<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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And the Winner of Oaxaca's State Legislative Election Is... Abstentionism

Voters Declare "a Pox on Both Your Houses"


By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

August 6, 2007

More than seventy percent of Oaxaca’s registered voters did not vote in the state elections on Sunday, August 5. Approximately two and a half million voters were eligible to select the 42 deputies who represent the 25 electoral districts, by a system which employs direct and proportional selection.

In the popular repudiation of all candidates of all parties, the 25 districts were “won” by the PRI, from fewer than 30% of the possible voters.

The record level of abstentions indicates that the call for the “punishment vote” issued by the APPO was not enough to overcome popular feeling that the electoral system doesn’t work and is irrelevant to the lives of Oaxaqueños.

While some may believe that “democracy” consists in the freedom to choose between Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama, followed by the freedom to choose between Democrat or Republican, the people of Oaxaca know that for them, political parties represent no choice at all. Almost universally they despise the corruption of parties and delegates controlled by and for money.

For most Oaxaqueños, “democracy” must be participative, without leaders, and based on local assemblies. While local assemblies are indeed proliferating since the onset of the Popular Movement in 2006, the system remains locked into the old party corruption. In Mexico the breakthrough from one established party to alternative parties is very recent. In 1989 Ernesto Ruffo Appel was elected the first opposition governor in Baja California as part of the PAN party. Two years later, his future successor in the Baja California government, Héctor Terán Terán, became the first federal senator from the PAN. For the presidency, an alternate candidate wasn’t elected until the year 2000. The third party, the PRD, won the Federal District presidency of Mexico City only within the decade.

The internal corruption spread from party to party, in a power struggle which eliminated the people as players.

In Oaxaca, the governor, and control on the state level, has been in the hands of the PRI for almost eighty years. Control of all the powers – legislative, judicial and executive– in Oaxaca has always been PRI, and always dominated by the governor. But he can not claim a popular mandate in 2007.

On Sunday, voting day, the city looked calm. At the small pre-school nearby, the street was lined with cars bringing voters. That was warning sign. One need only ask, who has a car? A friend told me that in her colonia, when she went to vote, the voting place was empty. Hers is a family which only recently built an indoor kitchen, but still bathes out of buckets. No car.

I arrived at the zócalo in time to hear Florentino Lopez, the APPO spokesperson, announce to yesterday’s small rally the withdrawal of the APPO, including Section 22, from their encampment in the square. By nightfall one could see the tent supports being dismantled. The zócalo has been filled with vendors and noise; will they stay, or also go? Lopez announced upcoming plans for the next march, August 10. He said that other plans are being made. I guessed that without results of Sunday’s elections, no plans could have been made beyond getting all the teachers back to their towns to prepare for the October 7 choices for municipal presidents. Asambleas of both Section 22 and the APPO will take place next week.

City councilors and presidents will be selected October 7 for the 570 towns in the state. Of these, 418 govern themselves by the rules for usos y costumbres (ways and customs) and 152 by political parties. In municipalities where authorities are chosen by the system of usos y costumbres, community assemblies for naming authorities may be carried out all year long.

The August 5 state legislature elections were staged under great political instability. Even before the vote count, news came that the townspeople of La Ventosa in the Isthmus on August 5 burned up the election ballots, the ballot boxes, and the polling booths in a confrontation between PRI and PRD factions. La Ventosa is one of the towns in conflict over the introduction of wind generators on communal lands. To what extent illegal practices were carried out by the government on August 5, we don’t yet know: a first complaint was received from the Sierra Norte. Irregularities apparently have to do with failure to install voting booths, but those problems, at this moment, appear to be few, affecting only a thousand or so voters. Perhaps it no longer matters.

The social crisis which exploded in the state in the middle of the past year continues; the assassinated are mourned; the disappeared are sought; four of the imprisoned have not been released. The economy is shot to hell, restaurants have closed, and with few if any American tourists, the vendors earn a scant living. One could speculate about the consequences of giving up on the electoral system.

Furthermore, 188 public schools were taken during the political conflict by parents of families and instigated by municipal authorities sympathetic to the PRI, or specifically, by teachers of the Comité Central de Lucha (CCL), the dissident wing of Section 22 of the SNTE. Many of these schools have not been returned to teachers of Section 22; the situation has led to violent confrontations between teachers and parents, with no resolution offered by the government despite so-called negotiations.

Another confrontation is taking place in various municipalities where the Popular City Councilors have taken charge: municipal authorities were disowned and authorities from the people were named. This is the case in San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Santa María Atzompa, Villa de Zaachila (see the garbage trucks with slogans), San Juan Lalana, and others. “Bills coming due” both to sympathizers of the APPO and to sympathizers of the PRI may show up in the October elections.

Meanwhile social mobilization has spread. Following the assault by the governor on the marchers for the Popular Guelaguetza, once again feelings run high. The zócalo has been adorned with twenty-one wooden crosses, each with the name of a hero fallen in the struggle. Daily demands, both locally and from abroad as with Amnesty International, to free the political prisoners and respect human rights are ignored, as is the demand for the ouster of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz as Governor of Oaxaca. The system doesn’t work.

If all this weren’t enough, the current election was shaped by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation which examined an Electoral Reform passed by the Congress of Oaxaca in the month of September 2006. This Electoral Reform, passed somehow while no true governability was possible at the height of the crisis, reduced lengths of campaigns, removed the ability of the Congress to qualify the elections, reduced prerogatives of the political parties, and outrageously, lengthened by a year the period of office of the deputies and municipal presidents, pushing elections back to 2008. This last part was what the Supreme Court threw out. Write-in votes have never been valid, because a candidate requires certification by a political party or parties, no matter how many votes he/she receives. These are the political conditions in which the electoral process in Oaxaca proceeded.

Meanwhile, the practices of purchase and compulsion of votes continues. In the federal elections of 2006, the civil organization EDUCA and the Foro Ciudadano de Oaxaca, jointly documented the following practices of buying and compelling votes, and one might suppose they continued on August 5:

  • Storing materials and supplies in official warehouses, handing out tools and supplies, asking for electoral credentials, payments for attending campaign meetings, and promises of public services or social programs. Allegedly ten thousand irregular taxi concessions were sold in return for votes.
  • Use of State Social Programs to further the candidacies, such as Program Firm Floor, Mobile Units for Development, Modules for Machinery and Program for Adult Literacy.
  • The Public Information Media, especially the Oaxaca Corporation of Radio and Television, used public space to promote public works and handing out of Government resources as if they were part of the campaign.
  • Channeling public resources through the town councils, intimidation against municipal presidents of the North Sierra, South Sierra and the Isthmus, who were informed that if the PRI didn’t win in these municipalities they would no longer receive resources or they would be audited.
  • Compulsory work, especially in government offices, with the structure of links of assistance. Obliging employees to fill lists with names of voters and the number of their voting credential, as they were obliged to bring in votes for the PRI.
  • Contempt on the part of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz for the Accord of Political Neutrality, promulgated by the Federal Electoral Institute. In addition to making public declarations to minimize the accord, he traveled the state doing electoral political proselytizing, handing out social aid and calling for votes for PRI candidates. Newspapers such as Noticias have carried for the past month daily paid political articles depicting good works done by the governor and the PRI. I guess nobody was convinced.

Oaxaca is a key state. The necessity for institutional changes and profound reforms remain. Civil society as well as the APPO aim to extend civic education and citizen participation. The stated goals are to guarantee economic, racial and gender equity, establish horizontal popular control, make transparent the use of public resources, and fund social programs. With a majority of the population situated outside the legal electoral system, Oaxaca has a long way to go.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America