Demotix/Photographer: Arturo Hernández. All rights reserved
Independent candidates were the great surprise of the 7 June elections in Mexico. For the first time they succeeded in breaking the bipartite stranglehold, and their successes and impressive showing have led to a redrawing of the electoral map and have administered an important lesson to the political parties.
Mexicans who voted for independent candidates have demonstrated that they are tired of corporatist politics, and of parties exhausted and undermined by the corruption and impunity that characterise elected politicians. In Mexico, it is almost impossible to prosecute and convict a corrupt governor.
The independent candidates who won elections for governor, mayor, and federal and local deputies, have shown that it is possible to win with few resources. And they have also highlighted the excessive and burdensome cost of the political parties which, for the 2015 elections, took in 5,200 million pesos (US$350 million) of which 1,173 million (US$75 million) were spent on the campaign.
Democracy in Mexico is costly. A total of 83 million voters went to the polls, and the electoral process overall cost 8,000 million pesos ((US$514 million) - a controversial sum in a country where 61 million people live in poverty. Political reform has finally lifted some barriers to participation and now offers citizens a greater range of alternatives.
The independent candidates have brought a ray of hope; at least this appears to be what the results are telling us. Among the most significant victories, is that of Jaime Rodriguez Calderón “The Bronco”“ who won the governorship of Nuevo León with a remarkable 48.9% of the vote.
The Bronco not only defeated bipartisanship in the form of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and the PAN (National Action Party), but abstentionism too, given that 59% of the electorate went to the polls. His independent colleague César Valdés, won the race for Mayor of García, Nuevo León, with 41% of the vote. García, which was governed by The Bronco between 2009 and 2012, has been ravaged by violence at the hands of the Zetas drug cartel.
The second most electorally successful independent candidate was Manuel Clouthier, who was elected as federal deputy for Culiacán, Sinaloa with 42.3% of the vote. Another electoral triumph for an independent was that of Pedro Kumamoto elected as local deputy of Zapopan, Jalisco with 37.6% share of the vote.
The victory of these party-less candidates was sufficiently noteworthy for President Enrique Peña Nieto himself to acknowledge that the results would force the political parties to “modernise”.
And although Peña Nieto’s PRI won a majority in the Chamber of Deputies with 26.9% of the vote, it suffered reverses in traditional PRI strongholds where, especially in the cities, it was punished by the citizenry. The PRI will only hold 12 governorships out of 22. It will have 203 federal deputies although, together with its allies - the PVEM (Green Ecology Party) and New Alianza (New Alliance) - it will have between 246 and 263 legislators in the 63rd Legislative Chamber.
Independent candidates have injected fresh air into these elections. And we should not overlook the municipal presidential elections in which Alberto Méndez won in Comonfort, Guanajuato with 29.3%; and Alfonso Martínez in Morelia, state capital of Michoacán.
An analysis of the votes obtained by the 22 independent candidates for the Chamber of Deputies shows that they received 9.24% of the national vote, in other words more than new parties like Morena headed by Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador which received 8.37%, the Humanist Party with 2.14% and Encuentro Social (Social Encounter) with 3.3%.
The people have spoken, and the political parties must now assess the reasons why they have been punished. It is worth noting that, in addition to Clouthier’s victory in Sinaloa, a number of independent candidates achieved an honourable second place with between 16% and 20% of the vote, as happened in Pachuca with Antonio Mota, with Victor Antonio Corrales in Mazatlán, with Alfred Ayala in El Fuerte, and with Vidal Jiménez in Culiacán. Though other independents came third or fourth, it is nonetheless clear that as a group they have strongly impacted the electoral map; and the effect will undoubtedly feed into the 2018 presidential election.
The recent election was, however, seriously scarred by violence. In fact, this has been the most violent electoral process in recent Mexican history with no less than 21 assassinations.
Killed on election day.Demotix/Photographer: Débora Poo Soto. All rights reserved Among the victims are not only several candidates, but also campaign coordinators, militants, campaign officials, and even their relatives or simply people who happened to be in their company. Narco politics made its presence felt at the polls. Cartel leaders imposed their own candidates in several places, and in others, where they were unable to bend candidates to their will, they simply murdered them. Five days before the election, they assassinated Miguel Ángel Luna Munguía, a PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) congressional candidate for the Valle de Chalco, 22nd federal district, State of Mexico. On May 27th, they executed Israel Hernández Fabela, campaign coordinator for Aída Beltrán Sánchez, the PRI local candidate for deputy in Azcapotzalco, District 3. He was murdered in the garage of his house. Some of the murders took place in broad daylight and in front of witnesses, either in the victims’ homes, in the street, in their office, or following a campaign event. On May 26th, they assassinated José Salvador Méndez Morales, campaign coordinator for PRI congressional candidate Lorenzo Rivera Sosa, while he was chatting in front of the Party office.Enrique Hernández Salcedo, a Morena candidate for Yurécuaro who had already been threatened, was executed following a campaign speech - for which three local police officers have been arrested. Narco politics spreads its tentacles throughout Mexico and some states or rather narco states are effectively controlled by the cartels. Candidates have been kidnapped, tortured, decapitated, and gunned down. Héctor López Cruz, PRI mayoral candidate for Metepec, Huimanguillo, Tabasco, died from 16 bullet wounds fired from a high-powered rifle. Aidé Nava Gonzalez, PRI mayoral candidate for Ahuacuotzongo, Guerrero was kidnapped and her headless body found five days later showing evidence of torture and several bullet wounds.
Election day - Tixtla. Demotix/Photographer: Débora Poo Soto. All rights reserved In some places, the conditions simply did not exist for holding an election. One such was Tixtla, location of the Rural College of Ayotzinapa, 43 of whose students were “disappeared” by the State. Parents of the victims not only opted to boycott the elections, they made the polling station officials hand over the ballot boxes plus accompanying electoral material and burned them. Doubts also clouded the election. Despite the huge amount of money spent by the National Electoral Institute (INE) headed by the controversial figure of Lorenzo Córdova, the institution was incapable of providing proper assurance that the results were clean. Córdova has been under severe scrutiny for favouring the PVEM - a PRI satellite - which of all the parties happened to be the one most accused of flouting electoral regulations, and most protected by the electoral authorities; while the latter have themselves have been charged with refusing to act according to the law by failing to sanction the PVEM and to withdraw its registration. In spite of INE’s large budget, there were also problems with the vote count. For more than six hours, the web page showing the progress of the count in the 300 electoral districts was unobtainable, which seriously undermined the credibility of the process. In the end, in a country faced by the decomposition of the party political system and an urgent need for renewal, the triumph of the independents has proved to be compelling. Democratic change in Mexico will be brought about by citizens not by government or by sclerotic political parties whose petty tribalism benefits the few and ignores the voices of the people. The race for the presidency in 2018 now offers a new, unprecedented challenge, one in which the citizens will finally be able to speak and be heard.