Democracy without the demos

Yesterday’s demonstration in Mexico City’s Zócalo was the largest in the country’s recorded history. One million and a half — as the organizers claim? One million and one houndred thousands — as the local police estimate? Two hundred thousand plus — as per Reuters? Who knows. Look at the photos — it was huge!

Today, as expected, the pundits in the press are ignoring the demonstration — or minimizing it (“the Zócalo can be filled with 150 thousand people,” says Sergio Sarmiento in Reforma, to which I feel like replying, “go ahead, try to do it yourself in defense of Calderón”), or demonizing it as a crime of lesa democracy.

Large masses of people demand at some personal cost that their vote be recounted, one by one, because they are convinced that the official results of the election (according to the IFE) are fraudulent. And, by so doing, they — the people, the demos in democracy — are deemed a threat to Mexico’s democracy! When you use money to influence the political process, that’s your inherent right within a democracy. If you use your feet and voice, and cooperate with those who suffer the same grievances as you do, that’s a threat to democracy.

I pick on Sergio Sarmiento because I deem him one of the most intelligent critics of López Obrador. Other critics are too wacky. Clearly, they are hired guns that cannot be taken seriously. Sarmiento’s opinions tend to reflect the views of a layer of urban intellectuals with sophistication and international experience (Sarmiento lived in Canada and speaks English fluently).

Sarmiento’s latest piece in Reforma criticizes what he deems to be López Obrador’s strategy: his challenging the election and using mass mobilization to subvert or weaken Mexico’s democratic institutions, which — implicit in Sarmiento’s text — are to be protected from the mobs. This position has some logic. What it doesn’t have is grounds in the reality of Mexico’s social life as can be seen if one ventures outside of the rich and middle-class enclaves that punctuate the country. It is a view that summarizes well the illusions of Sarmiento’s readership, the wishful thinking of a modern Mexico where 50 million poor are effectively invisible or, when visible, a pliable mass that wicked demogogues can easily manipulate.

I’ll repeat here an argument I have made before: No, fundamentally, Mexico’s political system is not weak due to the wickedness of political leaders such as López Obrador. Mexico’s political system is weak due to the divide between the haves and the havenots. And this far, the threat to the stability of Mexico’s political institutions doesn’t come from López Obrador or the masses of people who voted for him and now back up his challenge to the IFE’s election results. The threat to Mexico’s political stability comes from those who have tried to derail López Obrador’s bid for the presidency by using lots of money (including some that rightfully belongs to the public) and all sorts of dirty tricks. In the opposition to López Obrador, a lot of Mexicans — the poor, the forgotten ones, the ones with a darker skin, “los jodidos” — see a large-scale replica in the national political stage of the endless difficulties that afflict their day-to-day personal lives.

Sarmiento sees a paranoid López Obrador, whose constitutional immunity from criminal prosecution (as Mexico City’s mayor) was taken away (the infamous “desafuero”) due to his own legal neglect, rather than to the malice of those who oppose him. But the poor have reasons to suspect the actions of those who use the law when it serves them well and ignore it or trample it when it doesn’t. Sarmiento sees a clean election with a result López Obrador should have accepted inconditionally from the outset — any doubt of IFE’s partiality being another expression of paranoia. The people sees “gato encerrado” — an attempt to defraud them.


One Response to “Democracy without the demos”

  1. Al Grimstad Says:

    Thanks for continuing to follow this.

    However big the demo was, I think I recall that AMLO has called for another two Sundays afterwards that should have twice the turnout. The size boggles the mind.

    We appear to be in for some interesting times ahead.

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