Nuevo Leon opened up a new channel for democratization in Mexico by breaking the bipartisan lock on the state in an election that many describe as historic.This is the first time an independent candidate has won a governorship, only recently allowed under a new electoral law. The win is particularly significant given that the state comprises Mexico’s third largest regional economy.Although official final results are pending, Jaime Rodriguez Calderon–“The Bronco”– is the virtual winner of the governor’s office. In his speech to the media, his wife, his mother and a hundred supporters at the close of election day June 7, with the information from several exit polls that gave him a healhy margin of between 7 and 20 percent of the vote, he vowed that his government will give bipartisanship time off in Nuevo Leon.Rodriguez called his election the start of the second “Mexican revolution” that will change the awareness and attitude of people in the country, and as an example that change can be made at the polls.
The rise of El Bronco
El Bronco’s electoral campaign “is a watershed that can be considered a historic election,” said Cintia Smith, a researcher at the Department of International Relations and Political Sciences of the Tecnologico de Monterrey, in interview with the Americas Program.At first, many assumed that El Bronco’s candidacy would serve mainly as a symolic challenge to the major parties. But the charisma of the candidate and his history of leading the charge against organized crime as mayor of Garcia won many people over. As mayor, Rodriguez confronted the drug cartels directly and relied on a new model of citizen participation in the municipality located on the edge of the metropolitan area of Monterrey.From April to date, he carried out a vigorous campaign that bore no resemblance to the easy ride the official party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI) had six years ago in the governor’s race, although in many ways the current candidate, Ivonne Alvarez, had more recognition and fewer than the outgoing PRI governor Rodrigo Medina.
There are three major differences between the two elections, according to Smith. First, this year the process of selection of the candidate within the PRI suffered from serious problems of lack of transparency and democratic mechanisms. This shortcoming–common to the major parties–left many state members dissatsified with Alvarez’s candidacy. When the list of candidates emerged within the party, the PRI leadership decided on a “unity” candidate (Alvarez), which in fact led to a split within the party. As a result, many PRI members in the state decided to vote outside the party. Certain sectors, including leaders of the PRI, also voted for El Bronco in reaction against Alvarez’s criticism of PRI members when the press disclosed damaging corruption scandals before the elections.
Second, the emergence of digital networks has changed not only communications, but also campaigns. “Six years ago, Facebook, YouTube and other social networks were in their infancy,” Smith notes. El Bronco’s use of these networks significantly extended his reach.
Third, the crisis of insecurity in the state in the last six years of Medina’s PRI government had a political cost that was charged to the PRI-PAN bipartisanship that has governed the state over the past decades.
Rodriguez built his political career on building a grassroots base. As mayor of Garcia (2009-2012), El Bronco gave out his cell phone number to people in the municipality. Residents interviewed reported that he would personally answer calls informing him of points of illegal drug sales and movements of criminal groups. He later began to use social networks and establish systems of direct and conversational communications. This network-building networks was applied and extended when he collected signatures to get on the ballot and then during the independent campaign.According to a reading of the results and voter interviews, the message of the elections in Nuevo Leon is that citizens are sick of political parties and what they consider the poor choices offered to voters.
The other lesson is that even in the so-called “media-cracy”, money no longer controls all spaces of communication and information. Commercial mass media and Televisa could be at risk of losing advertisers as grassroots word-of-mouth campaigns on Facebook and others show results that rival the hyper-expensive television ads.
A Breath of Fresh Air to a Stagnant Political System
Lawyer and human rights activist, Talia Vazquez, traveled to monterrey to observe the elections. A Michoacan native and leader of the national self-defense movement of which Rodriguez was a part, she stated:
“This election gives a breath of fresh air to the whole country. It is a hope. I come from Michoacan, a state that is so injured, so tainted, and other states are the same like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Morelos, Veracruz, and even Nuevo Leon had a very violently time, and I think Jaime Rodriguez’s victory means that the polls can be a way out. If Jaime couldn’t compete and win, we’d have cut off hope because we’d only have bullets against a repressive government.”
“The fact that an independent candidate won against all odds-the laws, the media, an unscupulously dirty smear campaign–has accomplished this is a triumph of citizenship. Nuevo Leon is setting an example of courage and opens the way to the polls.”
Vazquez says that given personal characteristics of Jaime Rodriguez and the team around him, which includes Fernando Elizondo, renowned businessman, former interim governor and Citizens Movement Party candidate who withdrew his candidacy to support El Bronco, “people are going to notice a different way of governing in Nuevo Leon.”
At the campaign closing event, in response to direct query, Rodriguez promised to jail every public official found guilty of theft of public resources. He stated that he will order an investigation into the handling of public funds, potentially up to outgoing governor Medina.
The governor-elect also he said he will fulfill all of his campaign promises, including one regarding government spending on media by deaithorizing all expenses on advertising to promote public officials. The promise drew a huge round of applause from the crowd.
Later El Bronco repeated the vow before seven thousand supporters gathered to celebrate in the Macroplaza in front of the state Palace of Government to celebrate, who broke out with cries of “No Multimedios” (the main media consortium in the state).
Traffic police patrolled the area with, a measure considered by some participants as an unnecessary sign of government harassmen. They set up roadblocks and detours on the access roads, which prevented the arrival of more people at an unusually dark central square.
Alfredo Acedo is a journalist and contributor to the Americas Program.