As a young man, I was obsessed with the political phenomenon of “el dedazo” in Mexico. It didn’t make sense that in a democracy, a sitting president could point to another politician, making him an automatic candidate to be his successor and essentially handing over his power. It made less sense that millions of Mexicans accepted, without protest, the fact that this hand-picked successor would certainly win the next presidential election.
Recently, after a hiatus of almost two decades, President Enrique Peña Nieto decided to resurrect the practice by choosing José Antonio Meade to succeed him. The difference today, however, is that a victory for Meade, a member of Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (or PRI), is not guaranteed.
When it came to selecting Meade, there wasn’t even the false pretense of a democratic process. There were no polls or party conventions. Nothing. Peña Nieto simply pointed his finger and chose.
Then Meade begged the PRI to, in his words, “make me yours.” Party members embraced him. Now Meade must defend a political administration that has been accused of widespread fraud, is primarily responsible for the massacres at Tlatelolco and Tlatlaya and has concealed the means by which questionable luxury real estate properties were acquired. Meade would do well to remember that working with someone like Peña Nieto makes you his accomplice.
The first question we must ask Meade is whether, if elected, he would launch an independent investigation into Peña Nieto and his wife for their purchase of a $7 million home from a government contractor. I can predict what the answer will be.
I can also predict that Meade will be reluctant to acknowledge the fact that more than 93,000 Mexicans have been killed during Peña Nieto’s administration, not to mention that 43 college students from Ayotzinapa disappeared and remain missing.
A friend who knows Meade well recently told me that he’s actually a very qualified candidate for the presidency. Perhaps that’s true, but it’s beside the point. He was undemocratically handpicked, and is fatally linked to Peña Nieto.
It’s been 18 years since we saw the last “dedazo” in Mexico, when President Ernesto Zedillo approved Francisco Labastida’s candidacy. Back then the PRI tried to be less cynical; the party even held an internal election, and Labastida won more votes than his opponent. Even so, Labastida had to wait for the president’s traditional blessing.
Peña Nieto, however, didn’t even try to win his party’s support. What for? It’s obvious that there’s a small group of politicians in Mexico that believe personal contacts and dubious political practices can allow it to keep its hold on power.
I’ve been living abroad for many years, and had almost forgotten how things work in Mexico. In the United States, it would be unthinkable that a candidate, Democrat or Republican, would be on the ballot merely because the acting president decided to put him there. Not even President Donald Trump could get away with that.
But for Peña Nieto, this “dedazo” was the best option. After all, the president is likely concerned that his successor might investigate him for possible corruption, or for not upholding human rights protections. He’s probably worried that he could wind up being the first former Mexican president to be jailed. Peña Nieto needs a candidate who will support him unconditionally, and he has apparently found such a man in Meade.
Maybe not even all this will save Peña Nieto. His candidate would have to win a closely watched election. And candidates in Mexico are well known for turning on the president who selected them if it becomes politically convenient. Plus Peña Nieto’s offenses are so blatant that nothing and nobody will be able to defend him. It’s high time that former presidents began to feel a little uncomfortable.
This terrible lack of democratic culture is not unique to the PRI. If any other political party in Mexico were to handpick someone — or worse, if a member of another party were to elect himself or herself — we would have to denounce the practice just as strongly.
“El dedazo” is an arrogant relic of an old political system. Next July 1, Mexicans will decide whether they want more of the same. And the PRI has already given us a preview.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest is “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.” Email him firstname.lastname@example.org.