Category Archives: Key Moments

Mexico’s active and demanding citizenry

06/09/15 Christopher Wilson/ Aljazeera

2015 election blog map.001Halfway through the six-year term of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico went to the polls on June 7 for its largest mid-term elections, renewing all 500 seats in the lower house of Congress and 17 state legislatures, as well as selecting new governors for nine states and mayors for hundreds of cities across the country.

Mexicans are more frustrated than ever with persistent violence and corruption, but initial results show the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) performing well, winning more seats in the federal legislature than any of its opponents.

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Mexico elects ‘El Bronco’ in show of mounting frustration

06/09/15 Aljazeera

Three years ago, the star of Mexico’s 2012 electoral stage was the young, elegantly groomed and carefully crafted political figure of Enrique Peña Nieto, who returned the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to presidential power after 12 years on the sidelines — a stretch during which homicides and human rights abuses raged across the country.

In Sunday’s midterm elections, it was a tough-talking, sometimes vulgar rancher aptly nicknamed “El Bronco,” with a fondness for cowboy hats and leather jackets, who captured the limelight, trouncing his competition in a run for governor of the northern border state of Nuevo Leon, an industrial and business hub.

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As Mexicans Buck Political Status Quo, Independent “El Bronco” Wins Election

By Duncan Wood and Pedro Valenzuela

Originally published in The Wilson Quarterly


As the votes from Sunday’s midterm elections were counted in Mexico, it was clear to everyone what the story of the campaigns would be. Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, better known as El Bronco (the rough one), is projected to be the clear winner in the Nuevo León gubernatorial election, more than doubling the vote received by each of his nearest rivals from the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and opposition Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) parties.

The truly remarkable thing about Calderón’s candidacy is not his margin of victory, but that he ran and won as an independent — this was the first time in Mexican history that such candidacies were possible. His victory marks a potential sea change in Mexican politics, with voters increasingly tired of the established parties and disillusioned with the traditional political elites.

The midterms were expected to change little at the national level, and at first glance that is what appears to have happened: the ruling PRI held on to its dominance of the federal congress, and there was only sporadic electoral violence in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Yet, a number of key stories emerged on Election Day that hint at significant trends in Mexican democracy.

First, the PRI only managed to hold onto its leading position by working closely with two other parties, the Verde (Green) and PANAL (a teachers’ union party). The PRI’s vote fell to around 29 percent, down from almost 32 percent support in the 2012 congressional elections. With the support of its allies, and the even more disappointing performance of the opposition PAN (21 percent) and PRD (10.6 percent), it will be able to maintain its majority in congress.

Second, there was a high turnout, indicating that the Mexican public was indeed motivated to participate and that the parties were anxious to get as many supporters as possible to the polls.

Third, the left is more divided than ever — the well-established PRD was almost matched in the polls by the breakaway Morena party, run by former PRD leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador. When the votes for the leftwing parties (PRD,Morena, Movimiento Ciudadana, PT) are added together, their total comes to almost the exact same number as the PRI’s.

Fourth, there appears to have been a very high number of spoiled ballots (voto nulo) — almost five percent of the total number of votes cast. This points to a worrying trend towards electoral disenchantment, a tendency borne out by polling data on Mexican skepticism about democracy in recent years.

But the story of the election is clearly El Bronco. The independent candidate for the governorship of Nuevo León, a wealthy northern border state and one of the country’s industrial engines. In his victory, Rodríguez broke the mold of Mexican elections by proving that success can come from outside of the established party system. As an independent, Rodríguez was one of fifty candidates nationwide running without party affiliation — in this, the first election in Mexican history where independents were allowed to run for office.

The national and international media attention El Bronco attracted virtually guaranteed that even if he did not win the governorship, many more independent candidates would come forward in forthcoming elections, including the 2018 presidential contest. Mexicans’ growing disillusionment with traditional party politics and the established modes of democracy in their country may just see an outlet in the prospect of candidates who have broken free from the dominant party paradigm.


“I’m not saying I am Superman, but I could be the Lone Ranger.” El Bronco used this phrase repeatedly during the race, and it served him well. Voters clearly identified with his outsider status, and he appears to have won 49 percent of the vote in Nuevo León, compared with 23 percent each for the PRI and PAN candidates.

