With most of signatures for candidacy found to be fake or invalid, two of the aspiring independent presidential candidates in Mexico are out of the race, leaving right-wing politician Margarita Zavala as the only candidate not backed by a party in the next presidential elections.
These are the first elections in Mexico in which independent candidates were allowed to register, but the electoral institute wouldn't let anyone just run for president. Aspiring candidates without a political party had to get at least 866,593 signatures from supporting citizens in order to be on the voting ballots, which should have been handed in by Feb. 19.
To do so, the aspiring candidates had to get the support of volunteer “assistants” to collect the signatures through a Smart phone app that many have criticized.
Out of 48 registered aspiring independent presidential candidates, only Zavala, Jaime Rodriguez “El Bronco” and Armando Rios Piter were able to show they had enough signatures to be in the ballots, but electoral authorities had to validate the signatures first.
On March 16, the National Electoral Institute (INE) declared that most signatures collected by Rodriguez and Rios Piter were forged, and that at the end they didn't get enough support to be in the ballots.
Rodriguez, the on-leave independent mayor of Nuevo Leon, had a total of 2,034,403 support signatures, but the INE declared that only 41 percent of those were valid, leaving him with 835,511 and falling short by 31,082.
Among other irregularities, the INE showed that Rodriguez presented signatures that included 508,453 “inconsistencies,” 266,357 duplicated signatures, 158,532 faked ones and 205,721 photocopies of voter IDs instead of actual signatures.
Several media outlets and Rodriguez' opposition, including the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), accused him of using the state apparatus to collect signatures, as well as being secretly supported by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
They even accused Rodriguez of buying signatures from an evangelical church.
The INE revealed that a great part of the signatures in support of Rodriguez were collected by state bureaucrats during working hours, but his administration said it didn't constitute a crime.
Also, a single volunteer assistant named Lorena Mariana Saavedra Ferriz was reported to register an average of 242 signatures a day, about one every six minutes, and having 60 different phones linked, which would suggest an army of anonymous signature collecting “volunteer assistants.”
Independent presidential pre-candidate Jaime Rodriguez, also known as Bronco, speaks during a news conference in Mexico City, Mexico February 19, 2018. Photo | Reuters
But Rodriguez argues that it is impossible the INE went through all the 7.1 million signatures sent in total in such a short time, saying he would fight to register in the presidential race even though he doesn't have the required support.
Senator Rios Piter, the other presidential hopeful that was left behind, handed in 1,765,599 signatures, out of which only 14 percent were accepted.
According to the electoral authorities, Rios Piter signatures had 414,959 “inconsistencies” and 811,969 fakes, leaving him far behind the required quota.
While Piter claims every single one of his signatures are legit and demanded them be validated, the alarming number in irregularities and fakes might in fact result in Rios Piter facing charges for “electoral crimes.”
The disqualification of those two candidates leaves Zavala, wife of Mexico's former president Felipe Calderon who started the bloody “drug on wars”, as the only presidential candidate with enough signatures to be in the ballots.
But that doesn't mean she played fair. The INE declared that only 55 percent of Zavala's signatures were valid, while they included 327,456 “inconsistencies” and 212,198 photocopies among other irregularities.
At the end, Zavala was left with 1,089,512 valid signatures out of the 1,578,774 she presented. Both Rodriguez and Rios said they would challenge the electoral authorities and demand to be on the ballots.
Mexican presidential elections will take place next July 1 and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, now three times candidate, is leading all polls by a wide margin.
The really independent candidate
While establishment “independent” candidates had the economic resources to collect and forge signatures, 94.5 percent of the signatures collected by Maria de Jesus Patricio Martinez, the Indigenous candidate backed by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), were validated.
Patricio Martinez, called “Marichuy,” gathered only 281,955 signatures, out of which 10,624 were hand written in paper after organizations supporting her criticized the use of a smartphone App as discriminatory.
Her campaign consisted of a single van touring remote communities in the country with little logistics and funding, while enjoying support of many indigenous, LGBT, anarchist, communist and environmental grassroots organizations.
By December 2017, a total of 8,413 volunteers had registered to help Marichuy to get signatures, out of which 1,618 reported not having a smartphone that supported the app.
“Getting enough signatures would have allowed us to give visibility to the Indigenous people, their sorrows and struggles, to point out the system's criminal nature, to make echo from the pains and rages all over the national territory and promote organization, autonomy, resistance and rebellion,” says a press release signed by the EZLN, the CNI, the Government Indigenous Council (CIG) and the NGO that registered Marichuy in the presidential race.
Marichuy was elected as the spokeswoman for a broad movement involving Indigenous people from all over the country, and she was registered as an aspiring presidential candidate because they couldn't register a whole council as candidate.
“We never intended to take over Power, but it always was and will always be the self-administration, autonomy, rebellion and resistance,” reads the press release adding “the most important thing is that now we're more people, groups, collectives and organizations looking for solutions in ourselves that we know will never come from the top.”
They then invited everyone that somehow participated in the process to analyze and evaluate the situation, taking into account the CNI and the CIG objectives as well as their own, and send their reflections to a provided email.
They also announced they would organize different public activities to continue the struggle.