Preliminary counts indicate that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is on course to retain a slim majority in the federal congress after Sunday’s midterm elections, but results in several local contests have shown that cracks are beginning to form in Mexico’s political establishment.
Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez was widely hailed for becoming the nation’s first independent governor by claiming the northern state of Nuevo León, although his outsider credentials have been questioned, because he previously served in the PRI for 30 years and unsuccessfully sought the party’s candidacy ahead of this year’s elections.
Arguably the most surprising and significant results came in the western state of Jalisco, where two relatively new political forces focused on enhancing transparency and civic engagement won historic victories.
The rise of the Citizens Movement
The liberal Citizens Movement claimed a series of landslide victories in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest metropolis, and across much of Jalisco.
Citizens Movement candidate Enrique Alfaro beat the PRI’s Ricardo Villanueva by more than 25 percentage points to become Guadalajara’s first non-PRI or PAN (National Action Party) mayor since the 1920s.
“It’s a historic result. I don’t know how long it’s been since there was a victory of this magnitude,” Alfaro said in a press conference Sunday night.
The Citizens Movement prevailed in five of the eight municipalities that comprise the Guadalajara metropolitan area, as well as winning in Puerto Vallarta, a major tourist city on Jalisco’s Pacific Coast.
The results highlighted the public sense of discontent at the centrist PRI, which now risks losing the Jalisco governorship in the 2018 elections.
The elections also marked the end of the right-wing PAN’s relevance in the region – a remarkable turnaround, given that Jalisco was considered a PAN stronghold and one of Mexico’s most conservative states as recently as five years ago.
Alfaro previously served as mayor of Tlajomulco, a working-class district on the southern outskirts of Guadalajara, where he led Mexico’s most transparent administration, according to nonprofit accountability watchdog Cimtra.
Having achieved great popularity by enhancing public engagement in politics in Tlajomulco, Alfaro has promised to introduce a “participatory budget” in Guadalajara that enables citizens to vote on what their taxes should be spent on.
He has also vowed to voluntarily submit to referendums that enable voters to call new elections midway through his term if unhappy with his performance.
Such measures could set new standards for participatory democracy in a country where many voters have a strong distrust of the current political system.
Kumamoto: “Walls do fall”
Alfaro’s administration will still be viewed with a sense of suspicion by some given that he – like Rodríguez – began his career in the PRI and also represented the left-wing PRD before joining forces with the Citizens Movement.
But there are no such concerns about Pedro Kumamoto, a 25-year-old college graduate who on Sunday became the first independent candidate to win a seat in the Jalisco state congress.
“Walls do fall” proved an apt slogan for Kumamoto, as he pulled off a historic victory that few would have thought possible when he and a dozen companions founded the grassroots Wikipolítica movement just three years ago.
Kumamoto’s triumph was all the more impressive given the fact that, as an independent candidate, he was allocated far fewer promotional spots on local TV and radio and received just 18,626 pesos ($1,200) in public funding, less than two percent of the campaign spending limit of 1.3 million pesos ($84,000).
In contrast with the major parties that receive and spend millions in public funding and often still exceed campaign spending limits, Kumamoto relied largely on donations, including small quantities of cash, a box of apples and even the proceeds of a cupcake sale by an eight-year-old sympathizer.
“Kumamoto’s campaign should definitely open the debate over the excessive public funding for political parties,” one observer commented on Twitter after his unprecedented win.
Kumamoto has vowed to give up 70 percent of his salary to fund civic forums on the most pressing issues in Zapopan District 10, the area that he will represent in the state congress.
Taking constant feedback from those who elected him is crucial to making local politics more effective, he said this week: “The best I can do is to have one foot on the street and the other one in congress.”