Sun, Jul 05, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Mexico parties talk tough on crime ahead of polls

VIOLENCE: Pollsters said President Felipe Calderon’s party looked set to lose in today’s mid-term polls and would have fared worse if not for his drug campaign

REUTERS , MEXICO CITY

An Argentine gaucho, wearing a protective mask as a precaution against the A(H1N1) flu, enters a public hospital in Buenos Aires on Friday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

When the Green Party backs the death penalty, things must be bad.

Mexican political parties are vying to look the toughest on crime ahead of today’s congressional elections, but no one is trying harder than the tiny Green Party, which wants to legalize the death penalty for murderers and kidnappers.

Brutal, and often fatal, abductions and hundreds of drug gang murders each month are a major problem for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose first move on taking power in 2006 was to launch an army assault on drug gangs.

CRISIS

The economic crisis that hit last year has become the top issue, but crime will still loom large in a mid-term election that will determine how much clout Calderon has for the remainder of his term.

Parties are playing to voters fed up with extortion and kidnappings by gangs often led by crooked police.

“Most Mexican states and cities are being held hostage by the fear of organized crime. People are enormously fed up,” said Senator Arturo Escobar, an architect of the Green Party’s death penalty bid.

The Greens have strayed in recent years from an environmental platform in favor of political tactics and alliances to boost their size.

Escobar said it opted to pursue the death penalty campaign after focus groups showed up to 85 percent of Mexicans were willing to back capital punishment.

Calderon’s drug war has plunged Mexico into its most violent period since the revolution of the early 20th century. Escalating turf wars between rival gangs have killed some 12,300 people since the crackdown began.

Despite the bloodshed, Mexicans widely support using the army to confront drug lords who have controlled chunks of the country for decades, operating with relative impunity thanks to corrupt local officials.

Calderon’s National Action Party, or PAN, is expected to lose ground in today’s mid-term elections as the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, picks up votes from people hurt by Mexico’s deepest recession since 1995.

Yet the PAN would be losing by a bigger margin if not for a campaign highlighting Calderon’s drug war, pollsters say.

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The PAN’s radio and TV ads have tried to cast the PRI, the party it ousted in 2000 after seven decades in power, as full of corrupt politicians in cahoots with drug lords.

One TV ad flags a string of arrests and drug seizures under Calderon and closes with a jibe aimed at the PRI: “Don’t leave Mexico in the hands of crime.”

Pollsters say the campaign has been effective.

“In the middle of an economic recession, one would expect to see the ruling party be severely punished, but it isn’t,” said Roy Campos, head of polling firm Consulta Mitofsky.

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