Mexican Presidential Elections 2018

Thomas Bell, Staff Writer

In 1990, Peruvian writer and Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa famously said that “México es una dictadura perfecta”, or “Mexico is a perfect dictatorship”.  The relevance of his statement is not immediately apparent.  The country, after all, has had elections since the implementation of the current Constitution in 1917.  However, those elections have not proven to be democratic.  In 1929 the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI for the Spanish acronym, won the presidential elections as the Revolutionary National Party.  Their victory claimed over 93% of the vote.  Starting with another PRI win in 1934, there were federal elections to select the new President of the Republic every six years.  With regular elections and a constant flow of new presidents, as the incumbent could not (and still cannot) run for reelection, Mexico possessed the appearance of an efficient democracy.  But the political history of the country, leading up to the present day, reveals the characteristics of dictatorship and corruption that Mario Vargas Llosa referenced in 1990.

The success of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 1929 would turn out to be long-lasting.  In every presidential election between 1929 and 1994, PRI won, and oftentimes in unanimous landslides.  Before 1988, all PRI candidates won with more than 70 percent of the vote.  This was because opposition forces did not have the same opportunities to participate, with PRI dominating the government, news infrastructure, and the economy.  In fact, former President Miguel de la Madrid said in 2009 that PRI lost the presidential election in 1988, and committed massive electoral fraud to fake the victory.  In 2000, though, hope finally seemed to be on the horizon.  The National Action Party, or PAN, won the presidential election, and there was tremendous optimism that the country would change.  But after twelve years, conditions in Mexico had not improved, and the current President, Enrique Peña Nieto, won as a PRI candidate in 2012.

After years of governmental corruption and vast instability, a new party of the left, Morena, has the chance to contend for the presidency.  The elections this year could fundamentally change the country, and Morena could be a powerful new force for the political history of the nation.  Morena is a new party, unlike its competition.  It was founded in 2012 by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO as he is called.  AMLO is a popular politician in Mexico, and was the head of the Government of the Federal District (Mexico City) from 2000 to 2005.  In 2006 and 2012, AMLO was a candidate in the presidential elections with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), a leftist group.  But with Morena, AMLO is seeking to introduce a new movement to Mexican politics, separate from the old parties.  He is a populist, and his rhetoric is often anti-establishment.  Additionally, AMLO has voiced strong criticism of the American President, Donald Trump.  Enrique Peña Nieto has not had the same vigor in his opinions on Trump.  Ironically enough, the fiery rhetoric of the U.S. President can help AMLO, as many Mexicans experience a surge in nationalism against what they perceive as a threat to their society and culture.  Regardless of left vs. right wing, Morena offers a new approach to politics and governance.  With the legacy of corruption in PRI and PAN, a substantive change is necessary for the development of Mexican democracy.

But a simple argument against corruption will not be enough.  The party’s liberalism would represent a change from the policies of PRI and PAN.  PRI is a centrist party, but uses nationalism and a level of corruption to govern.  PAN is a conservative party, but they failed to change the basic structure of the country in their twelve years in power.  Morena’s platform offers a departure in ideology, which could prove popular.  For example, they want to improve access to basic public services.  Mexico’s healthcare system is universal, but the quality of care is well below that of the United States and Europe.  There are not many public hospitals, with the majority being reserved for people with private access.  In a country where there is a tremendous amount of poverty, it is necessary to improve access to medical care.  The party also wants free access to education and improved academic standards and quality.  Especially in southern Mexico, the education infrastructure is weak, with only about 45% of students completing high school.  Additionally, only 25% of students go on to complete their studies at a university.  With a sluggish national economy, the country needs more young people with an education to compete in the global economy.  Morena also wants access to the Internet for the entire population as a right of citizenship.  This would again be a sign of modernization and could contribute to Mexico’s economic competitiveness.