Of the 50 independents running in this election, only one other candidate won election, and this is no accident. Current electoral rules make it difficult for independents to compete with candidates from Mexico’s well-established political parties. Though independent candidates are allowed to have access to promotion on radio and television, candidates from political parties receive much more airtime. Campaign funding — which in Mexico has traditionally been entirely public — is more uneven still: independents receive less than one percent the amount the public funding received by their competitors from established political parties.

Though independent candidates can receive private funding, the rules governing this have not been clearly delimited by the authorities. Nor is there clarity on the rules governing independents’ campaign spending. In El Bronco’s race, local authorities declared that the amount of private funds that a candidate can use cannot exceed 10 percent of total campaign expenses. In theory, these rules apply to candidates who receive public money through political parties. If they were applied to El Bronco, it would jeopardize his position because he received the equivalent of $23,000 in public financing — compared to the nearly $3 million that his competitors received just through their political parties. This legal uncertainty raises the prospect of postelectoral instability, challenges, and conflict.

Despite these challenges, El Bronco led the polls in Nuevo León for the past three months, jumping nearly 16 points since March. He received a further boost when, a few weeks ago, Fernando Elizondo, a former interim governor and senator, dropped out of the race and threw his support behind Rodríguez.

Rodríguez’s performance is partly a testament to his considerable political savvy and experience, and partly a reflection of his roots in local and sectoral politics. He is originally from Pablillo, a small town in central Nuevo León with fewer than one thousand inhabitants. As a young agricultural engineering student, Rodríguez fought against increases in public transportation fares and later became the leader of the National Agricultural Confederation in Nuevo León. For that post, he responded to an opponent’s complaints that he wore “exotic leather boots and jeans purchased in the United States” with a speech that rallied farmers to “stop thinking squat, and instead think big,” inviting them to dream of better boots, better tractors, and better incomes. These battles honed his campaign skills and furthered his image as a charismatic, nontraditional politico.

In 2009, after climbing the political ladder to become a federal and local deputy, Rodríguez won election as mayor of García, a municipality with a population of around 145,000 that is part of the metropolitan area of Monterrey, Nuevo León’s capital. Here, he earned a reputation as a strong and determined character.

His government philosophy is called the “García model,” and focuses on three policy areas: security, education, and labor. He considers the participation of government, citizens, and businesses to be fundamental to good governance. To facilitate this as mayor, he used unconventional methods — publishing his private telephone number so he could receive requests directly from the citizenry, or registering complaints and requests through his Facebook page.

At that time, he realized that security was the number one concern of the electorate, so as a first step, he launched a strategy to take back some public spaces that had been claimed by criminals. More dramatically, he dismissed all of the municipal police in García. Those actions won him public trust, but also made him a target of organized crime groups, who kidnapped his two-year-old daughter, murdered one of his older sons, killed his city’s public security minister in the municipality, and tried twice to assassinate him.

As insecurity and violence decreased in Nuevo León, his popularity transcended his term in office and the figure of El Bronco became known in the state and nationwide, with songs and even a film, Un Bronco Sin Miedo (A fearless Bronco), inspired by his story.

In September 2014, Rodríguez decided to give up his membership to the PRI because he foresaw difficulties in obtaining the nomination to run for governor. In his resignation letter, he expressed the ideas that became the banners of his campaign for governor: political parties are no longer responsive to citizens’ demands, and the community is angry and tired of corrupt politicians.

Relying heavily on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube as means to promote himself, he obtained registration as gubernatorial candidate. El Broncoran his campaign based on the strength of his personality and charisma. Through informal and often obscenity-laced speeches, he increased his popular support, promising to always speak the truth to citizens, and insisting that with courage and strategy, an effective and lasting security strategy can be built.


Doubts remain as to the nature of the governor-elect. Is he truly independent, breaking away from the established model, or should we instead see him as a former party man who is first and foremost an opportunist and professional politician, someone who has seen the writing on the wall and is willing to do what it takes to win office?

No matter what kind of governor El Bronco turns out to be, the rise of independent candidates should be read as a call for political parties to increase internal competition and improve the quality of their candidates. Parties clearly need to recapture the allegiance of the growing number of Mexicans who have lost faith in the established model. At the same time, civil society movements such as the 3de3 initiative (which calls on candidates to make a full disclosure of their business and financial interests) are raising public awareness about the issues of corruption and conflict of interest. Latinobarómetro polls consistently place Mexico at or near the bottom of the Latin American region in terms of citizen satisfaction with democracy.

