11 May 2012

Peña Nieto booed out of the Ibero

Peña Nieto lampooned as Salinas

They booed upon Enrique Peña Nieto's arrival at the Universidad Iberoamericana May 11. They screamed, "Out," then, "Out with the PRI," and even, "Killer." When Peña Nieto finished, the assembled students chased after him chanting, "Coward," forcing him to take refuge in a university restroom.

Peña Nieto, former governor of Mexico state, previously canceled twice on the organizers of the event, ironically titled, "Good Ibero Citizen." His reception and rough ride throughout the nearly two-hour encounter explains why.

PRI supporters in the audience clutched signs and applauded, but were drowned out by students covering their faces with masks of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari – who they allege is the brains behind Peña Nieto. Others held banners invoking controversies such as the 2006 crackdown in Atenco and, "Feminicidios," the unsolved murders of women, which critics allege is worse in Mexico state than Ciudad Juárez – something Peña Nieto denied and said was taken serious by his 2005-2011 administration.

The presidential frontrunner – up by 23 points in the May 11 Milenio-GEA/ISA tracking poll – seemed to take all of the jeers and questions in stride, politely responding, never losing his cool and even addressing questioners by name.

It marked the first public demonstrations of discontent with Peña Nieto, whose campaign had been calm and without incidents – until May 11.

But it also marked an escalation the bitter feud between the PRI and the Mexican left and the emergence of a two-man race between Peña Nieto and López Obrador – with Peña Nieto still miles ahead.

It's a natural polarization: the Mexican left hates Salinas (as do many PAN members not in the Jefe Diego faction of the party) for his privatizations and "neo-liberal policies – not to mention allegedly stealing the 1988 election.

Left-wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose campaign appears to be displacing the PAN for second place, unloaded on Peña Nieto in the May 6 debate and has focused his attacks on the nation's TV industry and the PRI – even though he spent much of the past six years belittling President Felipe Calderón as "spurious" and accusing the PAN president of winning a rigged 2006 election.

Some analysts had said prior to the campaign that López Obrador was aiming for a one-on-one, good-vs-evil showdown with Peña Nieto and the PRI. It appears to be emerging.

For its part, the PRI has accused PRD operatives and an unnamed Ibero professor of sabotaging the appearance – much the way the PAN has accused the PRI of planting people to sabotage appearances by its candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota. (Recall the quesadilla stand fiasco in Tres Marías on the road to Cuernavaca.) Party president Joaquín Coldwell – perhaps oblivious to the allegations of past PRI repression being protested – accused the demonstrators of showing, "intolerance."

The encounter at the Ibero followed a morning of questioning from MVS Radio host Carmen Aristegui, who has been scathing in her assessments of the journalistic practices of Mexico's TV industry.

Peña Nieto – showing a willingness to now face tough audiences after an earlier aversion to controversial circumstances – said he had no special relationships with Televisa, the country's dominant broadcaster. He then went to war with López Obrador for supposedly spending big to become known during his 2000-2005 administration as Mexico City mayor. Peña Nieto complained that the mayor of Mexico City mayor has an unfair advantage since media outlets in the capital are in effect national media outlets. He mentioned López Obrador's early morning press conferences as something unseemly, inferring there was something wrong with a politician smartly scheduling media events for a time that would allow the message to reach a mass audience – free of charge.

Peña Nieto, despite being a little-known provincial politician in 2005, somehow gained better name recognition than that of current Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard. López Obrador has stated flatly that Televisa is attempting to impose its preferred candidate on the country – and has the power to do so since TV is so influential in Mexico, where more homes have television set than a fridge, according to the last census.

Peña Nieto also denied having any special relationship with Salinas and, oddly, said the same of his old boss, Arturo Montiel, former governor of Mexico state and a man even PRI supporters talk of with distain.

The fallout of the Ibero appearance remains uncertain, along with the media spin. More likely is that the campaign is becoming a two-man race with López Obrador staking his claim as the preferred alternative for those seeking to block Peña Nieto and the PRI.

-- Updates can be found on Twitter: @el_reportero

07 May 2012

The Debate, winners and losers

The IFE edecán



The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate entered the debate with a 20-point lead and nothing happened to impact that, even though he took repeated shots from from his two main opponents.

