Elections

Posts are on a long delay now, folks. Sorry about it, but the internet connection in my office has been getting slower since the day I moved in. I had this piece worked up in WordPress before I found the literal day I need to spend uploading picture and all. I’ll keep plugging away.


 

Campaign season’s finally over here in Mexico, and I don’t think a soul in the country could be too unhappy about it. It’s a midterm year, halfway into the President of the Republic’s full six, and we’ve elected mayors, state congressmen, and in some cases, like in my state, governors too.

The campaigns are time-limited by law, so while there’s no sense of the continual campaign that American politics have become, electioneering is nonstop between late March and early June. Like the timeframe, Mexico has reams of legislation intended to reduce or make more difficult political corruption, and whether or not it works, it turns these months into a royal pain.

I work in a park office, a federal office, and to prevent the impression or the reality of our support for one or another candidate, we had all our public activity frozen from Easter to this week. We can’t hold meetings, so our big annual fairs or for the anniversary of the Reserve and World Bird Day never took place. My radio show has been off the air and won’t come back til tomorrow, even though the vote was a week and a half ago. James had to cancel his SPA project because it was based around public meetings, and in general we’re months behind now.

Mexican campaigns are about spectacle. You could say the same thing about them in the US or most any place in the world. But unlike the US, television and cable have nowhere near the penetration out here in the countryside than they do back home, so all that spectacle takes to the streets.[1]

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Placehold

The central plaza and main street in my town at midday for an end-of-campaign event

Giant lonas or banners festoon every open surface in the state, and every flat white wall has been painted with party logos and slogans. There are quite a few here, but the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) and the Partido de Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN) are the only two heavy hitters (except, depending on where you are, Morena and PRD, and, now some independents) and the only two real players where I live, so the PRI’s red-and-white and the PAN’s blue-and-white have beat out every other color around. One interesting thing on that front—which confused us for a good while—is that the X rather than the check-mark is the currency of approval here, so when you see a giant crossed-out PAN logo, it’s not, as we originally thought, graffiti, but an exhortation: Vote for Me!

Forget lawn signs, too. Bumper stickers, windshield stickers, rear window stickers, stickers for every surface of car or truck or house crowd your view. For years after elections, party t-shirts are pressed into service for field work and painting while campaign banners double as makeshift windows, rain-flies, and sunrooves.

Even people here think this is overboard

Even people here think this is overboard

As for the salient issues in my municipal election, I haven’t a clue. Local races back home are all name recognition and niche issues rather than national party stances, and that seems to be the case here; I can’t go to political events, so I’ve heard no speeches, and can’t specify farther than that. What I have heard is campaign trucks.

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That’s not a parking lot down there. Not normally, anyway.

Out in the campo, if you want to advertise anything, a restaurant opening, a concert, a candidacy, you load a giant speaker into the back of a pickup, record a message, and pay somebody to drive around, blaring whatever it is you have to say at jet-engine-volume. My office is on the only highway through the region, so the last three months solid, all we’ve been able to hear except the semis engine braking down the hill are the screamed and sung messages of our candidates.

The campaign song and the copyright infringement needed to produce it are endemic in Latin America. Sometimes they’re sublime, original constructions, and if you want to hear the best of them, it’s the one created by La Campaña No that played no small part in ending the Chilean dictatorship in the most joyous way imaginable. Cheesy, ridiculous, and, when “Chile, la alegría ya viene” starts up, incredible.

Here, though, everyone on every ticket has Weird-Al’d their message into a top forty hit, and it’s not a rare thing to find yourself absentmindedly campaigning for someone under your breath, which I guess is the point.

From all those, I’ve gleaned that every candidate is a hard worker, all of them are fighting corruption, and that they’re all “better than the other guy.”

"Honesty and Work!" Yea I could get behind that

“Honesty and Work!”
Yea I could get behind that

We were pretty sick of it. Mexicans and foreigners alike. The issue’s further confused by another well-intentioned election law. In a given region, you’ve got to have half the candidates be women. Both PRI and PAN registered exclusively male candidates here at the outset. The PRI, being currently in federal power and having a preponderance of control of the sadly not-quite-nonpartisan election commission, rather than going fifty-fifty with the PAN on candidates, forced the PAN to change all of its (at least mayoral) runners to women. Who turned out to be the wives of the men who originally ran.

I couldn't find one on the day I was out with my camera, but most of her posters had her smaller and slightly behind her husband

I couldn’t find one on the day I was out with my camera, but most of her posters had her smaller and slightly behind her husband

By happenstance, I know the local congressional candidate and the one running for mayor, and they’re both sharp as tacks, but I don’t know if that’s true across the board. I asked some friends if they didn’t think this was actually a bad thing, since the strength of a democracy stems in large part from the people’s faith in its integrity, and electing the wives of the guys you wanted seems to leave some doubt as to competence and who’s really in charge. They’ve told me: 1) If you don’t have much faith in the democracy in the first place, this doesn’t seem like much of an additional blow, whether the husband or wife is in control. 2)That the husband will be running things, so it’s whatever. And 3)that it’s positive no matter what that women will be taking office, and even if the intention were that the men would keep running the show, the wife has to be in the building, conduct the meetings, sign the papers, make the speeches, so even in the worst case, there will be power sharing. And in the best, it’ll just be women mayors, which is great.

Not that I'm picking sides. Manolo's not a bad dude, literally all of his campaign posters aside

Not that there’s anything wrong with the men, literally all of their campaign posters aside

The sloganeering might be my favorite part of this whole deal. Slogans are vague everywhere (hope, change) and often nonsensical (Republicans being the party of ‘small government’, for example), but I think seeing them in our own language keeps us from the full absurdity. Samuel Becket wrote his unreadable trilogy (masterpieces, we’re told) in French, because in that second language, he said, he could write purely, without all the baggage and historical connotation of his native English. And seeing this stuff in Spanish is awesome.

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We believe what you believe! The voice of a guy who lives in this state! It’s one thing to hear the Morena truck vilifying corruption, since it’s what that party was built on, but when everyone’s saying the same thing, it’s ridiculous, especially since some of them were created purely to take advantage of the money the federal government gives out in public financing and when most of the platforms of the rest are ‘elect us and we’ll employ you!’ and which dole out food, cash, swag, and despensas or aid packages at all of their rallies. Easy parallels to ‘We’ll fix Washington,’ and ‘I oppose pork-barrel-spending’ or ‘fiscal responsibility’ from war hawks and debt-limit brinkmen.

For all that I’m glad it’s over, it was a carnival, and Mexican carnivals are the tops.

[1] Although the governing PRI did distribute fourteen million free televisions before the elections, in what the party characterized as an attempt to switch the country to digital and which everyone else in the world saw as paying fourteen million people for their votes

One thought on “Elections

  1. Pingback: Libre | Another Peace Corps Blog

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