By RICARDO CASTILLO
The Baja California state Congress majority vote to extend from two to five years the tenure of governor-elect Jaime Bonilla Valdéz is an issue that promises to reshape Mexican politics. (For background info, see my July 15 article on this news item.) Many are against the extension, while others defend it not just because it is the right thing for the Baja electoral system, but because in the end, the decision made by a state congress on the future shape of the state must be respected.
One against is none other than Mexicali Municipal Mayor Gustavo Sánchez, who on Monday, July 22, traveled to Mexico City to file a direct suit at the nation’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ), claiming that the whole “scam” was a Constitutional breach. Sánchez wanted to challenge the Congressional decision to extend the next governor’s mandate. It will be sometime before the SCJ decides whether to look into the issue or not. This is the first suit, out of many which have threatened to be presented before, to hit the SCJ.
What is most interesting now is what the issue is doing at the political party level. The two main political parties are split on the issue and are having internal debates over it. Let’s take them one at a time:
Starting with the National Action Party (PAN), the splinter is huge for many reasons, notwithstanding that Mexicali Mayor Sánchez is a hard-core member of the party. Not only is the PAN backing him in his suit – as still ruling mayor of one of the state’s five municipalities – but PAN National President Marko Cortés literally ordered the “expulsion” of several PAN members who went along to vote for the three-year extension for Bonilla, in an affair now nicknamed by the Mexico City press as “el bonillazo” or the Bonilla coup. The unproven claim is that Bonilla handed out a million dollars per vote to the congress, totaling $21 million as 21 out of 25 votes voted in favor of the mandate extension.
It’ll be during the first week of August that the PAN decides the fate of the Baja California deputies and senators who voted for the extension, but the issue has already split the PAN at the seams in Baja. And that is very bad news for the PAN at large.
The PAN was in the state’s governor’s seat for 30 consecutive years. In 1989, then-Ensenada Mayor and local fishing entrepreneur Ernesto Ruffo Appel (still owns a fleet of tuna fishing boats) pulled the historical stunt of being the first state governor in 60 years that did not belong to the then-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI.)
As a side observation, the fact is that now-Deputy Ernesto Ruffo Appel is very unhappy over the extension, but will he join the band led by Marko Cortés to expel those PAN members who voted for the extension? He knows the move may just totally tear apart the party fabric he helped create over the past 30 years.
Staying in power was a piece of cake for the PAN until this past June 2 election, when the PAN lost the governor’s race handsdown to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) National Regeneration Movement (Morena), whose candidate was the aforementioned Jaime Bonilla Valdéz. That was a shocker!
But then came the Congressional decision to extend the governor’s shift from the previously agreed upon – and voted on at the polls – two-year-period to the now controversial five-year extension.
This is where things stand at for the PAN in the Baja issue. But decisions have to be made, which could cost the party dearly.
Now for the view from a different party. There is the Morena divide between two lady politicas (not politicos): Yeidckol Polevnsky and Tatiana Clouthier Carrillo. Polevnsky is currently the Morena party president and Clouthier is a deputy who managed AMLO’s presidential campaign. Both are darlings of the president, hence a worry some clash of views.
Regarding the victory of the extension vote, Polevnsky cheered for it. First, the move was introduced by the Morenal minority of three deputies, but was admitted by the rest of Congress.
Polevnsky said that Baja voters “are tired of so many elections and I believe this had to change.”
The two-year mandate voted for, she added, will not be long enough for the Governor-elect to fulfill his mandate because “during the first year, people are adjusting to their position, and in the second, a new election is coming up.” “This just won’t work,” she commented in a radio interview.
Immediately, Deputy Clouthier Carrillo retorted that Yeidckol was wrong and reminded her that the voting citizens of Baja California “were summoned to elect a government that will rule for two years.” She called for “respect” for what the people voted for.
“Voting for a governor every two years is madness,” Polevnsky retorted. But many voices joined Clouthier in the federal Mexico City Congress defying – at least in opinion – the decision made by the Baja California Congress, for whom now, the next election will be held in tandem with the presidential elections in 2024.
Another issue at hand is that the current Baja California Congress is made up of a PAN majority, but when the new one is sworn in on September 1, the majority will be Morena deputies and senators. It is expected that the new Baja Congress will “respect” the five-year extension mandate.
Surely, at first glance, the state of Baja California is in its right to determine its own future without any interference from the two houses that make up the Federal Congress. But in the end, even if AMLO says he’d be ashamed if he made such a proposal, the vote is in and it is a mandate.
For now, the next step is to wait and see what the SCJ says about the first suit of injunction filed by the Mexicali mayor, who is also in a minority, since out of five municipal councils, three voted in favor of the extension.
Two facts remain: The PAN in Baja is now in a shambles and out of power. Morena is in, but will it settle for the two years, or play Mother Mary before the extension and subside and claim:
“Let it be.”