The Fine Art of Bad Elections

In its most revealing set of elections since the July 2006 fraud-marred presidential balloting, this not-so-distant neighbor nation proved conclusively that its electoral system is irreparably broken.

The August 5th vote-taking in Baja California Norte, the nation’s wealthiest state, to select a cohort for Upper California’s action figure governor featured an eccentric candidate given to wearing vests fashioned from the penises of donkeys and a shaved-headed bureaucrat from a party that has controlled the electoral machinery for 18 years, in one of the filthiest electoral face-offs yet in a country where bad elections are a fine art.

At the other end of Mexico at the same hour of the Baja California fracaso, Oaxaca, a walking wound of a state where 26 activists have been killed and hundreds wounded and jailed in an on-going revolt against tyrannical governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, the much-dissed URO locked up a “carro completo” (full car) when his party, the once-ruling PRI (it has never lost power in Oaxaca) took 25 out of 25 districts in the 42-seat state legislature with perhaps the highest absentee rates ever recorded in a recent Mexican election.

The exact extent of the no-shows is inexactly quantified. On election night, the State Electoral Institute (IEE) issued numbers confirming that 77% of the Oaxaca electorate had stayed home. Two days later the numbers were downsized to 63% – a late flurry of “votes” after the polls were closed to paper over an embarrassing turn-out seems likely.

URO’s electoral strategy called for elevated absenteeism, an ambiance in which the PRI thrives. After consolidating the party’s “voto duro” or hard vote at a pair of massive PRI rallies masquerading as a folklore festival (the “Guelaguetza”), Ruiz turned his attentions to pumping up the “voto del miedo” or fear vote to scare away all other voters. A guerrilla “bombing” at a local shopping mall hours before the election helped to induce the desired psychosis.

Whether absenteeism hit 77% or a not much more respectable 63%, the August 5th election which was set to explode with a bang went out with a big whimper.

If Ulises, who won the governorship of Oaxaca in 2004 in the shadiest of elections (the vote counting computers crashed thrice on election night) was the big winner August 5th, the unquestioned loser was Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) whose left-center coalition took nine out of 11 federal districts in state in 2006. AMLO visited Oaxaca six times in the run-up to August 5th (not once in the final month) but his PRD party shot itself in the foot by excluding nominees from either the Oaxaca Popular Peoples Assembly (APPO) and dissident teachers, the backbone of the social protest movement that has battled the governor for more than a year.

While the dissidents called for a punishment vote (“voto de castigo”) against Ulises’s PRI and President Felipe Calderon’s right wing PAN, they did not endorse the PRD. Indeed, many activists have grown disaffected with the parties and their candidates and embrace the ethos of the popular movement in Argentina during the 2002 crisis there: “Que Se Vayan Todos” (that all the politicians should be kicked out.)

Ironically, the only bright spot for the PRD and/or the popular movement in the PRI’s August 5th landslide is that URO’s party won so many districts that it was excluded from occupying any of the seats allocated to the parties by the percentage of the votes obtained and the PRI’s top “plurinuminal” candidate, former state prosecutor Lizbeth Cana, a despised villain in last year’s protests, was not seated.

Despite AMLO’s big vote in the 2006 presidential race, the credibility of the PRD in state and out (the party won only 2% of the vote in Baja California) is bottoming into bankruptcy. One year to the date of the fraud against Lopez Obrador, in an internal balloting for delegates to its upcoming national congress, the PRD committed the same kind of fraud against itself that Calderon’s PAN committed against AMLO when the New Left “current” (some call it a “tribe”) claimed to have won 80% of the delegates. Opposition “tribes” describe such time-honored chicanery as “La Razarada” (erasing names from the voting lists) and “El Raton Loco” (the crazy mouse), switching voting sites at the last minute, as the fulcrum of the New Lefters’ “victory.”

Despite AMLO’s injunction to the left not to recognize Felipe Calderon as president, the New Left faction (sometimes known as “Los Chuchos” due to the number of politicos named Jesus who hold the juice) seem to have a fondness for negotiating with the PANista president, even visiting with him in the Mexican White House, Los Pinos. New Left control of the PRD is sure to widen the wedge between the party and AMLO who has spent the past 11 months barnstorming Mexico signing up more than a million supporters for his pet project, the National Democratic Convention, which longtime observers prognosticate will soon split with the PRD and become Lopez Obrador’s own party.

The debacle in Baja California Norte threw two unlikely contenders into the ring. Jose Guadalupe Osuna, a mild-mannered ex-mayor of Tijuana for Calderon’s PAN – 18 years ago Baja California became the first state in which the PRI allowed the opposition to win and the PAN has ruled ever since – and, in the PRI corner, the scion of the once-ruling party’s topdog political boss, Carlos Hank Gonzalez whose most celebrated contribution to the PRI’s Book of Wisdom is that “a poor politician is a bad politician”, a piece of advice taken to heart by his son, Jorge Hank Rhon.