Whatever the more generalized implications of this for elections, El Bronco’s particular style of governing will be difficult to repeat at the gubernatorial level, and he will have to find new ways to face the challenges to come. Nonetheless, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón has bucked the status quo and emerged as the most compelling character of Mexico’s 2015 midterms.

More intriguingly, as Luis Carlos Ugalde, former president of the electoral body in Mexico, recently said in an event at the Wilson Center, we cannot rule out the possibility that an independent candidate could run for president in 2018; while he or she will not likely have the strength to emerge victorious, they might win enough votes to tip the balance.

The rise of El Bronco is emblematic of the rising disenchantment on the part of the Mexican electorate with the country’s political parties, and will likely prove to be a disruptive factor in national politics for years to come.

* * *

Duncan Wood is the director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center. Follow him on Twitter at @AztecDuncanPedro Valenzuela is a consultant with the Mexico Institute.

A Fragmented Political Landscape

Andrew SeleeBy Andrew Selee

It’s too early to know the full impact of yesterday’s elections in Mexico, but there is no question that these were far more momentous than midterm elections usually are, with profound short-term and long-term consequences for the future of Mexico’s political system.  Here are four quick takeaways on the implications of the results:

* The political landscape in Mexico is now more fragmented than ever before with no single party towering over the others.  Mexico has long been a political system based on three strong parties and a few smaller ones.  Now there are at least five, if not more, that appear to have a significant base of support.  The victory of an independent candidate in Nuevo Leon, Mexico’s most economically important state, sets a very important precedent that will decentralize the political system even more in the future and allow citizens to organize outside the traditional parties.

* It was a mixed night for President Enrique Pena Nieto and the PRI.  Although the PRI appears to have won the largest number of votes for Congress and state governors, the party won less than 30 percent of the vote, appears to have lost a few crucial governors’ races that it had expected to win (Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, and Michoacan), and will have to piece together a working majority in the Congress with the Green Party, the New Alliance Party, and perhaps a few others on key votes.  Of course, it’s not unusual for the incumbent party to lose ground in the midterm elections (this is the fourth straight time it’s happened), but the PRI seemed to be in a particularly strong position going into this election and expected to do much better.  This election is hardly a repudiation of Pena Nieto’s government — which will likely be able to move forward with its reform agenda in Congress — but it’s certainly not a ringing endorsement either.

* The PAN came in as the second strongest party, though it received only a fifth of the votes, and the left divided like never before among various parties.  Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party, Morena, made a very respectable showing against the PRD, probably winning five of Mexico City’s delegations (municipalities) and presenting a strong challenge to the PRD in the bastion of the left.

* The elections were actually carried out in relative peace, despite attempts to disrupt them in three states in the south.  However, an unusually high number of voters (roughly five percent) appear to have left their ballots blank in protest against all of the political parties.

In the next few hours, we will know more about how the main parties ended up and who will govern each state, but clearly this is an election that has shaken the foundations of Mexico’s political system like few others.

Andrew Selee is the Executive Vice President of the Wilson Center and Senior Advisor to the Mexico Institute.


By Pedro Valenzuela Parcero

Gubernatorial Debates

Since a little over 20 years ago, holding debates between candidates has become common in the Mexican political environment. Naturally, the first efforts were made during presidential campaigns. In fact, the first presidential debate was held during the 1994 elections. However, from that moment on, gubernatorial debates have been also increasingly common. The first public and broadcasted debate of this type was in 1997, during the first campaign to elect the Mayor of Mexico City. Debates have been driven either by electoral authorities or by media outlets. In this context, during the campaigns that today come to an end, there have been debates among the candidates for most of the 2015 gubernatorial elections.

Nuevo León, one of the most important states whose gubernatorial election became more competitive as campaigns advances, had 5 debates. One organized by electoral authorities, one more organized by the Civic Council Citizen through its platform Nuevo León ¿Cómo Vamos? two organized by universities (the University of Monterrey and Universidad Regiomontana) and the other one organized by El Norte, a leading newspaper from Grupo Reforma. Some have been summoned all candidates and in others only the pointers in the polls.