He left many of his thoughts on serious matters unfinished, said political science professor Aldo Muñoz Armenta of the Autonomous University of Mexico State, but none of that will hurt Peña Nieto since he adequately defended himself and had no major gaffes.

In effect: Peña Nieto wins the debate by not losing and his 20-point lead should remain in tact, Muñoz said.

A poll from El Universal gave him the win in the debate – with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, representing three left-wing parties, finishing second; Gabriel Quadri of the New Alliance placing third and Josefina Vázquez Mota of the governing National Action Party (PAN) bringing up the rear.

Anyone looking for gaffes or a repeat of the Guadalajara International Book Fair fiasco – when he couldn't name three books – was undoubtedly disappointed. The amateur hour antics of the pre-campaign period appear to be history. Somebody from the PRI campaign presumably changed the password on his daughter's Twitter account to prevent intemperate tweets, too.

Peña Nieto came in well-coached and while not especially smooth, again, his performance was sufficient.

Peña Nieto's defence of his 2005-2011 term in Mexico state seemed adequate, if not entirely convincing – although enough Mexican voters really do seem convinced that he really did complete the 608 public works projects that he's built his campaign platform on. Just don't ask anyone at a PRI rally try naming one – they usually can't.

Attempts by opponents to revive the memories of PRI dinosaurs seemed to have little impact, too.

If this synopsis seems boring, that's because Peña Nieto's performance was boring – and that's okay for him: it keeps him in the lead by a large margin.


The New Alliance party candidate had nowhere to go, but up – and he soared. He spoke directly and on the issues. He challenged his rivals over policy issues – such as energy subsidies, over which he disagreed with López Obrador – and even chastised the other candidates crushing disinterest in the environment (his main cause) by taking the segment on that topic to attack each other.

Quadri only needs two percent of the vote for the New Alliance to maintain its registration. His strong campaign performance all but assures that. The Quadri campaign now moves from being novelty news – the unveiling of the Quadri combi; his complaining about the bulletproof Volkswagen Jetta given to him by presidential security; no one appearing when he spoke at the World Economic Forum, to name three headlines – to someone to be taken halfway serious. Of course, there's no hope in hell of him winning the election. He might make a good environment minister in a PRI government, though.

If there's a flaw with Quadri, it's his party affiliation

The New Alliance does the political bidding for thew SNTE teachers' union and its boss Elba Esther Gordillo. She effectively owns the New Alliance and assigns its candidacies to her children and grandchildren.

To paraphrase what a friend tweeted during the debate: Quadri is turning in a strong performance, but his party ...


Thanks to Quadri's performance, the New Alliance should obtain the two-percent of the vote necessary for maintaining its registration. This means collecting a share of the more than $3 billion in public subsidies showered on political parties by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) over the past 12 years. It also means having political positions for SNTE boss Elba Esther Gordillo to give her children and relatives. Daughter Mónica Arriola and son-in-law Fernando González are running for Senate seats in Chiapas and Sinaloa respectively. A grandson is running for the Mexico City Assembly.

Gordillo's kin might have had a better shot of being elected had the New Alliance-PRI electoral alliance not unravelled due to priístas (mostly in states without a sitting PRI governor to impose order) revolting against the handing over of too many candidacies to a junior partner. Quadri's improving candidacy makes that history moot, although the Muñoz, the political science professor and labour expert, says the teachers are deft political operators and make deals to swing local races in favour of whatever candidate suits their purposes.


The model with the cards, deciding the order the candidates would speak in, stole the show – or, more aptly, her revealing attire did, or, as the AP put it: no one was looking at the urn she was carrying. Certainly Quadri wasn't looking at the urn. As a female friend quipped on Facebook, under a photo of the model: They're more fake than the candidates.

Julia Orayen has posed for playboy and now has a new lease on her modelling life thanks to whoever hired her (apparently an IFE contractor) to work a supposedly serious political function while wearing that dress.



AMLO came out with guns blazing, even though he's been speaking of peace and love during his campaign. He invoked characters from the distant past such as General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who was president of Mexico 11 times during his calamitous career. More recent characters included former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a favourite whipping boy of non-PRI politicians, and Arturo Montiel, Peña Nieto's predecessor and former boss in the Mexico state governor's office.

