A cautionary tale from Mexico

Published March 24, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Edgardo J. Angara
Former Senator Edgardo J. Angara

By Edgardo J. Angara

Former Senator


In the old days, generals and colonels forcibly seized power and captured government.

Nowadays, established democracies are threatened not by military coups but by elected officials pandering to populist sentiments.

The most recent is Italy, where two populist parties – the Five Star Movement and the Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) – are now forming the new government.

In new democracies in the post-Soviet Union like Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, and Romania, populist leaders also are winning power on anti-immigration and anti-EU policies.

Donald Trump’s electoral victory in the US and Brexit in the UK are two of the dramatic cases of populism attacking democracy.

Mexico is a country to watch and of special interest to Filipinos. Mexico will hold a national election in July. The Baker Institute for Public Policy referred to the upcoming Mexican elections as “unprecedented in its scope and impact on Mexico’s political landscape” as the results will determine which direction the country will take in both its public policy and governance, and international relations — especially since US President Donald Trump is still set on building a border wall to deter illegal immigration.

Recent surveys indicate the candidates of the ruling party PRI and of the PAN are not leading in voter preferences. According to Bloomberg, the candidate most likely to win is former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has a commanding 42% voter preference.

Mexican historian Enrique Krauze  traced in his book, Biography of Power, the evolution of Mexico from a colony to an independent democracy.

Mexico has a rich history, natural landscape, different ethnic groups, varied soil and weather conditions with land occupying both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. Mexico was the biggest colony of Spain in the Northern Hemisphere. The Mexicans successfully overthrew the Spanish rule in the mid-19th century only to be invaded by the French who they also threw out in favor of their own government headed by Benito Juarez.

Mexico and the Philippines have sustained direct relations for nearly two centuries through the Manila Acapulco Galleon Trade. Mexicans and Filipinos have so much in common in food, religious celebrations, rituals, and culture. This was the result of 300 years of Galleon Trade between Manila and Acapulco where the mighty galleons brought crops and culture across the Pacific.

And like Mexico, Filipinos too have undergone — but to a lesser degree — violent politics, rampant corruption in and out of government, and now widespread drug addiction. It’s interesting for Filipinos whether in government or students of politics to see how the Mexican elections will turn out.

In the recent ASEAN Australia Special Summit, an observer wrote that fledgling democracies in Southeast Asia are threatened too by populism, citing the Philippines. True or not, we should be watchful.


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