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Opposition wins Baja California race as cat attracts disillusioned voters

July 9, 2013

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The National Action Party (PAN) appears to have retained the Baja California governorship in last Sunday’s elections, which were marked by political mudslinging, a wave of violence and a cat that garnered thousands of votes in a mayoral race.

An error in the preliminary vote count system forced electoral officials to order a recount in Baja California, the only state with a governorship at stake. The final results are not expected until the weekend, but with 97 percent of the ballots counted, the PAN had led the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) by three points, with 47.17 percent of the vote.

Municipal and local congressional elections also took place in 13 other states. The conservative PAN, in alliance with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), won municipal elections in five state capitals, including Aguascalientes, Mexicali, Puebla and Saltillo, while the centrist PRI prevailed in eight state capitals, among them Cancun, Oaxaca and Tijuana, as well as most of the legislative races.

The results offer some relief for the PAN, which relinquished the presidency after 12 years in power in last year’s general election. Defeat in Baja California would have been disastrous as the state has been considered something of a PAN stronghold since 1989, when it became the first to fall into opposition hands during the 71-year reign of the PRI.

President Enrique Peña Nieto can draw positives from the opposition victory in Baja California because he needs to keep the opposition onside in order to pass upcoming energy and tax reforms in Congress, where the PRI lacks a majority. Tri-partisan support for Peña Nieto’s reformist agenda should continue unabated with the outcome in Baja California strengthening the positions of the PAN and PRD party presidents, who are both committed to the president’s Pact for Mexico, but would have found themselves under increasing internal pressure had the PRI reclaimed the state.

The elections were marked by a wave of violence in which at least ten people were killed, including candidates, their family members, campaign staff and political activists. A number of politicians also suffered attacks, death threats and kidnappings, leading some to withdraw their candidacies or stop campaigning publicly.

The specter of organized crime hung over the campaigns like a malevolent raincloud, with the perpetrators of the violence believed to be drug gangs intent on influencing the outcome of the elections. PRI officials not only accused the PAN of using illegal campaign funds in Baja California, but also alleged that the PAN’s mayoral candidate in the city of Aguascalientes took money from the notorious La Familia Michoacana cartel. The PAN and PRD swiftly hit back accusing the PRI of vote buying, fraud, corruption and voter intimidation.

One of the clearest consequences of this mudslinging was a rise in voter disillusionment. The level of abstention in some parts of the country reached over 60 percent, while many voters in Xalapa, Veracruz expressed their dissatisfaction with the candidates on offer by voting for a cat in the municipal election.

The invention of a disillusioned group of friends, Morris, the “candigato” soon went viral on social networks, winning over 157,000 followers on Facebook with slogans such as “Tired of voting for rats? Vote for a cat.”

With 72 percent of the ballots counted, the Veracruz Electoral Institute recorded over 8,700 null votes and ballots for unregistered candidates, the majority of which were marked with Morris’ name, while over 600 of the cat’s followers posted photos of their ballots for him on his Facebook page on Monday.

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One Comment leave one →
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