By RICARDO CASTILLO
The good news is that more Mexicans are – at long last – interested in a presidential race. The figures for some foreign observers may not be impressive, but, locally, the audience participation results of last Sunday’s debate issued by the National Electoral Institute (INE) showed that 11.4 million Mexicans watched it and that two out of every five Mexicans watching TV at the time were tuned to a channel broadcasting the debate.
These figures were twice as high as the truly boring 2012 debates and triple what the 2006 debate received. The first presidential debate in Mexican history was held in 1994 and audience interest then was minimal.
The bad news is that, as a result of the audience success, the panegyrists of four of the five candidates are currently focusing their battles against the still-leader in the polls, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who immediately after the debate went on the defensive to declare that “the dirty war” against him had begun. More about that further down in this column.
During the debate, AMLO defended neither himself nor his cause from the expected onslaught of broadsides that came from the four other contenders, namely, in order of opposition importance in the polls, Ricardo Anaya, José Antonio Meade, Margarita Zavala and Jaime Rodriguez.
The most frontal attack against AMLO came from Anaya, who threw the political book at López Obrador, blaming him of everything that is bad in this nation, including the ever-increasing crime rate and the slowdown in foreign investment.
Meade, meanwhile, kept on hammering about AMLO’s alleged dishonesty because he did not declare two apartments still in his name that he used to own in the popular housing project Copilco near the National Autonomous University of Mexico in southern Mexico City. AMLO explained that upon the death of his first wife 16 years ago, he passed them on to his sons, who never took the trouble to put them in their name. But, politically, it’s been indeed a waste of time and effort for Meade to try to bring discredit to AMLO, who seems to be the name of the game in this election.
It must be said that candidate Meade insistance on beating the dead-horse issue of AMLO’s apartments to death only hurt his own candidacy since the matter does not represent a political issue of importance in the eyes of most Mexicans. Nevertheless, Meade is following the script written for him at the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) so-called “war room.”
The great majority of political pundits suddenly became performance psychologists and most, writing with the goal of blasting AMLO, blamed him not for what he failed to say during the debate but because of “his body language.” If he looked sideways, he was “bored,” if he moved his head to the front looking into the cameras, he was showing his “usual arrogance,” and if he looked down (you can’t move much behind a podium), he was showing “contempt” for his opponents. In any case, no mater what he did, he was “guilty” of something, or so claim his opponents.
Now, about AMLO’s denouncing the beginning of a “dirty war” that had begun against him, this is because someone financed a film called “Populism in Latin America” that’s supposed to describe the governments of populist presidents such as Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and in the olden days of Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina. The film will be shown only in cinemas.
During a recent speech, AMLO claimed “I have it from very good sources this film was financed by Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Claudio X. González.” Now, if you’re not familiar with former President Salinas and tissue paper manufacturer Claudio X. González of Kimberly Clark, there is no question or doubt that these two will go out of their way to discredit AMLO at any cost. In particular, former President Salinas, who AMLO calls “the unmentionable one” (el innombrable in Spanish – which everyone knows is Salinas – a highly discredited former president) and indeed is shooting back at AMLO.
But then, politics by nature is dirty, so there’s nothing wrong with a “dirty war,” except for the fact that this is the third time AMLO is running for president and he’s fallen victim to two dirty wars in the past.
Another source of “fear” of AMLO (“don’t fear, vote for Meade” is the slogan of a new PRI ad) stems out of the business chambers who are happy with the status quo under President Enrique Peña Nieto and would like to keep it that way. The main problem they face in opposing AMLO is that 56 percent of Mexicans live below the poverty line and these are precisely the voters AMLO is appealing to. These are voters who don’t support the construction of refineries or closing down the New Mexico International Airport construction underway because, as AMLO knows, they neither own cars nor fly, for sure a motive for businessmen to worry about the “populist” proposals AMLO is making.
Finally, back to the good news. The next debate will be held on May 20 in Tijuana. The format of the first debate, organized by the INE, was very successful – even entertaining, some claim, with AMLO as top clown – and the hope is that more people will watch that debate than did the first round. Definitely, the “lead performer” will again be the main attraction.
As a side comment, I must make clear that this columnist is an objective observer and definitely not a panegyrist for AMLO. But he is the main subject of this and possibly future columns because he is the person everyone in Mexico is talking about, either positively or negatively, but he is the current focus of water cooler chatter.