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Political mavericks debate the prospects of Mexico’s independent candidates

December 4, 2015

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A wave of independent candidates have shaken up Mexican politics this year, raising the prospect that the nation could elect its first ever independent president in 2018. This was the hot topic among Mexico’s most prominent independent politicians on the opening day of Guadalajara’s 2015 International Book Fair (FIL).

Mexico’s first ever independent governor, Jaime “El Bronco” Rodriguez announced his intention to run for president, “if the people want me,” and declared it “time to retire Mexico’s political parties, without giving them pensions!”

This was the first year that Mexico has allowed independent candidates to run for office, meaning the midterm elections in June were marked by a string of historic results across the country.

Rodriguez won the governorship in the wealthy northern state of Nuevo Leon, while Alfonso Martinez, another independent candidate, became mayor of Morelia, the capital of the western state of Michoacan. Meanwhile, Manuel Clouthier from Sinaloa became the first independent candidate to win a seat in the federal congress, and Pedro Kumamoto, an articulate 25-year-old graduate from Guadalajara’s ITESO university, became the first ever independent legislator in the Jalisco state congress.

They were joined on Saturday evening by Jorge Castañeda, Mexico’s former secretary of foreign affairs, who tried to run as an independent candidate in the 2006 presidential election but was blocked by Mexico’s supreme court as the law at that time did not allow for candidates who were not affiliated with a political party.

The local favorite Kumamoto drew the loudest cheers by far from the packed auditorium at the Expo Guadalajara convention center, while Rodriguez, who was casually dressed in a leather waistcoat and an open-necked shirt, won over many in the audience with his populist rhetoric and frequently colorful language.

The candidates agreed that the public were fed up — or “collectively pissed off” as the straight-talking Rodriguez put it — with Mexico’s political establishment. Several members of the panel also blamed Mexico’s mainstream media for ignoring or even attacking them in an attempt to undermine their groundbreaking campaigns.

Having proved that credibility can be more important than financing when it comes to winning over voters, the panelists also criticized the vast sums of public funding that Mexico’s political parties receive, even in years when there are no elections.

“I’ve always believed that the amount of money required for a political campaign is directly proportional to how disgraceful the party’s candidate is,” Clouthier said, before slamming President Enrique Peña Nieto as “the least popular president in history.”

The real key to success is building a broad movement that truly represents the values of society, noted Kumamoto, who received just 18,627 pesos (just over $1,100) in public funding for his campaign, equivalent to just 33 cents of public money per vote received.

Discussion then turned to the prospect of an independent president. Just before the debate, Guadalajara Mayor Enrique Alfaro had told the audience he was convinced that an independent candidate could win Mexico’s next presidential election, but most of the participants played down their political ambitions when asked about their future plans.

Only Rodriguez, who served in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for over three decades before turning independent earlier this year, admitted his interest in running for president.

Kumamoto, however, affirmed that the people need to construct a common agenda from below because “no individual will ever save Mexico on their own.”

Clouthier also warned against putting too much faith in messianic figures. Perhaps referring to the charismatic Rodriguez, he advised the audience to “never trust anyone who’s obsessed with their own projects.”

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