Victory for What?

Luis Rubio

There are two indisputable facts in the results of last Sunday’s elections: on the one hand, the government’s party achieved maintaining its position in Congress, which constitutes a victory under any leveling device. On the other, there is wide-ranging evidence of grave social malaise at all levels, which the Nuevo Leon independent candidate and winner, “el Bronco” epitomized (76% disapprove of the direction the country is taking, according to BGC). These would seem to be incompatible and contradictory circumstances, but they are not. The combination is, instead, a faithful reflection of the intricate reality within which the country lives and breathes. The big question concerns what the government will do with its victory: Will it persist in its allegation of already having reformed the country and that all that’s missing now is to await the fruits ripe for the picking and that will appear on their own? Or, will the electoral result morph into the opportunity to construct a capacity of government that effectively renders it possible for its reforms to bear fruit? Although these appear similar, they are radically distinct projects.


It is not difficult to describe the picture of what transpired last week. On the strictly electoral side, intermediate elections, while each is unique, are always run by party hacks, whose machines bring the vote out at whatever cost and where the PRI enjoys an enormous advantage. That very political machine was what had made the PAN lose more than one hundred seats to the PRI in 2009, so it’s not surprising that it had the contrary effect on this occasion. It is also noteworthy that the PRI machine was assisted, in perverse fashion, by those promoting to annul the vote as a means of protest. That action had the effect of altering the denominator, thus adding to the PRI’s total congressional numbers. Paradoxes that are dealt by life: no one knows who he or she works for.


On the side of the anger and disgust, the causes are many and multiple, some objective and others psychological, but all count and, more importantly, they add up. For some the scourge is the insecurity, for others the taxes. For yet others, the flagrant corruption. For all, the governmental paralysis has been astounding and its coronation with the decision to suspend the educative reform appears to be clear evidence of a governmental system that doesn’t work. The state of Nuevo León summed up the dynamic that the country is experiencing because there a candidate turned the society’s anger into a campaign platform, the outgoing governor being the perfect example of what the population repudiates and reproves.


The problem isn’t new and isn’t the fault of the present administration. Columnist Félix Cortés cited the case of the votes cast for Cantinflas, who for decades was a means by which the population expressed its choler. What’s relevant here is, as Cortés argues, that the political class never understood, and paid even less attention to the profound message that the Cantinflas vote entailed.  That is, the problem is an old one but it’s piling up, and tends to mushroom as expectations accelerate, these multiplying by the instantaneous communication given free range by telephones and the social networks. In contrast with Spain, where there are, or where there are possible, alternative institutional mechanisms for channeling the uneasiness, in Mexico that route is virtually impossible, becoming a hidden threat to stability.


It is due to the latter that what the government decides to do with its triumph is transcendental. In view of its history to date, above all that of the past several months, one would expect that the government will declare itself the winner and close the door. From its perspective, it is easy to claim that the protesters of groups such as the State Coordination of Education Workers of Guerrero State (CETEG) or the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) are mere rabble-rousers who have been repudiated at the ballot boxes; that businessmen who feel pressured by interminable requirements and by the absence of an environment that generates trust, are no more but a bunch of complainers who always exaggerate, in addition to being accustomed to evading payment of their taxes instead of getting down to work; and that opinion makers comprise a clutch of opportunists dwelling in ivory towers.


It would be easy to discount all of these, but that would not solve the key conundrum: would such a reading of events make it easy to conclude the governmental term in peace? It is ironic –and revealing- that, in this context, the government recently argued before the Organization for Co-operation and Development (OECD) that there are historical antecedents for the distrust and that this has gone on for decades. The government official was referring to Greece, but the argument is equally relevant for Mexico where the current government has bet on ever larger spending programs, a higher deficit and debt, precisely what brought about the financial crises of the seventies to the nineties.


Beyond the reasons for the electoral outcome, the reality of the country remains the same: an apparently uncontainable subversion in the South; a population without a future due to the lack of an educative system capable of endowing it with the capacity to compete in the world of globalization; an economy structurally incapable of producing high growth rates; a society beleaguered by insecurity and a government without a strategy to create a modern police force and a judiciary at all levels of government; an effete and dysfunctional system of government that does not govern, that does not satisfy the most minimal requisites of performance and that does not create conditions for the society to live in peace and prosper.


The election did bring about a stark dilemma: either the established politicians do it or the independents will. This is not something minor and the challenge is monumental.


No one can dispute the electoral result, but the dilemma persists: victory for what? To continue denying the population the opportunity to prosper? or to enforce the reforms and create a new platform with a view to the future? The former would guarantee that 2018 would prove to be the election of the agitators, whatever their colors. The latter would at least offer the population an opportunity of hope.