In all debates, each of the candidates has established his or her priorities and government plans in case of winning. The most recurrent themes were corruption and transparency, security, urban planning, and social and economic development. As a symbol of a closed competition, the meetings have not been free of attacks and insults among candidates.

Nuevo León debate organized by Nuevo León ¿Cómo Vamos? (in Spanish)

Nuevo León debate organized by the University of Monterrey (in Spanish)

Nuevo León debate organized by electoral authorities (in Spanish)

Nuevo León debate organized by El Norte (in Spanish)

In Michoacán, electoral authorities organized two debates. All the candidates were invited. Given the latest developments in the state, it was no surprise that much of the discussion centered on proposals and recriminations on the subject of security.

Michoacán first debate (in Spanish)

In Guerrero, state electoral authorities hosted a debate among all candidates for the governorship. As in the case of Michoacán, security was a recurring issue in all of the speeches and proposals. The candidates also addressed issues of poverty, tourism, public health, and social development.

Guerrero first debate (in Spanish)

Other entities such as Sonora, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Baja California Sur, and Campeche also carried out one or two debates among candidates. In most states, there were other spaces where candidates contrast their proposals.

Querétaro first debate (in Spanish)

Sonora first debate (in Spanish)

Undoubtedly, the debates are important to the electorate, as they are spaces in which the contrast of ideas and positions is clearer than in speeches and/or political rallies. Of course, these kind of democratic exercises also serve to discredit and attack the opponents, which is also a good sign of democracy, as the political act is not without the clash of ideas. It is positive that debates in Mexico are becoming more common and that the both citizens and the media see these spaces as the right place to bounce ideas among the various candidates. Hopefully, these exercises will also help to increase citizen participation in the elections next Sunday.



The anticipated results

Verónica OrtizBy Verónica Ortiz O.*

As we draw closer to June 7th, it appears that the upcoming election anticipates some likely unexpected results.

We´re actually seeing two kinds of elections, following their own electoral dynamic. At the State level, the local economic and political conditions, the popularity of the outgoing governor as well as the personality of the candidates campaigning for office weigh in the voters´ decision process. Hence the volatility of the possible results, to close to call by now at least in 7 out of the 9 States in dispute.

The federal election to renew the House is a whole different story, in which the parties brand names weigh more than individual trajectories. And contrary to the general belief, public polls are consistently showing a distribution of seats in the lower Chamber similar to the present one, except for the fragmentation of the left caused by Morena´s irruption in the political scene. Some exercises even foresee more seats for the PRI and its allies in Congress, the PVEM and PANAL (they currently hold 251 out of 500 seats).

Should this be the case, the PRI vote could be interpreted in two ways: firstly fueled by some signals of slow economic recovery (reported lower unemployment and better retail figures) and expectation around the benefits of the structural reforms (i.e. savings in electricity bills). Secondly, an inertial vote assuming a growing disenchantment with politicians and political parties, but also with the lack of promising alternatives.

On top of those arguments, a divided opposition always proves helpful. The right wing PAN is in turmoil, with national leader Madero fighting former President Calderón over control of the party. The leftist parties on the other hand are paving the way for the PRI thanks in good part to López Obrador´s rupture with the PRD.

Interestingly, the likely success of the PRI would reverse the fate of the last three midterm elections where the governing party (be it PRI or PAN) lost the majority in Congress. However, cautiousness is highly recommended. The PRI and its allies would be very mistaken to take an electoral triumph for granted. Specially when so many challenges lie ahead.

They will have to manage expectations for starters. The implementation of the structural reforms is a lengthy, grueling process which will require a strong political will and an even stronger convening power, similar to the one behind the Pacto por México, to stay the course.

Most importantly, it would be a huge mistake to minimize the popular rejection towards systemic corruption. The enactment of the Anticorruption bill last week was an undisputed achievement of the organized civil society that will have to be matched with a genuine commitment of the authorities to comply with and enforce the law. Nothing shorter than that will restore their tarnished credibility.

It might prove worthy recalling that the last time the PRI won a midterm election was 1991 with then President Carlos Salinas. Needless to say, despite that electoral victory things didn´t work out well in the end.

* Lawyer and political analyst. Journalist in the newspaper El Economista and TV presenter in Canal del Congreso and AprendeTV in Mexico.



