WINDS OF CHANGE

Mexico 2015 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: REGIONAL ELECTIONS

The surprising success of minority parties in Mexico is a wakeup call to the country's political establishment that Mexican's are serious about reform and fighting corruption.

Mexico held mid-term elections on June 7th in what it is regarded as the second most important ballot in the country after the Presidential elections, which will be held in 2018. The nation elected 500 representatives for the Chamber of Deputies for the next three years, nine Mexican states chose new governors, and over 800 cities voted for their mayors.

Although the traditional parties retained the largest number of votes, the polls showed a surge of support for minor parties and independent candidates. The turnout was higher than expected (around 48 %), thus many saw the results as a shift in the national power base in Mexico and the beginning of the end of the two-party system.

The two major parties, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN) garnered around 50% of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies. The PRI received about 29% of the vote (203 seats), followed by the PAN, which won 21.01% (108 legislators). Both parties ended up losing legislators.

In addition, the leftist Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD), regarded as the third most important political force in Mexico, also lost influence in the chamber, dropping from 99 deputies to 56.

Minor parties on the other hand, saw an uptick in support that translated into more seats in the Cabinet. Morena, the Ecologist Green Party, the Social Encounter Party, the New Alliance Party, Citizen´s Movement, and the Labor Party together accounted for 132 legislators, making up about a third of the Chamber of Deputies. In 2012, all these parties had about 70 seats, meaning that they have nearly doubled their influence.

The new socialist party, Morena, was seen as one of the strongest winners. Lead by Lopez Obrador, a left-wing politician who has twice run for President, the party garnered 8% of the vote, making Mr. Obrador a viable contender for the 2018 presidential elections.

These smaller parties have capitalized popular dissatisfaction with the mainstream parties. Corruption, a slow economic growth, and drug related violence have hurt the big parties, especially Peña Nieto´s PRI where allegations of cronyism have made headlines. Furthermore many Mexicans remember the Iguala mass kidnapping, when 43 students went missing in Guerrero last year. The event triggered mass protests against the federal government.Jaime Rodríguez “El Bronco," who won governorship of the wealthy Northern state of Nuevo Leon, was regarded as another important upset. “El Bronco," an independent candidate, came in with 49% of the votes, beating the PRI and PAN´s candidates, who won 24% and 23% respectively. As an independent candidate, Mr. Rodríguez was able to ride a wave of dissatisfaction by promising sweeping reforms aimed at rooting out corruption. Many also see him as a possible candidate for the presidency.

Eight other states also elected governors, five of which went to the PRI, while the PAN won the other two. In the cities, the mainstream parties may have won the town halls, but the Citizen's Movement triumphed in Guadalajara, one of the country's most important cities.

According to a survey conducted by Parametría, a polling agency firm, the majority of the voters for the PRI, a party that has ruled Mexico for seven decades, belong to the poorer classes, are older, and have a lower educational level than those who support the minor parties. Students, women, young, and wealthier people are closer to the more incipient organizations. This social strata, which is linked to a middle class, could shift the underlying balances of political power in Mexico as its citizens gain increasing access to education, better jobs, and as the country develops.

The results do not pose any threat to the government's program of reforms, as the PRI, PAN, and PRD hold the largest share of the chamber. But these voting patterns are a wakeup call to the establishment that the new generations have other options.