Evoking the title of a slapstick Mexican film, Las Traigo Muertas [I Bring the Dead, 1987], in which the central figure conspires to murder women, the student art collective Promoteo México has provided a chilling portrait of (possible) President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto. After all, it should be recalled that as governor of the State of Mexico, the most populous state in Mexico, it was he who presided over the brutal suppression of the San Salvador Atenco mobilisation, also known as the ‘Popular Front in Defence of the Land’, in 2006, which led to the detention of 350 people and the rape of 26 women. Is that time a harbinger of Peña Nieto as the (possible) incoming President of Mexico along with the return of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) following the outcome of the election on July 1?

Picking over the latest statistics from the Programa de Resultados Electorales Preliminares (PREP), at this time of writing (July 3), Peña Nieto has received 37 percent of the vote as the PRI’s candidate, followed by 31 percent for Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), and 25% for Josefina Vázquez Mota of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), with 90 percent of the votes counted. Peña Nieto’s electoral victory was by a much smaller margin than expected and, significantly, it appears that the PRI has not won a majority in Congress. Estimates are that it won 46 percent of seats in Congress, which means that it will be difficult to push through legislation including the controversial programme to subject the state-owned oil company PEMEX to new rounds of neoliberal restructuring. Yet the democratic process in Mexico remains uncertain and there is much to indicate that the defeat of the PAN after 12 years has led to the imposition of the PRI.

As Laura Carlsen has outlined in her blog post entitled ‘From the perfect dictatorship to the imperfect democracy’, the electoral machine of the PRI and the practice of vote-buying has remained during this election. As a result, ‘the PAN is paying the price for leaving intact the PRI political machine. The decision to form an alliance with the PRI against the PRD allowed it [the PRI] to rebuild their forces on the same historical bases of clientelism and caciquismo’. It was Mario Vargas Llosa that once called the PRI regime ‘the perfect dictatorship’ and there has been plenty of evidence of the return of coercion, corruption, and fraud from the bad old days.

As reported in today’s La Jornada, Andrés Manuel López Obrador has announced that he will challenge the election, stating, ‘Understandably, I cannot accept any results until we have full assurance that the vote of the citizens was respected and the election was not falsified’. His challenge, at the present, is a legal one with him alleging that ‘the election was clearly neither fair nor clean’, that ‘the election was riddled with irregularities’ and that it was a ‘dirty’ election. He is right on all these points. The Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) is investigating vote-buying arranged by the PRI through the distribution of chainstore ‘Soriana’ debit cards to the sum of £33.3million. Members of the student movement #YoSoy132, that launched an anti-PRI campaign, have indicated that websites it established to monitor electoral irregularities were systemically hacked. Then there is Peña Nieto’s dependency on the favourable coverage granted him by mass media groups such as Televisa.

Peña Nieto is a photogenic product of an alliance with Televisa forged in his days as governor of the State of Mexico that has also successfully turned the election into a soap opera, the political equivalent of the famous telenovelas aired on its TV screens. In December 2011, when asked at a book fair in Guadalajara what were his favourite three books, Peña Nieto was muddled and confused. He mentioned the Bible; vaguely referred to the work by Jeffrey Hatcher; and then name-checked La Silla del Águila [The Eagle’s Throne, 2002] but mistakenly said it was authored by Enrique Krauze, rather than the world-famous Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes. Fuentes’ stinging remark was that ‘this man hasn’t read me, he has the right of not doing so’, but, ‘what he doesn’t have the right to do is to aspire to be president of Mexico based on ignorance’. And yet, a statesman is born. Peña Nieto is less JFK and more Forest Gump but without the latter’s appeal.

In my book Revolution and State in Modern Mexico there is a detailed focus on the structural context of the political economy of democratisation and the co-called ‘democratic transition’ in Mexico since the fall of the PRI in 2000. What it reveals is precisely the limits of a class-based elitist focus on ‘democracy’ reduced to the role of the electoral system, which is separated from issues of social and economic justice. The result is a hollow form of democracy in which mass participation is consigned to the choice of elites from the political class that manage and control the election process. Summarising the ideological decay of a ruling power bloc with fragile cultural and political integration, Antonio Gramsci once stated that ‘between coercion and force stands corruption/fraud (which is characteristic of certain situations when it is hard to exercise the hegemonic function and when the use of force is too risky)’. Coercion, force, corruption, fraud all in the absence of conditions of hegemony – this is a perfect summary of the ‘democratic’ imposition of the PRI in Mexico.

In 2006, The Economist newspaper summarised a growing north-south divide in the country evidenced by the disparities in ‘Mexico’s mezzogiorno’, or the nine states of the south and south-east (Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, Puebla), which account for almost a quarter of Mexico’s total area and population and are still more rural, indigenous, and poorer than the rest of the country. According to this view, almost 45 percent of the population in these southern states live in settlements of less than 2,500 people, compared with 20 percent elsewhere across the country, twice as many people lack electricity, and half as many can read and write. These circumstances of uneven development are in stark contrast to the presence of urban growth in regional clusters in the northern border-states (Baja California Norte, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas). As Laura Carlsen reveals, one of the patterns of the 2012 election at the state level is a continued picture of, at least, “two Mexicos”, still divided politically and economically by conditions of uneven development. Following the election, the PRI are dominant in the states in the north and the PRD in the states of the south, with the exceptions of Chiapas, Campeche and Yucatán that were taken by Peña Nieto’s party.

What will be the PRI’s response to these contradictions of uneven development? How will it deal with the growing unrest of the recent student protests? Will there be a policy shift on the “war on drugs”? And what new rounds of urban and rural resistance contesting state power and the conditions of uneven development in Mexico will now emerge?

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