But none of these proposals matter if Morena cannot win.  This is the problem that other parties have had throughout Mexico’s long political history.  They could very well have the support of the people, but corruption could lead to electoral fraud.  During the era of PRI domination, the incumbent president selected the candidate of the party, leading to elections that were largely a formality.  This process was called “el dedazo”, which has no direct translation in English but essentially refers to the unilateral selection of the next leader by the incumbent.  With the current President being a member of PRI, there is a level of concern that history could repeat itself.

However, the polls suggest an opportunity for Morena and AMLO.    Enrique Peña Nieto is the most unpopular President in recent history, with an approval rate of 6%.  In an October survey by El Universal, a Mexican new agency, Morena had 24.0% support in the upcoming election.  This polled higher than PAN’s 14.3% and PRI’s 13.9%, the two parties that could realistically pose a threat to Morena.  The creation of alliances, though, can lead to different results, something which has been done a number of times in the past.  Therein lies the danger to Morena and AMLO.  Morena has at this point formed an alliance with the Labor Party (PT), a group that supports socialism and anti-imperialism.  But PT is not a very large party, with no members in the legislature or serving as governor of a state.  AMLO was the PRD’s candidate, but they have formed an alliance with PAN, a right-wing party, and the Citizen’s Movement (MC), a left-wing party.  This alliance is not politically consistent with two parties on the left and a large conservative party.  In what likely amounts to a simply vote-grabbing ploy, the substantially sized PAN and medium-sized PRD combined could defeat Morena and PT.  Besides these two, however, it is crucial to remember that PRI is the dominant party of government.  They will likely create an alliance with the medium-sized Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM), and two small groups in the New Alliance (PANAL) and Social Encounter Party (PES).  With a new standard-bearer in José Antonio Meade, PRI can be competitive in 2018.  It should be noted that PES is actively considering abandoning its alliance with PRI and joining with Morena, although this likely will not impact the polls in any substantial way.  El Financiero, a Mexican newspaper, published a survey of support for the alliances in November, and the results were closer than a grouping of the individual parties.  Morena-PT had 24% support, PRI-PVEM-PANAL-PES had 22%, and PAN-PRD-MC had 18%.  With 21% who said “none” and 15% who said “I don’t know”, any of the alliances could win in 2018.  But if Morena can detail the corruption and incompetence of PRI and PAN, especially relating to their time governing the country, they could earn the support of the Mexican people.

The political history of Mexico is a long saga of corruption and fraud.  When PAN won in 2000, undoing a decades-long regime, the change that many Mexicans expected did not take place.  Now, Morena and its leader have an opportunity to present a new legacy for Mexico.  With the nationalism and corruption of PRI and PAN, the country has not taken its place as a great power in the international community.  In a new regime, with more access to education, healthcare, and the Internet, Mexicans could develop the economy, the political system, and society that they have craved since 1929.  And, after nearly a century of waiting, the long-lasting “perfect dictatorship” could finally come to an end.

The Transition of Sri Lanka

 Leah Field, Staff Writer 

The South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of a difficult transition following the end of a decades-long civil war. The legacy of the Sri Lankan Civil War, which officially came to an end in May 2009, continues to cast a shadow on the country’s future. More than 100,000 civilians were killed over the course of twenty-five years in the violent conflict between the Sri Lankan government and minority Tamil militant groups. The outbreak of war was a culmination of longstanding ethnic tensions in the region. The majority of Sri Lankans, about seventy-five percent, are ethnically Sinhalese. However, Tamils make up a significant minority—between 10 and 15 percent of the population are Tamils. Sinhalese and Tamil Sri Lankans have their own cultures, languages, and traditions. The island is heavily segregated between the two groups, with the majority of Tamils living in areas in the north and east of the island. Religion is another key contention between the two groups, as Sinhalese Sri Lankans are Buddhist while Tamil Sri Lankans are predominantly Hindu. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, colloquially known as the Tamil Tigers, emerged as the most prominent Tamil militant group in the country in the 1970s, and war officially broke out when clashes between the Tamil Tigers and government forces erupted in 1983.