By Luis Rubio*

The achievement of stability and high growth rates after the revolutionary era was nearly miraculous and contrasted with the interminable South American dictatorships. Everything suggested that Mexico had procured a successful and permanent formula. It worked until it ran out.
But what is significant –and what was of virtue- of that era was the fact that the diverse components of the clockwork that made it work in general were in sync. The economic autarchy coupled with the authoritarian political system and the structure of vertical controls that was a key component of the PRIist system to keep the state governors in line. The scheme responded to the reality of the moment in which it was constructed –the post-revolutionary epoch, and, above all, the post-War era- and permitted the country to progress.
Of course, the fact that there was progress in some ambits did not imply that the system was free of contradictions. When these made themselves heard, the system responded: this was how it acted with (annulled) independent presidential candidacies when these presented and how it repressed guerilla movements and, towards the end of the era, the student movement. The preference was always cooption and that ever-so-PRIist tactic: subject the dissent to the general corruption of the system under the aegis that there is no greater loyalty than that springing from complicity.
The problems began when the contradictions stopped being minor and the traditional response no longer solved the problems. For example, without recognizing that it was a structural problem emanating from the evaporation of    monies to finance imports, President  Echeverría responded to the (very mild) recession of 1971 with a sudden and massive increase in public expenditure, breaking with all of the fiscal equilibria known until then. Fiddling with it “just a little” ended up undermining the old stability, destroying the confidence of the population and positioning the country on the threshold of hyperinflation.
The equilibria now broken, attempts at a solution eventually began, all of these conceived to preserve the essence of the PRIist system but in turn supplying the economy with oxygen: a flagrant contradiction, but logical within its context. Russell Ackoff, a U.S. thinker, wrote that “there are four ways of treating a problemabsolution, resolution, solution and dissolution and the greatest of these is dissolution”. Of all these, says Ackoff, only dissolution allows eliminating the problem because it entails the redesign of the context within which it arose. That is, what Mexico required (and requires) was an integral transformation similar to that which today’s successful nations experienced –each on its own terms- such as Korea, Chile and, before the euro, Spain and Ireland. 
What in fact was done was to attempt to respond to the problems by seeing to their most evident manifestations and trusting that those would disappear (“absolve” in Ackoff’s terminology). That is how it went through diverse political reforms as well as with partial and fragmentary economic liberalization. It was not that there was bad faith; rather, the ultimate objective resided in the preservation of the essence of the political system and its beneficiaries. Viewed from this perspective, the most emblematic of the electoral reforms (1996) was nothing other than going from a one-party system to a three-party structure, and not to full democracy. The expanded regime extended the benefits to new participants and created a scheme of competition that did not alter the essence of the old system, but only “democratized” it.
What it did not solve were the contradictions. One by one, these have come to wage an attack on occasion in creative, but always limited, ways. In one epoch the support was procured of “men-institutions”, responsible persons who understood what hung in the balance and who took care that the equilibria were not shattered (and there were –and there are- many more of these figures than one might imagine); in another epoch “autonomous” and “citizen” entities were constructed under the notion that the members of their boards would not lend themselves to shady dealings and that they would guarantee the seriousness and reliability of their actions in electoral matters, on issues of economic regulation and, most recently, in matters of energy. I do not dispute the logic, convenience or potential of this type of response, but it is evident that they have not been sufficient for solving problems that can only be solved with a much more polished transformative vision. They work while they work and then they begin to be costly. In any case, they depend on the individual person.
The elections are nearly upon us, the candidates and parties attack and counterattack each other but, save for exceptional cases, these do not offer attractive alternatives. In the case of the governorships, who end up being proprietors of the lives and souls of their entities, the difference between a good one and a poor one is absolute and that’s why the elections are so hair-raising. The majority only want to get rich or utilize each post as a stepping stone to reach the next one. As an old politician once told me, “some do their job but the majority devote themselves to constructing the next one”.
That’s what Mexicans have got to work with. In Miguel Hidalgo, in the Federal District, a peculiar case is unfolding: a rough-spoken but effective candidate, as only she can be, and without any ambition for another job, contending for the opportunity to govern the local government (which de facto finances the entire Federal District) but that has been badly managed and misgoverned for decades. Xóchitl Gálvez gets my vote because she is a straight-arrow person who is devoted to what she does and who does what has to be done.

* Global Fellow and Member of the Advisory Board of the Mexico Institute at the WWICS and President of the Center of Research for Development (CIDAC).