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It’s Time to Shine for Mexico’s Independent Candidates

By: Guest Contributor - Mar 16, 2016, 12:21 pm
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Pedro Kumamoto, 26, was elected in 2015 as an independent representative to the Jalisco Congress. (Ángel Guardian)

EspañolMexican citizens are tired of politicians, and even more tired of the political parties that fund them.

A 2015 national survey conducted by Parametria revealed political parties are the least-trusted institutions in the country — placing at just 19 percent behind banks, the church, the military, the media and big business, among others.

Whether right or left, old or new, parties’ unfulfilled campaign promises, lack of clear and consistent ideology, demagoguery, populism and opportunism give Mexicans plenty of reasons to distrust these institutions.

This is not a new problem, and it’s not one that looks to be going away any time soon. It was only in 2006 — when former Foreign Affairs Secretary Jorge Castañeda tried to run for president as an independent — that the Supreme Court upheld a ruling stating only official party candidates were eligible to run for election.

Thankfully, electoral reform was approved in 2012, allowing a candidate to run on an independent ticket. However, it was not until 2014 that the guidelines and requirements for registration were clearly established.

And even so, the law still makes it very difficult for candidates to run outside of the party system. Of the 511 independent candidates running in 2015, only 123 were able to register, and only six were able to win their respective elections.

Although the numbers do not seem very encouraging, the reality is that independent candidates have marked a boom on Mexico’s political history. Such is the case of Jaime Rodríguez “El Bronco” in Nuevo Leon and Pedro Kumamoto in Jalisco, who were two figures of great impact following last year’s electoral process.

El Bronco was an unprecedented event in Mexican politics, managing against all odds to overcome the obstacles of registering as an independent. Then, helped by a memorable campaign bolstered by a populistic rhetoric as well as a pair of boots and cowboy hat, he managed to land a crushing victory.

It is still too soon to evaluate El Bronco’s performance as a leader, but what we should be questioning now is how independent he really is — especially considering his entire political career before the election of 2015 was in service to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

On the other hand, the youngster Pedro Kumamoto, just 26, achieved a wide victory with an extremely limited budget and gained international recognition after running a successful campaign for local council in Jalisco that was rooted in connecting with young voters through social media.

Although Kumamoto has a history of party independence, questions could be raised about his ideology. Kumamoto is admired by the young, well-intentioned and eager-for-change electorate. But he lacks  well-defined political principles, which would give clarity and coherence to his decisions.

It seems that Kumamoto’s compass points in whichever direction the public opinion so desires, on a boat he does not know how to sail with too many sailors trying to correct course. In such a situation, it’s easy to get lost (politically) or sink altogether.

Without party ideology to drive his behavior in office, Kumamoto risks becoming another good-intentioned, though ineffective, populist that eventually gives in to the pressures of the system.

After these booms and electoral reforms, 2016 looks to be a crucial year for Mexico’s independent candidates. So far, there are 11 candidates who have openly expressed their intentions to occupy governorships through the independent route.

Hopefully more than 19 percent of the Mexican people trust them to do a good job.