As Mexicans took off from work and school for the long Holy Week-Easter holiday celebrations, the country’s presidential and congressional candidates inundated electronic media with new ads designed to win over the voters.
A sampling of spots aired on Ciudad Juarez’s public radio station 106.7 FM over the Easter weekend zoomed in on several themes that are hot points of debate in the weeks before the July 1 election. Standing out in the ads were issues of insecurity, violence and the so-called drug war. Poverty and the environment also made appearances in some of the political appeals.
The opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) hit on the security theme with a message that called attention to 60,000 families in mourning, meaning of course, the families which have lost a member to the violence that’s prevailed during the outgoing Calderon administration.
In another spot, PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who also represents two other political parties in the Progressive Movement electoral coalition, extolled the PRD’s long governance in Mexico City as solid evidence that his party is fully capable of administering public safety in a tough environment. The Mexican capital is now one of the safest cities in the country, the former Mexico City mayor and 2006 presidential candidate boasted. “We already know how to do it,” AMLO assured his listeners.
On the other hand, criminal violence surged during PRD or neo-PRD administrations in Michoacan, Guerrero, Zacatecas and other states in the past several years.
For the 2012 race, AMLO has toned down his rhetoric attacking the nation’s elite and stressed the need for Mexicans to reconcile and join together in a common crusade that will usher in a new nation and a “loving republic.” AMLO’s use of the word “rebirth” in an Easter weekend ad almost had religious overtones.
Institutional Revolutionary Party/Green Party candidate Enrique Pena Nieto also touched on the insecurity issue in a spot in which he praised the emblematic cultural heritage of the state of Veracruz, land of Mexico’s rambunctious Carnaval, the upbeat Son Jarocho musical genre and the clapping spoons of La Parroquia cafe, but quickly added that it was sad to see such a “happy” place torn by violence.
In a new round of ads, Pena Nieto is cast as a man of the people traveling the highways and towns of the country. In a sense, the former governor of Mexico state has taken a chapter from the playbook of AMLO, who’s traveled repeatedly to virtually every nook and cranny of Mexico since the contested 2006 election in which the PAN’s Felipe Calderon was declared the victor.
National Action Party (PAN) hopeful Josefina Vazquez Mota was also a familiar voice crackling on the radio. Vazquez Mota’s spots ended with a man calling her “different,” perhaps in an effort to not only to distinguish the conservative nominee from her male opponents, but also to subtly distance the candidate from the PAN administration of President Felipe Calderon, who confronts widespread criticism on economic, security and human rights matters.
Spotlighting “12 years of change,” Vazquez Mota’s ads boasted of the PAN’s anti-poverty initiatives like the Opportunities program, again perhaps in an attempt to bring the candidate back down to earth from a certain perception of the PAN as the party of the snobby rich. A veteran of the Fox and Calderon administrations, Vazquez Mota faces a tricky balancing act, since the “12 years of change” brand is under intense questioning from her campaign rivals as well as many common citizens.
The PAN presidential campaign got off to a rocky start, punctuated by news of Vazquez Mota’s low blood pressure, an embarrassing mass exist of thousands of supposed followers during her swearing-in ceremony as the party’s candidate in Mexico City last month, and an equally image-deflating dissing from customers in a Morelos restaurant after she strolled into the diner last week.
Vazquez Mota’s campaign officials responsible for image and publicity were recently shuffled, though the candidate kept Roberto Gil Zuarth on as her coordinator. “We are working together, with absolute commitment and unity,” Vazquez Mota said of her relationship with Gil, President Calderon’s former personal secretary.
Even as Mexicans began trickling back from vacation, Vazquez Mota rolled out a new campaign team stacked with former Calderon administration officials such as former Tourism Secretary Rodolfo Elizondo, as well as Maria Luisa “Cocoa” Calderon, the president’s sister and the ultimate loser in last November’s controversial gubernatorial election in Michoacan. Vasquez Mota appointed Luz Gabriel Cadena Luna, mother of one of the young men murdered along with the son of poet Javier Sicilia last year, to head up a new section devoted to victims of violence. The candidate then prepared to plunge into the heart of Mexico on her bus, “La Jefa,” or “The Boss.”
In addition to the three top contenders, the National Alliance Party’s Gabriel Quadri is running for president. In an Easter day press conference, Quadri supported the privatization of the national oil company Pemex, upheld the deployment of the Mexican army in the streets, backed the right of women to choose, favored eliminating gasoline subsidies, and endorsed applying the sales tax to food and medicine.
“I’ll say it clearly, not like the politicians who give the run around and don’t dare to say it: a generalized sales tax on food and medicine. Period,” Quadri quipped to reporters.
A much greater presence of social media is one difference between this year’s campaign and the last one in 2006. Josefina Vazquez Mota’s followers are running contests for followers on Facebook, while Twitter is buzzing with comments about her and other candidates.
In a creative way, Vazquez Mota’s partisans are utilizing YouTube to publicize what Proceso magazine characterized as “Operation Transvestite” or the like. On the morning of April 9, the political operation debuted with the draping of blue skirts from a statue of Independence War hero Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon in Morelia and on other monuments across the country. Proceso noted that using national monuments for personal purposes without a permit was a crime punishable by jail time and fines.
PAN President Gustavo Madero also stirred controversy when he decorated his Twitter account with a picture of Lady Gaga decked out in blue, the PAN’s color. The picture caused something of an uproar, with some denizens of cyberspace suspecting that Madero’s account had been hacked.
But the longtime PAN politician and businessman from Chihuahua retorted that the posting was genuine and just meant as a “simple joke to clarify that the PAN is not homophobic.” Citing the U.S. entertainer’s reputation as a defender of equality and inclusion, Madero thanked one tweeter while criticizing others in a subsequent message.
“I am honestly surprised by the crankiness, intolerance and lack of humor by some,” he wrote.
Another big difference with 2006 and previous elections is the official length of the general campaign, which was shortened in the 2007-08 political reform. Commencing March 30, the general election campaign will end on June 27, four days before Mexicans elect their next president and federal legislature. The Federal Electoral Institute has set May 6 as the date of the first presidential candidates’ debate.
Additional sources: Milenio, April 9, 2012. Proceso, April 9, 2012. Articles by Maria Luisa Vivas and editorial staff. La Jornada, April 8 and 9, 2012. Articles by Enrique Mendez, Karina Aviles and Claudia Herrera. El Diario de El Paso, April 4 and 8, 2012. Articles by Agencia Proceso and Notimex.