What followed was a bloody and violent civil war with mass human rights violations committed by both sides. The Sri Lankan government regularly committed massacres of Tamil civilians—committing torture and causing disappearances of their enemies. Likewise, the Tamil Tigers tortured, used child soldiers, and committed massacres against Sinhalese civilians. The war came to an end with the adoption of a ceasefire in 2009, but the aftermath consists of heightened ethnic tensions, violence, and discrimination.

In October 2015, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for the pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Yet, more than two years after the resolution’s passing, the government of Sri Lanka has taken no substantial action to remedy the nation’s ongoing crisis. On the contrary, many recent government policies have only exacerbated tensions and violence. Thousands of internally displaced Tamil Sri Lankans receive no aid from the government, which has instead implemented a policy of moving Sinhalese citizens into formerly Tamil areas. Tamil regions remain largely militarized, and any protests are met with quick and brutal repression by police. One of the government policies most strongly condemned by the international community and human rights groups is the oppressive Prevention of Terrorism Act. Passed in the 1970s to allow the government to indiscriminately detain and torture Tamil Tiger members or their suspected supporters, the Prevention of Terrorism Act is still in effect today. The act is used today to detain people without due process for years at a time, and under the act, torture and sexual abuse are rampant. Political opponents and peace activists are common targets of the PTA, which is disproportionately used against Tamils. These policies only scratch the surface of the continuous injustices in Sri Lanka.

In 2016, a Consultation Task Force was appointed by then prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe with the purpose of making recommendations on how Sri Lanka should advance justice and reconciliation. In 2017, the CTF released a detailed report that extrapolated upon the policies recommended by the 2015 UN resolution. Like the resolution, the Sri Lankan government has refused to consider any of the CTF’s suggestions. However, in spite of the government’s obstinacy, the recommended mechanisms are crucial if Sri Lanka ever hopes to move past the violence and tension of its civil war.

One of the most important recommendations made by the CTF report is that of a truth commission. A truth commission, one that can formally hold perpetrators accountable and bring closure to mourning families, is an essential step towards justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. In recent decades, truth commissions have been used across the world as a method of moving past conflict and into the future. Most famously, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission implemented a combination of investigations, witness testimonies, and trials to cope with the country’s violent apartheid past. Truth commissions are certainly not perfect, and they cannot solve all of a country’s problems on their own. However, a truth commission is sorely needed in Sri Lanka as a first step in a transition toward democracy and peace.

In the case of Sri Lanka, an effective truth commission is perhaps even more necessary because of the nature of the country’s past conflict and civil war. Unlike in other truth commissions, such as in the South African TRC, a Sri Lankan truth commission will have to investigate and hold accountable human rights abuses perpetrated by both opposing sides of the war. The sensitivity of this endeavor is enormous, and the concept makes Sri Lankans on both sides fearful and angry. However, the alternative to accepting the civil war’s reality is much grimmer. Already the Sri Lankan government has begun to rewrite history in their favor. The government’s official stance is the denial of any human rights abuses perpetrated by their forces during the war, and they additionally continue to ignore hundreds of forced disappearances that affect families to this day. Perhaps the most obvious subversion of history by the Sri Lankan government was in the form of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) carried out by the government in 2010. Nominally, the LLRC was a truth commission intended to investigate and corroborate the human rights violations that took place during the civil war. In reality, the LLRC did no such thing. Both human rights groups and the international community have lambasted the LLRC as inaccurate, hopelessly biased, and destructive towards peace- a political tool used by the Sri Lankan government to exonerate themselves of all crimes while allowing them to claim that they pursued accountability.

False attempts to remedy the past such as the LLRC only inflame tensions in the country and emphasize the need for an accurate and sincere truth commission in Sri Lanka. While this goal is seemingly far away, it is still possible. This past fall, the Sri Lankan government caved to international pressure and established an Office of Missing Persons in order to investigate unresolved cases of forced disappearances. While many accuse this action of being merely another instance of “cosmetic maneuvering” for the sake of international actors, it nevertheless proves a point: with the combination of continued international pressure and the persistent internal outcry for justice, the implementation of a truth commission and other transitional justice mechanisms is possible in Sri Lanka. 

