's just 43 years old.

The slogan fails to describe Calderon's straight-laced upbringing, though. The Harvard-educated son of an early PAN leader worked his way up through the party apparatus, serving as a federal diputado and later energy secretary. His wife previously sat in Mexico's Congress.

The PAN campaign arrived riding high in the polls - well, at least in one - which pegged support for Felipe Calderon at 36 percent, two points better than Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The former Mexico City mayor laughed off the results, but not before attacking the poll and pollster's integrity. No one in the press entourage believed the poll either. Two subsequent polls, though, showed the race tightening.

Speaking to a young audience clad in white party T-shirts, the Michoacan native passed over talking about the poll, although his campaign team passed out flyers highlighting the PAN's sudden surge. Likewise, he said little about the PAN's current bogeyman, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a leader some Mexicans accuse of secretly backing Lopez Obrador. Some attendees, however, spouted off on both Lopez Obrador and Chavez.

"Peje (Lopez Obrador) ... wants to turn Mexico into a socialist/communist country like his allies Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez," said Oscar Hernandez Zamora, 24, a Universidad de Guadalajara student.

Without mentioning the names of the other candidates, Calderon rebuked the PRD and PRI platforms, saying, "The world's changing and Mexico has to as well, in order to stay competitive."

Virtually everyone in the audience, waving PAN branded flags with the slogan, "Felipe Calderon, so we live better," reacted positively to the statement, or at least politely applauded - especially Jesus de Jose Galavis Ramirez, a business student at UNAM in Mexico City.

"We don't want a country like it was prior to 2000."

Calderon, wearing a blue shirt with a PAN logo and dress slacks, spoke like a teacher, delivering a brief history lesson on "a past you don't know very well.

"You have two choices: The past or the future," he said.

"The past represents PRI corruption."

He spelled out a grim tale of graft and misdeeds, starting with the bloody and inglorious reign of former president Luis Echevarria followed by the economic mismanagement of former president Jose Lopez Portillo, infamous for his spur-of-the-moment bank nationalization, and finally - every non-PRI politician's favorite whipping boy - former president Carlos Salinas, who left office on the eve of Mexico's last peso crash.

The audience - perhaps barely old enough to remember Salinas' administration - lustily booed the former president's name.

A wise-cracking motorist, passing by the Auditorio Morelos, showing a widely-held disdain for the entire political process, chortled: "La gente le pasa por una torta" (the people are lining up for a sandwich)," a reference to the PRI tradition of luring potential voters to rallies with promises of sandwiches and soft drinks before escorting the beneficiaries to polling stations. The practice continues in parts of Mexico. The PRD has resorted to similar, if somewhat less nefarious, methods too. Teachers at the Universidad de Guadalajara (a PRD hotbed) have dismissed classes early so students could attend Lopez Obrador rallies in the Guadalajara area and Ciudad Guzman.

Talk of giveaways riled some panistas, who said their party eschews such behavior.

"No one was herded in here," Jose de Jesus Galavis Ramirez said.

"We want people to come voluntarily."

Calderon promised less than his leftwing rival - PAN supporters regularly mock Lopez Obrador for pledging to lower the prices of gasoline and electricity. The panista, though, made a few pledges in Tepatitlan - all targeted at issues of importance to young voters, like offering businesses hiring people under age 28 a one-year vacation from IMSS payments and providing more money for jobs and education. He even promised - like Lopez Obrador - to clean up Lake Chapala.

Mostly, though, he spoke of change, not unlike President Fox, who raised expectations for a gobierno de cambio (government of change), but failed to completely deliver due to poor political management and opposition from intransigent PRI and PRD lawmakers.

The rally ended with a lunch of carnitas washed down with complimentary tequila coolers. A 12-piece mariachi band in wine-colored costumes entertained until Calderon took the stage. He delivered a stirring, but off-key rendition of "Sangre Caliente (Hot Blood)," a tale of anger and revenge, perfect for a bravado-spewing politician hitting the warpath. Based on audience reaction, it made him temporarily cooler, or at least more bad - in a cool way - than the Beat Boys.

From the Guadalajara Colony Reporter, April 8, 2006.

1 comment:

Dave Miller said...

Thank you David for your work. I stumbled upon your blog by accident and I am glad I did. As one who also spends considerable time in Mexico, I value your insight into what goes on in Mexico. Your reporting has helped keep me better informed.