Election season is in full bloom here in Mexico. Planted along distressed sidewalks, brown telephone poles are the stems of blue, aqua, yellow, and red posters proclaiming the nauseating (ad nauseam): “Together it’s possible,” “Veritable change is in your hands.” Buses, walls, and subway stations are lined with the names and faces of candidates—often 'defaced' or strategically stamped with competitors’ stickers. It’s not just a race among individuals; political parties have their own sets of posters, independent of the candidates that they are fielding. Even subway tickets and supermarket receipts remind me to vote on July 1.
Yet, behind the ubiquitous, often unruly electoral politics lie remarkably strict regulations. Natives from various parts of Mexico tell me—unprompted—that at least there are fewer political ads this year; recently passed campaign finance laws restrict the amount of private funding that candidates can spend, while also prohibiting any entity (candidate, company, etc.) from airing electoral ads on radio or TV stations, or from denigrating other candidates or parties.
I didn’t need to travel so far as Mexico to be impressed by their stringent electoral laws. Visiting the Mexican Consulate’s website to look into visa issues before I left, a full-page ‘Important Advisory’ popped up explaining that governmental propaganda (content regarding ‘programs, actions, works, and achievements of the government’) had been removed from all sites for the term of the election season (March 30 to July 1).
This ubiquity of government in the form of electoral politics contrasts the general lack of governance, relative to in the U.S. of everyday urban life (maybe an unfair comparison, I'll acknowledge). The city looks and feels like it works in an unplanned, piecemeal way. If zoning exists, it is either ineffective or very liberal, so that closet-sized shops fill in the gaps left between houses with starkly contrasting facades. Each plot seems to have its own slab of sidewalk, often set at different elevations, made of different materials, and reflecting different degrees of upkeep—or rather, disrepair.
Some 50% of land in Mexico City was initially settled illegally. And dominating the streets are relatively uncoordinated, privately owned and operated microbuses, many of which the driver has modified to make them more unique, or at least noticeable (e.g. loud mufflers, body kits, stickers, chrome wheels). These buses, which accommodate the excess demand and fill the spatial gaps left by public mass transit, account for about 50% of all trips and contribute ~70% of mobile-source particulate emissions.
The elections have also given me my first glimpse into how politics influence the Center for Sustainable Transport (CTS), the non-governmental organization where I’m interning. Introducing me to the projects that I might get involved with, the head of my division told me of one especially exciting project, analyzing and recommending policies to induce higher-density growth in Mexico City. While this colossal project is just in the early planning stages, he explained that it must be completed within about month! Much of the bureaucracy turns over with the election of each new administration, replaced by individuals who enjoy the favor of the incoming executive. Apparently, CTS can’t expect that the project will be supported by the incoming bureaucratic leadership, and must therefore complete it before the incumbent administration leaves.
Of course, many nations would love to be faced with these issues. Recognizing that, I hope to retrain myself to have equal appreciation of these privileged flaws (or maybe quirks?).