Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, June 05, 2015

It's not just t-shirts anymore

Political parties in Mexico all give gifts to potential voters. Usually it's things like t-shirts and school notebooks. In 2015, the gifts are televisions.

Free TVs in Mexico Are Seen as Having Political Strings Attached
Isabel Valdez Rodríguez is expecting to pick up two free 24-inch digital televisions — one for herself; the other for her mother — courtesy of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government.

Her windfall, just two coupons printed with a promise at this point, is part of the government’s effort to switch the country to digital television. To help Mexico’s poorest citizens keep pace with technology, officials are vowing to give away 10 million free televisions.

But here in Mexico’s most populous state, the handout has merged with something else: an election campaign.

While the government describes the television plan as the way to bring all Mexicans into the digital age, opposition parties on the left and the right call it old-fashioned vote buying.

On Sunday, Mexicans will vote in midterm elections that are widely seen as a referendum on Mr. Peña Nieto’s performance…

There are big issues at stake in this election, which will choose all 500 members of Mexico’s lower house of Congress and almost a third of the country’s governors, as well as mayors and legislatures in more than half of the states.

Mr. Peña Nieto needs a working majority in Congress to support a budget overhaul in response to falling oil revenues and to restart his stalled security proposals. A majority would also give his party control over writing the fine print of a new anticorruption system it supported reluctantly.

Polls show that more than half of Mexicans disapprove of the president’s job performance…

But the parties and their campaigns mostly gloss over the country’s pressing issues by competing to hand out gifts while making vague promises of jobs, security, education and social programs…

The campaign gifts are illegal in most cases, but subjected to fines or other sanctions only after complaints are lodged with the Electoral Institute. Because all the parties break the law, such complaints are rare.

Mexico’s elections are publicly financed, and parties receive free television and radio spots. Private donations are allowed, but they are capped, and there are limits on campaign spending…

Even so, private donations flow unchecked and spending often greatly exceeds the limits, with a variety of means used to avoid detection, said Luis Carlos Ugalde, a former president of the Electoral Institute…

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