A bright new star has appeared in the Mexican political firmament, and he goes by the nickname “El Bronco.”
Jaime Rodríguez, an independent candidate, won his campaign to become governor of Mexico’s most prosperous border state, Nuevo Leon, home to the industrial hub of Monterrey.
The triumph of the hard-cussing Rodríguez, a rancher known as “El Bronco,” or “the rough one,” drew excited proclamations Monday of cracks in Mexico’s long-stagnant political system that would embolden independents. And indeed, Sunday’s midterm elections provided evidence of further erosion in support for established political parties.
But analysts cautioned that Rodríguez’s victory marks incremental change, and they cast some doubt on whether a true independent could make a successful run in 2018 for the presidency because of restrictive rules and antipathy from media tycoons who benefit from a cozy relation with those already in power.
Rodríguez, 57, was a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, for 33 years, leaving the party last year after failing to win its nod to become candidate for governor of Nuevo Leon. Rodríguez then mounted an independent campaign that rallied an army of supporters on Facebook and Twitter.
In the end, “El Bronco” trampled his opponents with nearly 49 percent of the ballots in Nuevo Leon, kicking the wind out of the PRI candidate, Ivonne Álvarez García, who captured less than 24 percent of the vote. It was a greater margin than any of the other eight gubernatorial races Sunday in Mexico.
“This is an independent candidate who won with a very smart campaign from the outset,” said Federico Estévez Estévez, a political scientist at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. Other independents won state legislative seats and mayoral races around Mexico, but Estévez said many of them bolted from traditional parties where they had long found a home.
“If the main parties don’t open up their selection process, you know, with free-ranging primaries of one sort or another, then you’re going to see split-offs like this,” Estévez said.
Mexico’s three main political parties – the PRI, the center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) – once crowded out other electoral competitors. But in Sunday’s vote, they captured a combined 60 percent of ballots for the 500-seat lower house of Congress, down from the 90 percent in midterm elections in 1997.
Smaller parties made sharp inroads. The center-left Citizens’ Movement (MC) captured as many as 29 congressional seats, up from 16, and its candidate will become mayor of Guadalajara, one of the nation’s biggest cities. The Ecological Green Party (allied with the ruling party) saw its seats climb from 29 to as many as 43.
Another winner was Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a perennial leftist presidential candidate who recently formed his own political party, Morena, which won 40 congressional seats and also captured five districts in Mexico City, weakening the grip of the PRD on the capital and becoming the nation’s fourth-strongest political force.
The triumph of Rodríguez in Nuevo Leon, where he’ll take the governor’s post in October, drew jubilant praise.
“Politically, Mexico has had an earthquake: A new era has arrived,” Antonio Navalón wrote in a column Monday in Reporte Indigo, a Monterrey-based newspaper.
Still to be seen is how Rodríguez, without the support of a party, will govern with a state legislature made up of lawmakers from parties he has spent months criticizing. Asked about this Monday morning, Rodríguez told MVS Radio that he would seek common ground with the legislators.
“We will work as a team. It’s not about confrontation. Rather, it’s about making decisions on behalf of the people of Nuevo Leon,” Rodríguez said.
John M. Ackerman, a law professor and commentator, said the victory of Rodríguez, who “has been in the PRI for most of his political career,” is overblown in the media and should be seen with greater realism, especially on the national stage.
While a 2014 constitutional reform of the political system opened some doors to those outside of traditional parties, particularly for mayor and governorships and state legislatures, mounting a presidential campaign would be difficult, Ackerman said.
“The law is complicated. Nothing officially happens until October 2017. If an independent candidate wants to run, he would have four months to put together about a million signatures just to become a candidate,” Ackerman said. “Once he was a candidate, he would have almost no access to television or radio.”
Estévez concurred that an outsider would have little chance unless he or she could win support from the tycoons who largely control mass media.
“You’d have to be favored by the big media titans to reach across the country, and that’s hard to do,” Estévez said, adding that future independents may break away from within traditional parties rather than surface as real outsiders.
“You need somebody who has an established reputation. They have to be known. Otherwise, you end up with soccer players or actresses,” he said.
Rules on launching independent candidacies now “are bound to change,” he said, because “they are just outrageously restrictive as they are now.”