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Dirty election coming? One analyst thinks so

'This could be the worst election since democratic races were born'

Is Mexico in for a really dirty presidential election in 2018?

Some political analysts believe so with one even going as far as to say that next year’s race could be the worst ever, a bold claim considering what has happened in past elections.

In 1994, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was assassinated while on the campaign trail in Tijuana.

In the 1988 election officially won by Carlos Salinas de Gortari, PRI officials later admitted that the vote was shut down when opposition candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was in front, with the explanation given that “the system crashed.”

During the presidency of Vicente Fox— the first non-PRI administration in over seven decades — it was revealed that the Pemex workers’ union had diverted 500 million pesos to PRI candidate Francisco Labastida in the lead-up to the 2000 election in a scandal known as Pemexgate.

And the 2006 election — in which serial candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador made his first run at the presidency — was plagued by controversy due to the closeness of the vote and alleged irregularities in the counting process.

AMLO, as López Obrador is commonly known, claimed fraud and challenged the legitimacy of the election of Felipe Calderón by leading mass protests that brought parts of the capital to a standstill for months.

But despite the deeply troubling precedents, a political scientist at the Tecnológico de Monterrey university said that “this could be the worst election since democratic races were born.”

“If we look at what the federal government and political parties have already done, as well as some electoral authorities, we have no reason to be optimistic,” Jesús Cantú told Bloomberg.

The federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) fired its top electoral crimes prosecutor, Santiago Nieto, in October amid speculation that the cause of his dismissal was speaking out about a corruption scandal involving former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya.

Apart from claims that he accepted bribes, Lozoya has also been accused of diverting funds to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2012 campaign.

The dismissal of prosecutor Nieto weakens the agency’s capacity to crack down on vote-buying, according to Kenneth Greene, a Mexican election analyst at the University of Texas.

Greene said that the practice — with which the PRI is most often associated — is likely to be “bigger than ever in 2018” and there is evidence that it has already started.

In addition, the Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes (Fepade) — a division of the PGR charged with overseeing the electoral process — is underfunded, according to a report by Bloomberg, after Congress recently cut its budget by 300 million pesos (US $16 million).

The independence of Nieto’s replacement, Héctor Marcos Diaz, has also been questioned in some quarters.

López Obrador, a controversial and divisive figure, has consistently led polls and has been openly campaigning for the presidency in apparent defiance of laws that stipulate a strict electoral timetable.

His past refusals to accept election results could augur trouble again if he doesn’t achieve the result he hopes for and expects.

The National Action Party (PAN) has also been accused of improper campaign practices despite its former president and expected candidate Ricard Anaya presenting himself as a clean candidate who will stamp out the corruption scourge.

Parties’ spending on advertising is another potentially messy, corruptible and controversial area.

The PRI has an advantage insofar as it can access government coffers to pay for advertising expenses, but Fepade found that in the Coahuila election held earlier this year the party had spent twice the legal amount, grounds for annulling the vote.

However, the agency’s audit was twice overturned by the Federal Election Tribunal, suggesting political interference.

Former chief electoral prosecutor Luis Carlos Ugalde said that all parties are buying media space, sometimes with cash under the table.

Despite its spending advantage, the PRI is deeply unpopular: a poll earlier this year showed that 80% of people believed that it was time for the ruling party to go.

The party has made an attempt to throw off its corruption-tainted image by anointing untarnished former finance secretary José Antonio Meade as its candidate but a recent poll showed that he was in third place, with just 16% of support.

An added complication to the electoral process is that Mexico is suffering from a sharp spike in violent crime that will almost certainly make 2017 the most violent in Mexico since record-keeping began two decades ago. If next year’s election is close and contentious, as many expect, some analysts fear that political clashes could unleash more violence.

Even interference in the election through hacking by a foreign government or the PRI is possible, according to the director of the Mexico Center at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston.

“I don’t think the PRI is above manipulating the election, not just by buying votes in the streets but by tapping into the computers,” Tony Payan said.

As precedents show, it wouldn’t be the first time foul play has entered a Mexican election.

Source: Bloomberg (en)

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