Hank Rhon is the kingpin of Mexico’s gaming industry with 102 “Aguas Calientes” off-track betting parlors spread around the country (but mostly clustered on the border to suck in those Yanqui dollars.) From January to June of this year, according to Finance Secretary numbers, Hank’s gambling dens raked in eight billion pesos – a big chunk of the windfall was funneled into the gubernatorial campaign of “El Padrino” (a favorite nickname), which the Godfather ran out of his Tijuana dog track.

Hank’s only previous political experience is as the current mayor of Tijuana, having won office two years ago with the lowest turnout in that border city’s history. The PRIista’s triumph was not so much attributed to his pristine resume as it was the fruit of years of PAN bumbling and a flourishing narco-infused crime wave. Then as now, Hank Rhon ran as an unlikely law and order candidate.

It is difficult to portray Jorge Hank as a victim but the PAN pulled out every dirty trick in its repertoire to thwart his gubernatorial ambitions. In May, at a critical juncture two months before the vote, the PAN-controlled state electoral tribunal barred El Padrino from appearing on the ballot – his candidacy was reinstated by the nation’s top electoral court a full month later. The PANista Queen Bee, Elba Esther Gordillo, lifetime boss of the nation’s education workers union, led a thousand electoral operators (“mapaches” or raccoons) into the state to create the same kind of mischief as they committed against AMLO in July 2006. Like AMLO, PAN hit pieces labeled Hank “a danger to Mexico.”

To garnish the flimflamery, on election eve a state judge issued arrest orders for three top Tijuana cops, all Hank appointees, for protecting the narco-cartels who are the power behind the throne in Baja California, further trashing Jorge Hank’s already bad name.

Jorge Hank has long been accused of playing footsy with the Arellano Feliz cartel – he was once photographed in a local saloon with its leaders. The former head of security at his dog track is currently serving a life sentence for a hit on a crusading journalist who dared to signify that Jorge Hank could be gay in print – ZETA, of which the late Hector “El Gato” Felix was an editor, ran a weekly full page ad for ten years under the Gato’s byline asking “Jorge Hank, why did you kill me?” Despite these anomalies, Hank ran for governor on a law and order ticket.

Jorge Hank Rhon is also Mexico’s Numero Uno endangered species dealer with his own private zoo on the grounds of the dog track that spotlights rare tigers, the Godfather’s totem animal. Legend has it that Jorge once flew a panda into the country strapped into the co-pilot’s seat of his private jet. Back in the ’90s, U.S, Fish & Wildlife entrapped Hank Rhon’s chief buyer trying to buy a gorilla in Boca Raton, Florida – the gorilla turned out to be an agent in a gorilla suit – and United States Immigration agents once stopped him from driving a Siberian tiger into Mexico. The big cat was perched in the back seat.

Hank’s sartorial proclivities are not limited to his celebrated donkey dong vest – he was once busted with several overcoats made from the pelts of the last eight ocelots in Mexico. A liberal soul, Hank Rhon considers women to be “my favorite animal” (sic) and is a notorious breeder with 19 offspring. The candidate claims that drinking tequila in which a lion’s penis is embalmed increases his virility.

The Baja California balloting was not sedate. “Zafaranchos” (brawls) broke out during candidate debates at high-class hotels. But election day was a more staid event with somberly dressed voters lining up at the polling booths – state election law bars the wearing of party colors in the “casillas” and donning red, blue, green, and yellow, or any combination thereof could get a voter disqualified.

Although pre-election polls indicated that Kid Hank had come from 18 points down to put him in a virtual dead heat with the PANista Osuna on elation day, by nightfall he was trailing by eight points. Depressed by the lopsided thumping, El Padrino retreated behind the doors of his dog track for two days until PRI chieftain Beatriz Parades coaxed him out long enough to concede defeat. The PRI later said it would challenge the outcome because of the PAN’s virulent anti-Hank hit campaign.

Results from state elections since the July 2006 magna-fraud have been mixed. A PRIista running as a PRDista won the Chiapas governorship but a PRIista running as a PRDista lost Lopez Obrador’s (a former PRIista himself) state of Tabasco in 2006. In February of this year, the PRD, which governs the state of Zacatecas, lost control of the local legislature to the PRI after the leftists split. On the same day, the PRI squeezed out the PAN in Chihuahua and the PAN returned the favor in next-door Durango. Two months later, the niece of the legendary PRI cacique (political boss) the late Victor Cervera Pacheco won Yucatan back from the PAN, which had run the show for the last six years.

But the big winner in each and every one of these electoral farces has been rampant and widespread absenteeism as the credibility of the political parties and the electoral authorities hit rock bottom, confirming what July 2006 proved – the Mexican electoral system is irreparably broken.

JOHN ROSS is in Mexico City, plotting a new novella. If you have further information contact


JOHN ROSS’s El Monstruo – Dread & Redemption in Mexico City is now available at your local independent bookseller. Ross is plotting a monster book tour in 2010 – readers should direct possible venues to