Thursday, 12 July 2012

Corruption and Fraud Charges Not Going Away— Lessons for Canada and the United States?

The corruption charges and vote buying allegations in Mexico are not going away in spite of a public relations campaign by Enrique Peña Nieto that is designed to sell his presidency to the international press. Lorenzo Meyer's observations ( ¿Una Eleccion Soriana? ) about fraud led him to predict that the 2012 election will be remembered as "the SORIANA election", and an editorial cartoon by Reforma's Camacho describes how other influential organizations have begun to direct their attention to the question of fraud. In Camacho's cartoon, Enrique Peña Nieto's "copete" (hair style) is turning into an uncharacteristically bad-hair-day.
Camacho: From Reforma July 12, 2012 

Something to consider!

For many, the allegations of fraud and cheating  are thought to be "typical of Mexico" but not something that could happen in Canada or in the USA. However, maybe we should think about how money and the media have also been able to influence (and dominate?) elections in the United States and how questionable electoral processes have become more prevalent in recent Canadian elections.

How much money will Mitt Romney end up spending, and how much of that money will be channeled directly through the official election committees? How much of the funding and support will be directed towards his election from third party PACS? How much anonymous funding will be directed to the campaigns through "non-profit" and "non-governmental organizations" by those third party PACS. How much will we really know about who actually "paid" for an election ad,  or for "public service" announcements that are designed to promote the intereests of one candidate?

And lest Canadians think that they are immune to these things, they just have to consider how the Supreme Court of Canada is now reviewing whether or not scores of questionable voters cast ballots in a central Toronto riding  that was won by a mere 26 votes. And, Canadians also need to seriously consider the funding sources and the implications of  "Robo-calls" that directed voters to non-existent polling stations in the most recent Federal election.

Anyone who has been an observer during Mexican elections knows that there are many "checks and balances" in Mexico that are not part of the electoral process in either Canada or in the United States. When Mexico began to move toward a more open and competed elections in the 1990's, it established many measures as a mandatory national registry of voters (A PADRÓN) that includes voter registration identification and voter lists tied to those cards. Every qualified citizen is required to register and is issued an identification card  that they must use to vote. This voter registration list is more thorough and comprehensive than we have in Canada or in the United States.  In the USA there is  a hodgepodge of guidelines and processes that can complicate the registration process by limiting in to specific locations and specific time frames ( measuring-the-effects-of-voter-identification-laws ). In Canada, the voter registration list is sometimes several years out of date and the short election periods of a parliamentary system can mean that the voting list is constructed on the "fly". In contrast, the Mexican system is much more organized and comprehensive than the systems in place in Canada or in the United States.

The Mexican voter card includes a picture and a fingerprint of the eligible voter along with their address. That plastic card must match the "print out" version of the PADRON in a polling station. It's not possible for anyone to vote at the polling station unless the two pictures match: once, I was at a polling station in Mexico City where a transvestite or transexual was not allowed to vote because he was appeared at the station dressed as a female while his  voting card picture had a picture of him as a male. In Canada the rules are much looser— it's possible to enter a polling station and "claim residence" in a riding by showing a bill or having someone "attest" to residence.

There are also very strict rules  in Mexico regulating funding and campaign limits, and a fixed amount of money is allocated to official parties to use for the campaigns. IFE rules also define who can actually represents a party, and IFE tribunals can disqualify candidates or select among challengers claiming to represent a party. There is no equivalent organization in Canada or in the United States, and most of our funding and campaign limits are established by general bodies that can set rules but have less power to intervene. If something goes wrong in Canada or in the United States, or if a campaign violates the pre-established limits, the matter must be settled in court or in legislatures.

In other words, Mexico has more processes in place that are designed to limit cheating and corruption than exist in Canada or  the United States . The fact is, it is much harder to cheat at the polling station or through the ballot box in Mexico.This is not to say that it doesn't happen — it can be done and it is still common in areas where there are few observers. But since IFE was established most cheating in Mexico is done before the election and most of it is done indirectly through pressure and through bribery. And some parties are better at it, or have a longer tradition of doing it than others. The PRI had 20  governors who could use their resources to work outside the reach of the monitoring system put in place by IFE, and they took full advantage of their powers to fund thousands of spots and to directly bribe voters, The SORIANA gift cards and telephone cell phone cards have already been traced to programs that were implemented in Mexican states (especially EDOMEX).

Canadians and Americans seem to think that they are immune to kind of cheating that seems to have distorted the 2012 presidential election in Mexico, but facts don't necessarily support this complacency. In Mexico, IFE and the majority of people expect that cheating is the "norm" and they have attempted to create rules and guidelines that  limit its impact and that will hopefully foster a change in the culture of vote buying and cheating. But, some people — especially those linked to PRI —are very sophisticated and have learned how to successfully cheat and how to play on the fears and weaknesses of others. They are especially good at taking advantage of the poor and the impoverished. The history of fraud and cheating in Mexico is wonderfully described in an El Fisgón graphic tale of "another fraud predicted" in El Chamuco y Los Hijos de Averno ( ). And the students of the #YoSoy132 movement have refused to accept that culture and tradition of cheating, and they have done a great deal to convince other Mexicans and the world that they are unwilling to accept the traditional way of voting. Many people have heard their message and are encouraging the #YoSoy132 movement to continue in their efforts to make elections more transparent and to eradicate the culture of cheating . For instance, the actor Damián Bichir is one of several Mexican celebrities and artists who has sent messages of support to the students (see the YouTube video at

Meanwhile, in Canada and the USA, people continue to assume that "goodness" will win in the end and that voters will choose wisely. Maybe there is something to learn from Mexico and from the students of #YoSoy132 when it comes to voting and to campaign strategies of political parties that believe they are entitled to win at any cost.

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