Mexico is heading toward crucial elections on July 1st at a moment of great internal distress and international pressure.
Nationwide, violence is at an all time high, systemic impunity continues to reign, and confidence in governing institutions is at an all time low. At the same time, Mexico faces open disrespect and hostility from a racist U.S. president who has replaced traditional bi-national diplomacy with threats, bullying and lies. It is time for friends of Mexico to step up.
Mexico’s 2018 elections are important in traditional electoral terms. From the perspective of human rights defenders, they also provide a moment to reflect on how the deterioration of public security generates fear and undermines political liberty.
That is why for the first time in 12 years, Global Exchange is convening two international missions (Pre-electoral: May 8 to 15. Election week: June 28- July 4th) to observe, investigate, and report on Mexico’s election.
Background on Global Exchange election observation missions.
Our observation efforts have always been conducted in the spirit of democratic solidarity and absolute respect for Mexican sovereignty. We oppose any foreign intervention in Mexico’s electoral process and have sought to flag and counter any attempts, especially by the United States, to influence electoral outcomes.
We do believe our struggles for human rights and democracy are inextricably linked across borders and that our movements must reflect that.
As a U.S. based human rights organization, we have deep concerns about the health of our own democracy at home. We have highlighted our critique for years and have even organized international observations of U.S. elections.
We are seeking qualified election observers to join us. If you are interested in participating, please let us know by submitting a brief letter of intent/introduction as soon as possible. Click here for details of the observation missions, observer qualifications, and application.
2018 Mexico Election Observation Mission
Much has changed in Mexico during our 12-year hiatus from election observation, but our belief that Mexico deserves fair elections has not.
Our central objectives remain the same, then and now, to impede fraud and support the demands of Mexican civil society for electoral authorities to administer elections fairly, competently, and honestly.
Our partners have long urged us to design pre-electoral missions. They make the case that election-day observers can’t detect things like sophisticated vote buying operations and the manipulation of poverty programs to condition the vote. This year, one focus of our pre-electoral mission will be how electoral conditions are affected in regions beset by violence.
Making these assessments will present challenges that we have not faced in previous election cycles and strategic partnerships will be critical to our ability to evaluate conditions, travel safely, establish trust with local sources, and generate conclusions and recommendations.
We will work with a wide range of groups in the course of our investigations and documentation. These include long time-partner organizations like the Institute for Social and Cultural Practice and Research (IIPSOCULTA) and Rompeviento TV that we work with year-round. We will also work with national and regional human rights organizations that are part of the National Human Rights Network “Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos” (Red TDT). We have partnered with the Fray Vitoria Centre for Human Rights. They, in turn, coordinate an electoral observation network (of mostly academics) called Red Universitaria y Ciudadana por la Democracia. In addition we are partnering and consulting with Acción Ciudadana Frente la Pobreza, particularly regarding their efforts to monitor any misuse of social program funds for electoral ends. International partners include Witness for Peace and National Lawyers Guild (NLG) members, both of whom work on behalf of human rights in Mexico.
Recent elections and why observation in 2018 is important
Much has changed in Mexico since the last time Global Exchange observed elections there during the disputed election process of 2006.
The messy ending of the 2006 election did not include a full recount, as recommended by independent observers including Global Exchange. As a result, Felipe Calderón’s legitimacy was contested when he assumed his presidency. His fateful decision to escalate the drug war with major deployment of the armed forces was made in that context.
By the time Calderón left office six years later, more than 121,000 Mexicans had died and over 20,000 were disappeared, igniting a movement led by victims of violence, who repudiated his disastrous drug war policies. The sickening toll continued under Peña Nieto, reaching more than 151,000 deaths by 2015 and over 34,000 disappearances by 2017. 2017, in turn was the most violent year on record according to official homicide figures.
In 2012, widespread violence complicated observation missions with longstanding partners like Alianza Civica, who were no longer coordinating national observation efforts.
Rather than observe elections in 2012, Global Exchange worked with the leaders of Mexico’s victim led Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity and convened hundreds of organizations on both sides of the U.S. – Mexico border to launch a major caravan from San Diego to Washington, DC, bringing their call for peace, justice, and an end to the drug war to people and leaders in 27 cities across the United States.
Later that year, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won the highly contested 2012 elections and brought the former ruling party, which had ruled without interruption from 1929-2000, back to power. Peña Nieto’s rule has been marked by corruption and impunity for major crimes, the most notorious being the cover-up of the forced disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers college in September, 2014. Peña Nieto is ending his term in office with a record low approval rating.
Political Landscape of the 2018 Election
In political terms, the 2018 elections mark the beginning of a new “sexenio” – the six-year cycle of Mexican politics. The presidency, half the Senate, the entire Lower Chamber of the legislature, and an unprecedented number of governorships are all up for grabs. Furthermore, early polling shows a high likelihood that the ruling PRI will be forced out.
As the graph shows preferences in the presidential race averaged from polls (see dots) taken since November. These aggregated polls make clear that center-left candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Movement for National Renovation (MORENA) has held a consistent lead for months. On the other hand, Ricardo Anaya of the PAN-PRD coalition has been caught in a whirlwind of corruption and money laundering accusations, while the PRI’s candidate, José Antonio Meade, slips backward.
Beyond establishment parties, these elections have stood out by being the first to allow independent presidential candidates to register, requiring a minimum of 866,593 signatures, which represent one percent of registered voters.
María de Jesús Patricio Martínez (Marichuy) made international headlines when she announced her intention to run as as an Indigenous candidate, backed by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI).
Marichuy’s effort failed to garner sufficient signatures for ballot access, however, both she and and civil society organizations complained that the The National Electoral Institute’s (INE) online signature gathering system — which used an application requiring newer phones with updated operating systems as well as a stable internet connection — presented significant obstacles to gathering signatures in rural communities.
Apart from Marichuy, other nominally independent candidates were Jaime Rodríguez “El Bronco”, Armando Ríos Piter, and Margarita Zavala. The INE judged that the first two had an insufficient number of signatures leaving Margarita Zavala, the wife of former President Felipe Calderón, as the only independent candidate.
Her impact on a race that already features three prominent, party-backed candidates is unknown.
Many analysts believe this is still a potentially tight race, despite the consistent polling showing López Obrador in the lead for months (see graph). They speculate that if Meade’s poll numbers slip further and his candidacy shows signs of collapsing, his remaining supporters may look for a new political home and would be more likely to consolidate around establishment friendly Ricardo Anaya than Andres Manuel López Obrador, the center left candidate.
During the 2006 election, López Obrador also held a significant lead for many months. His support later fell abruptly amidst an alarmist ad campaign that portrayed him as an extremist and a danger to Mexico.
The ads were false and electoral authorities eventually stopped some of the most flagrantly distorted ones, but not before they had run thousands of times on TV and radio.
How advertising in traditional and social media is being monitored by electoral authorities and others will be a point of interest for our observation.
If polls tighten, the temptation for electoral fraud will grow; and, as recent irregularities during last year’s governor’s election in the State of Mexico illustrated, systematic fraud with high-level collusion can still swing elections in Mexico.