PAN’s referendum: a dignified strategy?

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On the first hours of July 28th, along with the corresponding notice of intent presented to Congress, PAN’s national leader, Gustavo Madero, announced the beginning of a campaign for collecting signature that attempts to put the issue of minimum wage in the scenario for the 2015 elections. This surprise announcement, although apparently not synchronized with other national debates, goes from issues of evident relevance: pending matters regarding social justice, the implementation of mechanisms for participative democracy as well as the party’s modus operandi for 2015. Taking all of the aforementioned into account, is this referendum a safe bet for PAN? The answer should be based on the following four aspects: its economic viability or convenience, its coherence with the party values, its alignment with political interest and its potential impact on public perception.

Regarding the first point, let us consider the question just as it was established by PAN leaders: “Do you agree that the Federal Labor Law should establish that the National Commission of Minimum Wages should fix a new minimum wage that will cover all needs within a family in order to at least guarantee the well-being line that has been determined by CONEVAL?” Despite the optimism of Gustavo Madero for the scope of this question, believing that a change on this issue could directly benefit 26 million Mexicans, the economic theory questions several issues. In principle, an economic impact would be imposed, rather than it being decided by the market and thus, inflation – a general increase of prices as production costs grow higher – as well as more layoffs and less hiring would ensue.

Considering the aforementioned, it is worth assessing whether fighting for the cause of a minimum wage is coherent with the party’s own history and ideology or, even more importantly, with its own political basis and potential voters. PAN’s leader explained his motives as a way to promote “human dignity”. However, it is difficult to combine the idea of defending something that is essentially a market distortion with the principles that firstly motivated certain groups to join the party. The issue goes beyond a simple dogma: regarding the issue of strategic alliances and allocation of resources, PAN could potentially be alienating an important group of businessmen in an especially delicate timing (the Mexican Employer Corporation, COPARMEX, has already voiced its opinion on the issue, saying that an increase on minimum wage should be linked with productiveness). It does not cease to be curious that PAN has also put itself in a position that will put it against this sector, thereby letting to the opportunity of using the dissatisfaction of the business class with the federal government.

What is the size of this political issue? Firstly, although the official discourse seems to say it is, the referendum encouraged by PAN is not the only one on the electoral calendar. The campaign orchestrated by PRD and López Obrador with the intention of sabotaging the energy reform has been kept like that since April, although with a different emphasis. Having said that, the country ought to prepare for a scenario: as established by the Federal Law of Public Consultations, in case both initiatives got the necessary number of signatures required and since more than a fifth part of those who support the energy referendum would also support an increase of minimum wage, only the first one that gets this specific requirement would be admitted. In other words, PRD and PAN would be competing against the clock in order to gather that aforementioned two percent.  A second scenario on political matters: by putting its question on voting ballots, the party believes that it will have a great ace that will benefit its candidates in mid-term elections, given the historical low turnout in these political events. This also represents a risk, since a voter than can be attracted by the issue presented in the referendum might prefer to favor candidates from other political factions.

Finally, there is the factor of seeking the spotlight. Is this decision a good positioning strategy? Given the challenged faced, it is understandable that the elements that would make this strategy an attractive option for PAN leaders: obtaining positive attention both from the media as well as from the general population, position themselves within a specific issue and provide a cause for PAN, a party that has been adrift and struggling; allowing its members to work for a specific cause. All of these seem to be positive aspects. Even so, this cause could be diluted amongst other issues or fail in recruiting new members. Even more so, it could be mobilizing the basis of leftwing: as the Mexican saying goes: nobody knows who he works for…

If the decision was coherent in that sense, couldn’t it have reached the same impact with a public policy proposal that was focused on creating a positive change for population as well as strengthening (or reviving) the party’s principles? If, as suggested by Madero, a referendum was made before the actual content of the former was discussed, it seems that the long-term strategy of PAN is relying on a strike of luck.


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