Controversial Australian Welfare Plan Sparks Criticism

Derek Brody, Staff Writer

  In an age of large welfare states and massive government entitlement programs, some countries are taking steps to increase accountability in the distribution of these benefits. Late last summer, the Australian government announced plans to randomly drug test welfare recipients in an effort to do just this, but this has been met with immediate pushback from those on the center-left who claim the program simply reinforces existing social and political power gaps. This has been a common proposal across the world from those who claim to have conservative political ideologies, supported by unfounded claims that these welfare recipients use their vouchers to purchase illicit substances. Minister for Social Services Christian Porter released a statement detailing the rationale behind the program, saying, “The aim of the policy is to help job seekers to receive the help they need to get on a path towards securing a job and building a better future for themselves and their families.”

The program, which took effect in January of this year, will begin by randomly selecting 5,000 people who receive welfare payments from the federal government. The government will perform urine, saliva, or hair tests on the randomly selected pool to search for traces of meth, ecstasy, heroin, or marijuana. If a recipient tests positive for one of the substances, the Australian government will convert 80% of their welfare payment to a “BasicsCard,” which is only eligible to be used for food, rent, or childcare. A second positive test will automatically trigger a medical visit and addiction counseling program for the recipient. If the recipient fails to engage in treatment at this point, their welfare payments could be stopped. This effort is being undertaken to reduce government social welfare spending, as well as a motivating factor to encourage low-income residents to re-enter the workforce.

  After a two-year trial period, the program will be reevaluated by the federal government for effectiveness and cost-efficiency. As a part of the pilot program agreement, the government will only implement this procedure in three locations: Canterbury-Bankstown, Logan, and Mandurah. These areas were selected based on their relatively high levels of unemployment and drug use. Approximately 12,000 residents of Canterbury-Bankstown are currently receiving welfare payments, and the new program plans to test about 1,750 of them by next February.

  Liberal Senator Eric Abetz utilized age-old rhetoric regarding welfare reform and fiscal responsibility in an attempt to promote the plan. Abetz touted the plan, saying, “I think most Australians are aware of some, not all, some welfare recipients that actually sadly use the welfare system as a hammock, as opposed to a safety net, and as a good, competent government looking after the welfare of those individuals as well as the taxpayers, it makes good sense that you look at policy options to encourage people into work, into self-reliance and relieve the burden on their fellow Australians.”

Randomly drug testing welfare recipients has not been widely adopted across the globe, but there are several examples of other governmental agencies carrying out similar programs. New Zealand implemented a similar program in 2015 with startling results. Armed with a $1 million budget, the country drug tested 8,000 welfare recipients. Only 22 tested positive, indicating the flawed logic behind the program itself. Likewise, the state of Florida also randomly drug tested their welfare recipients, and only 2.6 percent tested positive for any of the four substances. Recent estimates in the United States have found that about one in five welfare recipients had used illicit drugs in the past year, which makes drug use 50% more common in welfare households than the general population. The study went on to find, however, that less than 5% of welfare recipients met the diagnostic criteria for having a substance abuse problem, further providing evidence to refute many of the claims made by the Australian government.

  The Australian Green party, which holds 1 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives and nine of the 76 seats in the Senate, came out in fierce opposition to the proposal. The Green Party is a left-leaning organization whose largest commitment is to environmental rights and protections. A release from the party stated, “the legislation completely ignores the advice and evidence from both medical professionals and social security experts. The Australian Greens are deeply concerned by the government’s repeated rejection of the expertise and evidence given by stakeholders in their continued pursuit of harsh cuts to income support.”

