This Sunday, Mexico is holding local elections that are expected to be the most highly contested in that last quarter of a century, which has made them very unpredictable hours before results begin to be revealed even for the most experienced and knowledgeable analysts.
The reigning uncertainty is exacerbated by an unprecedented contamination of the process that has cast a shadow over the elections due to the inclusion of an issue into the dirty war which no candidate dared to utilize as a weapon: the complicity and financial backing of politicians by violent criminal groups, a sin of which all political parties are mutually accusing each other, which has contributed to the satiety of voters that will maybe become evident in some regions of the country through a low turnout at polling stations.
A Look at the Facts
This Sunday, elections will be held in 14 of the country's 32 states or, in other words, in about half of Mexico's national territory.
In 12 of these states, citizens will vote to elect a governor, mayors and local lawmakers, while in the northern state of Baja California, people will elect mayors and legislators.
And in Mexico City, which was recently pulled out of legal limbo and converted into the country's 32nd state, people will cast their ballot to determine the members of a new, special legislative body that will be in charge of drafting and converting into law the First Constitution of Mexico City, by which the entity will no longer be called the Federal District.
In the 12 states where governors will be on ballot, those elected will live an exceptional situation because their terms in office will be less than the usual six years as a result of recent country-wide constitutional reforms aimed at pairing up all local elections with federal ones. This means that for the first time in Mexico’s recent electoral history, governors will hold office for only two or five years because in 2018 and 2021 there will be federal elections.
For this reason, the 12 heads of state will be known by the Mexican political slang term, “mini-governors,” because they will hold power for less than the usual six years and their successors will return to the traditional sexennial. The same will occur in next year's local elections as those who are elected will end their periods either in 2018 or 2021.
In light of this unusual situation, some analysts have commented that many politicians that were expected to run for governorships this year or the next have preferred to not compete until this “mini-governors” era comes to an end.
Machismo and Women
But despite the “machismo” or male chauvinism that still permeates Mexican politics, an unusual number of female candidates (13) may win some of the 12 “mini-governorships” being disputed. If they all win, the number of female governors would increase fourfold across the Mexican political map, since male candidates are treating this elections with disdain. Ironies of the transition!
Of the 12 positions up for grabs, nine are currently held by the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, of President Enrique Peña Nieto. One of them corresponds to the National Action Party, PAN, which became the first party to nab the presidency from the PRI in about six decades, a feat it achieved two times in a row. The two remaining governorships are held by a PAN-PRD coalition. The PRD, or Democratic Revolution Party, proclaims itself to be leftist.
Ruling Party Faces Risk
The PRI faces the risk of losing at least six governorships during this Sunday's elections, two of which have been under their belt since the 1990s. These are Veracruz and Tamaulipas, located in the Gulf of Mexico. Tamaulipas also borders with the United States.
Both these states have been living a state of terror due to the high level of violence and insecurity caused by drug traffickers who have been fighting for control of the states for years. The situation has worsened recently as the narcotics cartels wield greater power to the degree that they control local police precincts as well as various mayors and legislators.
For this reason, the main gubernatorial hopefuls have leveled frequent accusations of organized crime complicity against their rivals.
Crime and Candidates
In the case of Tamaulipas, the ruling PRI went to the extreme of removing the candidacy of three governor candidates, accusing them of being linked to crime. Those candidates claim their only sin was to have decided to back the PAN nominee. They, in turn, have demanded that their party come forward with conclusive evidence against them and have asked that they explain why they weren't exposed before being nominated to be candidates.
The polls in Tamaulipas show that PAN candidate Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca has an increasing lead over his PRI rival Baltazar Hinojosa.
A Mexican Election Like No Other
In Veracruz, parallel to the cancer of insecurity, an unprecedented increase in the levels of corruption has been reported, giving an unexpected boost to Cuitlahuac Garcia, a brilliant academic who is not very well known outside his circle. Voters appear to prefer Garcia over his rivals from the PRI and the PAN who are cousins and share the same last name: Yunes. They both have long trajectories characterized by ups and downs. The two have attacked each other, underlining their mutually questionable acts.
Garcia has been nominated by the National Renovation Movement, MORENA, recently registered as a political party by two-time presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who decided to abandon the PRD and found his own party.
In the northern border state of Chihuahua, which is also currently governed by the PRI, there are three emerging independent candidates who have entrepreneurial backgrounds: Jose Luis “Chacho” Barraza, the former head of Mexico’s biggest airline, Aeromexico. And for the mayorships of Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez — the two main cities of the state — the two independent mayoral candidates are respectively the director of a regional cement factory and a local popular news anchor.
The polls show that of the three independent candidacies, the only one with a chance for victory is the one in Ciudad Juarez.
In regards to the governorship, the chances for the PAN candidate Javier Corral — who was defeated in the past elections — have increased unexpectedly after having began with a very low voter preference.
El Chapo's Territory
In contrast to these three entities where PRI faces complications, the ruling party is on path to win in the violent, coastal and agriculturally rich state of Sinaloa, which is currently being ruled by a PAN-PRD coalition.
These northwestern state has been in the international public eye because it is Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman's home state and also where he was recaptured twice. El Chapo is considered one of the most dangerous and powerful drug traffickers in the world and is in line to be extradited to the United States.
In these state, PRI candidate Quirino Ordaz Coppel has maintained a healthy 12-15 percent lead over PAN governor hopeful Martin Heredia.
Another PAN-PRD state, Oaxaca, could be recovered by the PRI, whose candidate Alejandro Murat, a son of a former governor of the same entity, leads with over 10 percentage points over the local ruling party's nominee, Jose Antonio Estefan.
Additionally, it appears that the PRI will easily hold on to the governorships in the central states of Aguascalientes and Hidalgo, the northern state of Durango and the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo.
Regarding the divided left, apart from Veracruz for MORENA, the situation seems to be favorable for this new party in the central state of Zacatecas, where David Monreal is on the ballot. He's the brother of a former PRD Zacatecan governor. In the nearby central state of Tlaxcala, the PRD candidate Lorena Cuellar, who leads the polls by about three percentage points, may save face for her waning party.
This Sunday's results will undoubtedly impact the 2018 presidential election, given the importance of the states that are in play.