Mexico Elections: Challenges of the New Citizen Candidate Option

By José Woldenberg

That a group of citizens has announced it intent to participate in the 2018 presidential elections is good news. That it is also a group of outstanding people from different fields who have carried on with pertinent agendas, on many occasions against the wind and tide, so much the better. If some of these individuals enjoy good public reputations and are recognized as trustworthy by some sectors of the population, it is one more element in their favor. If a constellation of Mexicans does not identify with any of the registered political parties, it is fortunate that they are seeking a channel of their own and are multiplying the options that voters will have on the ballot.

MV Note: Mexican presidential and congressional elections occur in June 2018. The country has a very formal structure for who can compete as a candidate and when they can begin to campaign. Because of longstanding complaints and problems regarding the official parties, a constitutional amendment was passed a few years ago allowing independent candidates to compete if they can gather sufficient signatures. For president, they will need at least 1% of the national electorate, about 780,000 people. This will be the first presidential election in which this will be a possibility.

Last Sunday, a citizens group calling itself #Ahora (#Now) announced that they will seek to gain enough signatures to enter an independent candidate for president and possibly create independent candidates for other offices. Seeking presidential candidacy is Emilio Álvarez Icaza, the former executive secretary of the InterAmerican Human Rights Commission, which created the Interdisiplinary Group of Independent Experts (IGIE) to review the Mexican government’s investigation of the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students in September 2014. See: Emilio Álvares Icaza Launches Presidential Candidacy. On Sunday, February 26, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, a group of citizens, headed by Emilio Álvarez Icaza, announced its intention of presenting candidates for various positions of public office in the 2018 elections, starting with the one for president of the Republic.

MV Note: The Plaza of the Three Cultures (of Mexican identity: indigenous, Spanish colonial and Mexican) was the site of the Tlatelolco massacre of student protesters in 1968, a mile north of the Zocalo, which is the main city plaza and location of the National Palace; hence it is politically a hightly symbolic place.Disappointed with “the political class”, they called for an alternative option.

“The transformation of the nation must be based on a government program that focuses on education, respect for human rights, inclusion of vulnerable groups, ending the privileges of the political class, eradicating the ‘buddy system’ …and ending the partyocracy.”It is an expression of the disenchantment and even the exasperation that exists in relation to our political life. It is therefore possible for the call to find resonance. The defense of human rights and the fight against corruption are standards that not only are pertinent but, even more, are felt and resented by appreciable sections of the population. And there are many who want to see a renovation of the personnel involved in politics.

Up until now, the political discourse is built around two irreconcilable sides: on the one hand, the corrupt politicians and, on the other, the unpolluted citizens. It has been successful in other countries, but it has its problems. At the outset, those who are leading the new option are forming – whether they acknowledge it or not – a new party, not in the legal sense of the term, but in the deep sense of the matter, a part of society that is organized in order to try to occupy positions in the government and legislatures. They are an option, not the only Option.

From the moment they announced their intentions – which are legitimate – they have ceased being just citizens getting into the messiness of politics, they have become politicians. There’s no escape. And if they achieve sufficient citizen support, they are likely to win seats in the congresses and positions in the government. Then, like any actors in that scenario, they will have to compete and live with the others. That is what democracy is all about. It is not one force that displaces all the rest.

This new option is also part of a more general phenomenon of further political fragmentation:

There is the split on the left [Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was the presidential candidate of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) in 2006 and 2012, left that party after coming in second in the 2012 election and formed a new party Morena (Movement for National Regeneration)].

There is a decline in votes for the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI) and the PAN (National Action Party).

And there is the strengthening of regional parties, coupled with the emergence of independent candidacies. [Citizens Movement won positions in Jalisco. An independent won the governorship of Nuevo Leon, the capital of which is Monterrey, a major economic center.]All this seems to mark a major change. Previously, politics revolved around three parties (PRI, PAN, PRD]). Now it is becoming one of much greater dispersion. This fragmentation is an expression of the public mood, but we are obliged to take note that in a democracy, together with moments of plurality, moments of convergence are also necessary to make governability possible.

This means that it is most likely that after the 2018 elections there will be a greater fragmentation of representation in Congress and that, if there is a contest between 3 or 4 presidential candidates postulated by the major parties and two others who are “independents”, including that of the EZLN-CNI, [the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, together with the National Council of Indigenous Peoples, have announced they will present a woman candidate], we may wake up the next morning with a president supported by less than 30 percent of the voters.

The Constitution already foresees the possibility of the President seeking to form a coalition government. That could make it pertinent to pass legislation establishing a second round in the presidential election. This would serve two purposes: that the presidency isn’t occupied by someone with more votes against him than for him, and that, in the second round, agreements for an eventual coalition government could begin to be forged, [Two-round presidential elections and coaltion governments are something this author and some other political leaders have proposed. The ideas have gone nowhere with the parties in the Congress.]