As state and local election races heat up in Mexico, candidates across the country are seeking to cast themselves as cleaner than their rivals, and free of links to organized crime. The party with the most at stake may be the center-left PRD.
Elections in the state of Michoacan, scheduled for November, are particularly important for Mexico's three main political parties, and may serve as a bellweather for the presidential elections in 2012. Traditionally a stronghold of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolucion Democratica - PRD), the state has been rocked by a series of high-profile corruption cases in recent years.
Concern about the infiltration of organized crime in politics has risen so high that the non-partisan Michoacan Development Foundation called on the country’s three biggest parties to come together and field a joint candidate for governor of the state.
On May 26, the chairmen of the PRD, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional - PRI) and National Action Party (Partido Accion Nacional - PAN) met to discuss the idea of a shared nominee. Although the PAN and PRI leadership are open to the idea, the PRD head rejected the scheme on ideological grounds, reported Vanguardia. Because the state is a major source of PRD votes, it is likely that the party would see the measure as a threat to its support base.
Still, the PRD’s image has taken such a public beating in the state that it’s hard to see how the race could be anything but an uphill slog for them. The most notorious of the corruption scandals that have broken in Michoacan was the case of Julio Cesar Godoy Toscano, a PRD legislator and half-brother of current governor Leonel Godoy Rangel. He evaded a 2009 arrest warrant by sneaking in to his own swearing-in ceremony in order to obtain parliamentary immunity. Godoy Toscano was later disavowed by the party and stripped of his office when an audio recording was released of him apparently speaking with Familia Michoacana leader Servando Gomez Martinez.
Despite the lack of consensus on a candidate in the Michoacan race, the parties did make a pact to each take measures to "guard" their candidates against the influence· of organized crime. According to El Milenio, the party leaders announced in separate press conferences after the meeting that they had agreed to intensify scrutiny of the campaign process, and especially of funding. "We all have a common concern over the need to shield campaigns against the penetration of dirty money from drug trafficking," said PRD president Jesus Zambrano.
Zambrano said his party would present a list of proposed candidates to the Interior Ministry in the coming days, so that each one could be vetted for any links to organized crime. The ministry will tell the party "whether there is any suspicion, any investigation in process, against any of them," he said.
The other two parties are expected to follow this move, although neither has proposed a specific timeline for the measure. There appears to be a lack of concrete measures in the "pact" between the trio, which has been vaunted by the Mexican media.
Ultimately, however, the issue of corruption in Mexico is not likely to be solved by agreements between party leaders, pre-election vetting, or even the fielding of joint candidates. Drug trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry in Mexico, and much of its profits has historically gone to infiltrating high-level political circles. The channels between drug money and elected officials are well-established, and will be difficult to alter.
While statements like Zambrano’s are significant as an official acknowledgement of the importance of combating corruption, it’s worth noting that his party has unsuccessfully adopted a “hard line” approach to organized crime before, namely during the 2006 presidential campaign of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Lopez Obrador made cleaning up corruption a major feature of his campaign, but found himself facing a credibility crisis when videotapes were broadcast on national television showing PRD-elected officials close to him apparently taking payoffs from a wealthy businessman.
The PRD head and the other two political party leaders are set to meet again in another two weeks, when it is believed that they will lay out a more comprehensive, and perhaps more detailed, plan to fight corruption in the coming elections.