By RICARDO CASTILLO
It may be money for the Mexican democratic dream, but a lot of people are wondering if it really does have to be that expensive.
On Wednesday, Aug. 21, the National Electoral Institute (INE) requested 12.5 billion pesos for its 2020 overall national operations from Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies. The figure does not include the 5.4 billion the INE had already requested to distribute among political parties. That makes a total of 17.9 billion pesos. Even with a devalued Mexican currency, the amount is very close to $1 billion.
And mind you, in 2020, there will only be midterm elections in the states of Coahuila and Hidalgo for deputies and municipal mayors. Still, the budget is 6.35 percent higher than the 2019 current expenditures; that’s nearly 2.1 billion more pesos.
The reason for the increase to the INE’s operational budget is said to be that “the gang of councilors” (12 in total) intends for much of this money to be spent on paving the way for the 2021 midterm general election, which will include 15 governors, a full renewal of the Chamber of Deputies (500 seats) and over 2,000 municipal mayor elections, including some 6,000 candidates.
Reports from within the INE are that much of that money will be used for part of the councilors to live high on the hog, just as they are doing now.
There was a profound rift at the budgeting committee for 2020 when Councilor José Roberto Ruiz Saldaña accused Councilor Marco Antonio Baños and Councilor Ciro Murayama of acting like “they own the institute” since they have sought reelection now for six consecutive two-year periods. Their reelections were not illegal, but given the huge amount of money available, Baños and Murayama, along with Councilor President Lorenzo Córdova, are “pilfering” the funds for trips abroad (flying first class, of course) and allotting to themselves the use of INE vehicles for personal transport, while regular employees use their own vehicles.
Saldaña called upon the Financial Investigations Unit, headed by Santiago Nieto, the Treasury’s watchdog for government expenditures, to look into the INE’s finances because “if there is pilfering, there must be corruption as well.”
Baños and Murayama, however, claimed they are not frightened by the possibility of an audit by the Chamber of Deputies and are defending the budget that they demanded be approved by the Chamber of Deputies when it hits the floor next month.
In a breakdown of amounts, Baños said that of the 12.483 billion pesos requested, 10.831 billion will go to INE daily operations, wages and law benefits for INE workers all over the nation, as well facility rentals and basic services. The INE will devote 2.112 billion pesos for “strategic projects,” including fees to belong to international democracy-promoting organizations.
Key questioning has come from finance analyst Enrique Galván Ochoa, who writes a column for the leftist daily La Jornada and makes comments on the popular and influential Aristegui News daily radio newscast. On Thursday, Aug. 22, Galván Ochoa called the budget “outrageous and scandalous in size,” asking the Chamber of Deputies to curtail and trim it to the bare bones, given the fact that the abovementioned councilors are “serving themselves helpings with a big spoon.”
The councilors, however, claimed that it is the money they need to develop the Mexican democratic dream in a clean way and also look into the future, hoping to have full electronic voting for quick counts for the 2024 presidential election. They said that part of this budget is requested in thinking about the future.
There will be no reaction from deputies until they look into the matter next month, but, most definitely, there will be opposition and sharp scissors to trim it down.
For a breakdown on the money allotted to political parties, see my previous background article “No Republican Austerity for Mexico’s Political Parties,” which ran in Pulse News Mexico on Aug. 8.
Surely, this is a hot issue that will come up again in the near future, once the Chamber of Deputies begins regular sessions on Sept. 1. Debate over the topic is bound to be hot because the money is for clean elections, but the question being asked is: Should democracy they cost this dearly?