By the end of 2013, as part of the political agreement Pacto for Mexico signed by the three major parties after Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as President a year earlier, an electoral reform was approved by the Mexican Congress. More than a comprehensive institutional design, the reform presented a wide set of legislative changes meant to satisfy the political forces that lost to the PRI in the presidential race of 2012. The selection ranged from the left´s long time project to transform Mexico City´s legal standing into State Number 32; the regulation of public referendum; the use of unregistered campaign funds as a cause for electoral annulment; the reelection of members of Congress and mayors; and the autonomy of the General Attorney´s office, to the creation of a national electoral authority (INE) sought by the right wing PAN.
The creation of the INE in particular was meant to claim control over local elections from the hands of state governors, aiming to build confidence in electoral results nationwide. Unfortunately this goal was only partially met, since local authorities did not disappear altogether, thus creating a confusing overlap between local and national jurisdictions.
The foreseeable failure of such an arrangement was evident in the recent elections held in four states, including the President’s home state of Mexico and northern Coahuila. In both cases, the ruling PRI held to power by narrow margins, but neither local authorities nor the INE were able to prevent, much less sanction, the usual allegations of excessive campaign spending, illegal vote induction, nor the sitting governors´ unlawful interference that are still common practice.
In the state of Mexico, the largest in the country, Alfredo del Mazo (PRI) narrowly defeated Lopez Obrador´s appointee Delfina Gómez (Morena), with the lowest number of votes registered for an elected governor. In Coahuila, the official results favored Miguel Riquelme (PRI) by 2.44 percent over the polls´ favorite, Guillermo Anaya (PAN). Not surprisingly, Anaya denounced a massive fraud and sued for the election annulment. The case of Coahuila is of greater concern since the electoral authority was the one suspected of wrongdoing, by replacing voting officials with inexperienced volunteers or handing custody of ballots after the election to local police, but most importantly by abruptly interrupting the flow of information when the exit polls had Anaya leading by a 3 percent advantage.
These events set off alarms in a state run by a PRI dynasty amid corruption scandals and unwavering violence. To make things worse, the embarrassing performance of the local authorities was followed by an inexplicable passivity at the national level. The resulting popular outrage has unified all of the opposition parties against the designated winner and the Governor. In a few weeks, the electoral court will have the last word over the legality of the election. But in the meantime, credibility in the electoral processes has suffered a major blow. Follow the author on Twitter at: @veronicaortizo
The views expressed here are solely those of the author.