By RICARDO CASTILLO
On Monday, July 8, the Baja California state assembly approved by a majority vote a bill to extend the governance period of newly elected Governor Jaime Bonilla Valdez from two to five years.
Bonilla Valdez was elected last June 2 to govern for two years. Normally, Baja governors are elected to govern for six years. Elections in that state had been traditionally held one year after the presidential elections. Generally, the elections for mayors and deputies – who serve three-year terms – are held in tandem with presidential elections and in mid-term.
The Baja assembly decision went basically unnoticed for a couple of days, until former presidential candidate and Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) founder Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas cried foul. The vote by the Baja California Chamber of Deputies was totally illegal, he said. In practices, however, Governor-elect Bonilla Valdez – previously slated to govern through 2021, is now being allowed to do so until 2024.
In Mexicali, the state capital of Baja California, the councilors of the State Electoral Institute agreed that the decision by the deputies, by a overwhelming majority, (21 out of 25 state assembly deputies) went against what had been planned.
According to Baja California State Electoral Institute member Clemente Ramos, the Institute’s members were appalled by the decision and pointed out that when the election was planned “on Dec. 28, we summoned candidates to run for two years. On election day, we handed the majority winner constancy for two years. The candidate for governor was elected for two years.”
Given the fact that it was the state Chamber of Deputies who voted for the extension, this is a case of constitutional viability since the rules of Mexican democracy clearly establish periods of service.
It must also be said that in Baja California for many years, the issue of changing elections to be in tandem with the national ones – every six years – has always been a political hot potato, and that this decision was made totally out of the democratic agenda.
“This decision must be challenged” in courts of law, the state Electoral Institute said. Since it is a local state affair in Baja, challenges must now move through the local courts. But, eventually, the gubernatorial period extension could move all the way up to the nation’s Supreme Court of Justice.
Governor-elect Bonilla Valdéz is slated to be sworn in on Nov. 1, but whether he will rule for two or five years still remains to be seen.
For now, the so-called Baja California “cochupo” (a Mexican political slang term that refers to an in-law plot in which all parties benefit from a back-door deal) has become a major national political scandal. Several newspapers have alleged that the governor-elect – a wealthy businessman in his own right (he owns the Tijuana baseball team “Toros,” among many other investments) — shelled out a million dollars to each of the deputies that approved the three-year extension. That he instigated the cochupo to legalize what was originally illegal, in this case, expanding the governor’s ruling period for three more years, seems evident.
Since the governor-elect ran for governor under the banner of the now-majority National Regeneration Movement (Morena), founded by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the three-year extension was immediately interpreted otherwise.
Conservative El Financiero newspaper political editor – and a most vicious AMLO opponent – Pablo Hiriart immediately proclaimed the Baja “scam” a well-planned ploy by the Morena political party not only install the governor-elect for five years, but also “a rehearsal” crafted by AMLO to come up with sometime in the future with a constitutional term to stay in power longer than the six-year term for which he was elected.
This absolutely fake news “rehearsal” allegation was taken very seriously by the president. For two days in a row, namely last Thursday and Friday, July 11 and 12, he denied vehemently having had any knowledge of what went on in Baja. He once again declared himself “a true democrat” saying he abhorred the thought of reelection and adding that he was not consulted by the decision made by the Baja California Chamber of Deputies.
“In the old days,” AMLO said Friday, “only the president (of Mexico) could make a decision the size of this one. Times have changed. I did not know about this. But to tell you the truth, my face would have fallen off in shame if I had approved it.”
Be that as it may, the framework for a three-year extension for Bonilla Valdez – a member of the Republican Party in San Diego, since he has dual citizenship – is cast.
So will “the people’s” decision be reversed? Personally, I don’t think so.