Mexico – Legislative Elections and Independent Governors

Last Sunday, amidst allegations of corruption, violence and general animus towards the political classes, Mexico held legislative, mayoral and gubernatorial elections. All 500 seats in the legislature were contested: 300 in single-member districts and 200 by proportional representation. With all votes counted, the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and party of the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and its coalition partners, Nueva Alianza (PNA) and the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), managed to win approximately 40 per cent of the vote and secure more than the 251 seats they previously held between them. The PRI gained 29.25 per cent of the national vote; PVEM won 7.01 per cent; and the PNA managed to garner 3.75 per cent.

For the president, this means he is free to continue his reform agenda with a clear majority in the house.

The result itself is perhaps a little surprising given a recent poll, which indicated that 91 per cent of Mexican citizens had no trust in the country’s political parties, whilst over half of the respondents disapproved of the Peña Nieto government. However, the new majority of the ruling alliance is less a product of their popularity and more a product of divisions within the opposition. In particular, former presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, split from the left-leaning Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) to create a new political party, Morena. Morena’s campaign in this election proved extremely costly for the PRD, who saw their popular support fall by half to only 10.75 per cent of the vote, while Morena garnered an impressive 8.37 per cent. This division within the Mexican left most likely benefited the PRI’s coalition partners, PVEM and PNA.

The elections themselves occurred amidst a backdrop of violence and uncertainty. A coalition of radical teachers’ unions and activists attempted to block and disrupt the vote in the southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca. They burned ballot boxes and attacked the office of political parties. In the northern city of Monterrey, there were reports of armed men coercing and threatening members of the electorate.

Most significantly however, was the election of Mexico’s first independent governor, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, known as “El Bronco,” who won the gubernatorial race in the state of Nuevo León, which was previously a PRI stronghold. Formerly a member of the PRI and mayor of the northern city of García, Rodríguez is credited with launching a broadside against the Zeta cartel, which saw the death of his son in 2009 in an attempted kidnapping. With the electoral reform of last year, Rodríguez decided to leave the PRI and run as an independent. His victory is interpreted as symptomatic of the general animosity of the Mexican public towards the major and established political parties.

But Rodríguez was not the only independent candidate to be elected. Four other independent candidates managed to gain seats in the lower house, including Pedro Kumamoto, who has never been a member of a political party yet who managed to win a seat in Jalisco. Although the overall election results might suggest continuity, beneath the surface, winds of change are clearly rippling across the Mexican party system.

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