  The Green Party went on to criticize the cost of the program, pointing to several similar attempts in the United States. A program in four American states over an 18-month period tested over 200,000 individuals at a cost of over $1 million. These tests went on to disqualify 847 recipients, equaling a cost of over $1,100 per disqualified individual. At this cost per disqualification, it is clear that programs similar to this are a poor use of public funds.

  Likewise, the response by several Australian medical groups have clarified the negative consequences of this program. Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Michael Gannon released a statement voicing his displeasure, noting that, “The populist idea is that there are armies of drug-addled people bludging off the welfare system. But the reality is, we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable people in the community who need a hand up. These proposed measured will only serve to marginalize and stigmatize an already-impoverished group.” The negative response from medical professionals, policymakers, and private industry indicate the potentially negative ramifications of this program’s implementation.

  Human Services Minister Alan Tudge responded to the criticism of the program in early August, noting that, “This is a trial in every sense of the word, where we want to try something new, evaluate it, and if it works then we might roll it out further. If it does not work then we adjust. That is how you do a trial. By the way, all medical advances are done on this basis, of trial and error. And if it is good for health policy, why isn’t it good for social policy to do it this way?” Mr. Tudge’s analogy, however, fails on numerous accounts. Clinical trials in the health field are traditionally carried out systematically and with the consent of patients, while this trial period will occur with little input from the public. Likewise, medical clinical trials are subject to strict oversight from grant funding programs, while a similar system of responsibility has not been established in this program.

  The program has also received pushback from those in private industry, including a damning statement from Jobs Australia CEO David Thompson. In a statement from this August, Thompson noted that some may stop asking for welfare assistance altogether, “Simply because they feel that the whole process is really quite demeaning and humiliating.” He went on to state that many would turn to other measures to receive the financial backing they so desperately need. He noted that some may turn to charities for this assistance, while others may resort to crime or prostitution. Fiona McLeod, the president of the Law Council of Australia, reacted similarly to the news. She went on record saying, “What we don’t see here is evidence that this will be beneficial, and we don’t see a benefit that outweighs the imposition or the punitive effect on a certain group of people. It interferes with people’s liberty and it certainly interferes with our responsibility to protect those in our community who are not so well off.”

  The round of criticism led to a response from Liberal backbencher Ben Morton, who advocated for the passage of this program. “I can’t believe there are organizations that are closing their mind to something that could work,” Mr. Morton said. “I think some of the policy officers in some of these peak bodies need to stop focusing on ideology.”

  The program also includes a secondary provision, which introduces major changes to the compliance regime for welfare recipient jobseekers. By utilizing a demerit point-style system, the government claims it will save over $200 million. It also eliminates several pension payments programs, including those for individuals who are unable to lodge a full claim or those receiving bereavement allowance. This is done as a means of reducing government spending and cutting down on social welfare programs, a conservative ideological goal.

As the government readies itself to implement the program by the beginning of next year, it must continue to respond to the harsh criticism levied from all sides. Critics have raised several questions regarding the effectiveness, cost-efficiency, and morality of the program, and the Australian polity now has 24 months to answer those queries. Regardless, it will provide important and powerful context to worldwide drug policy in the future. After careful consideration of the responses of other policymakers and health experts, as well as the results of similar programs in the United States and New Zealand, it is increasingly clear that this program’s implementation is an assault on members of Australia’s lower class. Rather creating an honest system to increase accountability in the process of welfare distribution, Australia’s polity is instead attempting to widen the existing class divide and further punish those at the lowest rungs of its socio-economic ladder.

The Debate on Global Gun Policy

 

 Emma Donahue, Staff Writer

  Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. From the years 1996 to 2012, there have been ninety mass shootings in the United States. The runner up is the Philippines, with only eighteen. Recently, we have backtracked rather than progressed with regards to gun policy. In February, President Trump rolled back an Obama-era regulation that was aimed at preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns. Despite being home to less than five percent of the world’s population, we own thirty-five to fifty percent of its civilian owned guns, making us the number one firearm per capita nation. We also have the highest gun homicide and suicide rate, although a Pew study showed that the majority of Americans own a gun for personal protection.

