It was a strange political exercise: the populist left.wing president of Mexico decided to hold a referendum, to get permission to open a criminal investigation against his five predecessors.
It was the first referendum of its kind in the history of the second largest country in Latin America. It is not entirely clear for what the referendum was necessary. The president has a clear majority in Congress, and he has three more years or more until the end of his term. But he sought a strengthened mandate. In the language of those days, he needed a political “booster” shot.
He actually won by a huge majority. 97% of voters supported his proposal. But only 7% of eligible voters bothered to vote. The law requires a participation of at least 40%, for a referendum to be binding.
Mexicans do not need excuses to harbor resentment for their politicians. The presidents of Mexico are elected for a single term of six years, and are not allowed to run again. In any case, we do not know which of them would have been elected again. The opinion is that Mexicans are breathing a sigh of relief when their presidents disappear.
A long.standing tradition is that they do disappear, and do not fill political positions after their retirement. Some even left Mexico so that their photo would not be extended to their heirs. The heirs themselves tend to leave their predecessors at rest, perhaps in part because they themselves hope to be left at rest when a donor arrives.
“Hugs, not bullets”
Anders Manuel López Obrador, the current tenant at the presidential palace, is not like his predecessors. He came to power after a long struggle against the elites who ruled Mexico in the 90 years that preceded it. He was defeated twice before winning. He promised to break the tools, and change the rules of the game. The Mexicans actually believed him. They gave him the biggest election victory since Mexico led a competitive election, in 1994. He bought the hearts of Mexicans in modest, almost spartan ways of governing, like flying in economy class.
He promised to solve the problem of violent crime through “hugs, not bullets,” and return the military to barracks. Instead of fighting criminals, he promised to fight the roots of the problem: economic hardship and social injustice. Unfortunately, the drug traffickers’ cartels did not agree with his analysis, nor did they cooperate.
Unlucky, he took office in the midst of the presidency of Donald Trump, who demanded that Mexico be a subcontractor in repelling potential immigrants from the U.S. border. Of the 240,000 dead, this is the official number. The opinion is that the actual number is much higher.
The populist president therefore tried to change the subject. His party’s posters in the referendum showed his five predecessors with red stripes on their eyes and the words “Fake” and “Drug Government.” Their pictures were somewhat reminiscent of the main defendants in the Nuremberg trials, 1946, and perhaps not by chance.
The president of Mexico says he is happy with the results of the “popular consultation” (so in Spanish), and referendums will multiply and go in the future, including a referendum next year, in which Mexicans will be asked if they want him to continue in office. There is no constitutional obligation to hold such a referendum, but a populist square speaker needs the loud consent of the masses. He should hope that next time more than 7% will go to the polls.
Gupta and “Perception of the State”
In South Africa, a former president is not only on trial for massive corruption; He is already in jail after being convicted of contempt of court. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison while the corruption trial continued.
Jacob Zuma was President of South Africa for nine years. He is accused of stealing the state, or rather leasing it. For such a state of affairs, the World Bank coined the term “state capture” 20 years ago. It describes the interactions between corrupt businessmen, who exploit their influence on politicians, to navigate the decision.making process in favor of their commercial interests. Government capital, in spoken Hebrew; Oligarchs, in spoken Russian. South Africans preferred the “concept of the state.” The term came into use there during 2016, and has been a regular chant in every political debate ever since.
Zuma went very far. He was one of the heroes of the struggle against apartheid, was captured and sent to the same prison where Nelson Mandela was wearing. His reputation did not reconcile with the massive corruption of his presidency. He was tied at the navel to a family of Indian businessmen, Gupta, whose conduct has cost the South African treasury, by one estimate, one hundred billion dollars. There are also more modest estimates.
The suspicions against Zuma began to be investigated in 2016. He clung to the horns of the altar of his presidency for a year and a half. He undermined the judiciary, recruited judges, incited against other judges; Plaintiffs’ salaries and Peter’s plaintiffs; Accused his opponents of racist conspiracy against him, “with the help of Western countries”; There were rumors that he was aided by Russia’s security services, and Russia in turn took advantage of its ties to try and sell to South Africa eight nuclear power plants that were not needed.
A prominent local cartoonist, known as Zapiro (his real name is Jonathan Shapiro), shocked the public with a cartoon featuring a woman wrapped in a South African flag raped by Zuma and a friend of his. Gupta is seen in it untying his pants belt.
“Kill for Zuma”
The ruling ANC party, which is the direct successor of the liberation movement, finally forced Zuma to resign, in early 2018.
Even then, considerable elements within the party opposed putting the former president on trial. Some threatened to “kill for Zuma.” Others have warned that such a trial would undermine South Africa’s internal stability.
“The game is over, Zuma,” a South African newspaper announced in February 2018, when Zuma resigned / Photo: From the front page of the newspaper
This is exactly what happened last month. When Zuma was convicted separately of contempt of court. He appealed the conviction, lost, and was jailed on July 9th. Violent riots broke out almost immediately in two parts of South Africa. Shopping malls, supermarkets, businesses, gas stations and vehicles were set on fire. Goods were looted. At least 332 people were killed.
The economic damage is estimated at billions of dollars. The damage to South Africa’s reputation in the eyes of foreign investors is immeasurably great. 25,000 soldiers were sent to establish order. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was formerly Zuma’s deputy, claims it was a deliberate attempt to overthrow the democratic government. The government claims it knows the identities of the planners.
This was, perhaps, a general repetition towards the corruption trial itself. If 15 months’ imprisonment has resulted in such a violent outburst, what will be the conviction for robbery and corruption, which has a long prison term? Crowds will think it is an act of good spoons and of wickedness.
South Africa is certainly flawed, but it is essentially a state of law. No one is above the law, not even a former president, not even a former liberation hero. But the rule of law will face a dilemma: does it really have to let the law name the mountain without paying attention to the results? South Africa is probably not the only democracy that this dilemma will bother it in the coming months.
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