Political analyst Fernando Dworak said AMLO had a discourse still stuck in the 1990s. That was especially obvious when AMLO brought up the scandalous banking bailout Fobaproa.

Invoking Salinas and Fobaproa incited outrage the first time López Obrador ran for president in 2006, but it would seem less so now. Equally uncertain is the impact of López Obrador alleging that the broadcasting industry is imposing its candidate (Peña Nieto) on the country or his railing against the country's privileged elite. (Even if he's correct.)

He delivered the exchange of the night. When Peña Nieto countered allegations made against PRI dinosaurs by bringing up the case of René Bejarando – the ace DF organizer caught stuffing bills into a briefcase – AMLO responded: Bejarano went to jail, unlike any priístas.

His performance makes it likely that he'll overtake ...



The PAN candidate bet heavily on the debate rescuing her campaign. Given those kinds of stakes, she fell short in the debate, even though some in an audience convened by the Reforma newspaper ranked her highly – drawing ridicule from Twitter users about what debate they were watching.

Like AMLO, she went on the attack. She brought up the Coahuila debt situation. She brought up the Mexico state debt – something Peña Nieto refuted. She also brought up the fib from Peña Nieto's informe (state-of-the-state address) that the homicide rate fell 50% in Mexico state between 2005 and 2010. (Peña Nieto has since retracted the claim.)

But it's uncertain if going negative has helped Vázquez Mota so far in the campaign – and it's unlikely going negative in the debates will help any more. She appeared stiff during the debate and clumsily moved to address topics she felt important – such as her carrying on about Pemex and the CFE near the end.

Her campaign needed a miracle – which former President Vicente Fox said was necessary and in which he believes. It didn't arrive last night.

06 May 2012

The Quadri combi shifts into high gear

Nueva Alianza rally in Morelia

Talk about a revelation!

Gabriel Quadri, the man polling one percent and representing a party belonging to the powerful SNTE teachers union, cleaned up in the first presidential debate by talking issues.

His performance was reminiscent of 2006, when Patricia Mercado of the now-defunct Alternativa spoke of issues such as gay rights, equality, abortion and drug legalization – all as her opponents attacked each other and ignored her.

Her party won two percent in the election that year, enough for it to survive until the 2009 midterms and elect five lawmakers in Congress. (A civil war ultimately did in the Alternativa, renamed PSD by the anti-Mercado victors) It's survival also meant that it collected tens of millions of dollars in subsidies that are showered on Mexican political parties.

Here's my two cents on Quadri's performance – and let it be said that the "edecán" (the model in the suggestive dress at the beginning of the event) would probably win the most votes for highlight of the night.

Quadri entered the debate with low expectations. He was polling roughly one percent and making headlines by starting his campaign by reef diving in Veracruz and being offered a bulletproof Volkswagen Jetta by presidential security – his campaign was deemed that insignificant. He later ditched the Jetta for a turquoise-coloured Volkswagen van – the colours of his Nueva Alianza party, which draws its name and logo from the defunct Canadian Alliance.

Yet he stole the show.

He especially shone when tackling the issue of energy subsidies, saying correctly that the country spends more money on making gasoline cheap than alleviating poverty through the oft-acclaimed Oportunidades program – meaning the rich collect most of the cash. He later attacked the "segundo pisos," the elevated express lanes in Mexico City and the State of Mexico, saying they benefitted a privileged group: motorists – the same group benefitting from all the toll roads built by Peña Nieto in the State of Mexico, part of the 608 public works projects he takes credit for in his home state.

Quadri did some of SNTE boss Elba Esther Gordillo's dirty work during the debate, when he blasted the radicals in the "normales" (teacher training colleges) who are "La Maestra's" most bitter enemies.

He will likely surpass the two percent threshold, guaranteeing survival for the Nueva Alianza. It also means seats in the Congress and Senate for the party – and, should the vote tally rise, seats for Gordillo's relatives. Gordillo's daughter is running for the Senate in Chiapas, her son-in-law is running for the Senate in Sinaloa and her grandson is on the proportional representation list for the lower house.

It must be said that Quadri looked like a marvel compared to the Nueva Alianza's 2006 candidate Roberto Campa, who scowled through much of the first debate that year and repeatedly attacked PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo – the man who ousted Gordillo from the PRI.

It also must be said that he won – and no one was betting on that.