Legislation to ban semiautomatic assault weapons was recently defeated in the senate, in spite of the bill’s popular support in the wake of the Las Vegas and San Antonio shootings. Currently, we have bans on concealed and specific categories of weapons, as well as restrictions on sales to certain groups of people. The Gun Control Act of 1986 prohibited under eighteen year olds, convicted criminals, the mentally disabled, and dishonorably discharged military personnel from buying firearms. In 1993, The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act required those without a gun license to go through a background check before purchasing a gun from a federally authorized dealer. There have also been setbacks, like when the Supreme Court retracted the law that banned handguns in Washington D.C., or when Idaho, Alaska, and Kansas attempted to nullify federal gun legislation.

Many analysts believe that the United States could benefit by modeling our gun policy after certain countries with lower gun-related crime. In Canada, major gun reforms were passed following a school shooting in 1989 where the perpetrator used a semiautomatic rifle. Now, there is a twenty-eight day waiting period for gun purchases, mandatory safety training, more thorough background checks, bans on large capacity magazines, and increased restrictions on military grade weapons and ammunition. Their three categories of firearms include non-restricted (rifles and shotguns, which don’t need to be registered), restricted (handguns, semi automatic rifles and shotguns), and prohibited (automatic weapons). Australia is another prime example of how restrictive policies can decrease violence: since their recent implementation of new gun control laws, there have been declining gun deaths and no mass shootings. Their murder rate due to guns has fallen to one per 100,000, compared to our five per 100,000. Additionally, armed robberies occur half as  frequently there as they do here.

In the United Kingdom, gun control reform was spurred by the Hungerford massacre in 1987. The direct result of this tragic event was the Firearms Amendment Act, which expanded the list of banned weapons and increased registration requirements. The Scotland Dumblane shooting in 1996 lead to the Snowdrop Petition, which was instrumental in pushing legislation to ban handguns and implement a temporary gun buyback. Japan is known for having among the most strict laws, and have a very low gun homicide rate as a result. Most guns are illegal there; under the Firearm and Sword law, the only guns permitted are shotguns, air guns, and specific, situational exceptions which require a series background, drug, and mental health tests. In Germany, any gun purchaser under the age of twenty-five are subject to a psychiatric evaluation that they must pass in order to obtain a firearm. License applicants in Finland can only purchase guns if they can prove that they are an active member in shooting or hunting clubs, pass an aptitude test, a police interview and be in possession of a safe storage unit. Similarly, Italian laws also require purchasers to establish a legitimate reason for their need of a firearm. French applicants for guns must have no record and also pass a background check which takes into account reason for the purchase.

Perhaps the reason we have failed to progress as much as these countries is due to a certain mindset created by forces like the NRA. Supporters of increased gun-rights tend to argue that high rates of ownership don’t directly correlate with the strictness of gun laws. The NRA has been continuously opposing safe storage laws, saying it is pointless to own a gun if you can’t reach it in time to defend yourself. However, only a small amount of victims are able to actually use a gun in their defense. A national crime victimization survey showed that 99.2% of 6 million victims (from the years 2007-2011) involved in non-fatal violent crimes did not protect themselves with a gun. Furthermore, in a study of 198 cases of unwanted entry into family homes in Atlanta, it was found that the invader was twice as likely to obtain the homeowners’ gun than to have it used against him/her. There is also a debate surrounding right to carry laws (RTC), as the NRA has been pushing for a Supreme Court decision that would make this right a matter of the Constitution. But, research conducted at Stanford University found that the thirty three states that have adopted RTC laws between 1979-2014 experience gun-related crime rates fourteen percent higher than if these laws had not been adopted.

So, despite the significant evidence that more restrictive policies (both internationally and domestically) have resulted in less gun violence, it seems that the American mindset towards what we views as a right must shift before any real progress can be made.