Feb. 18 marks the deadline for gathering enough signatures to be registered as an independent candidate in Mexico. As of now, just a few of them will appear on the ballots.
This is the first time Mexico is allowing independent candidates for the presidential elections, and the registering process proved to be discriminatory in more than one way.
Of a total of six women and 34 men registered as aspiring independent candidates for the 2018 presidential elections, only three of them –Jaime Rodriguez “El Bronco,” Margarita Zavala and Armando Rios Piter – will be eligible.
In theory, this means the candidates got enough popular support, but their signature collecting campaigns were filled with irregularities.
The Indigenous candidate supported by the National Liberation Zapatista Army, EZLN, and the National Indigenous Congress, CNI, Maria de Jesus Patricio Martinez, known as “Marichuy,” will most likely not make it to the ballots, as she hasn't fulfilled the requirements.
Collecting Signatures With a Smart Phone
In order to be registered as an official presidential candidate and appear on the ballots, independent candidates must gather 866,593 signatures, representing one percent of the voting population, by Feb. 18. The signatures must represent at least 17 of Mexico's 32 federal entities.
To do so, aspiring candidates require the help of voluntary “assistants” to collect signatures all across the country. Anyone who wants to help an independent candidate must then download an official app in a smart phone to register signatures and take pictures of voting IDs.
During a radio interview, a high level officer from the National Electoral Institute, INE, said the assistants weren't collecting signatures because they “didn't want to go to the streets to support their candidates." For actual people supporting the independent candidates, however, especially those who support the CNI, think is more a class issue.
The Government Indigenous Council, CIG, the organism formed by the CNI for the elections, and supporting organizations have denounced this measure as "discriminatory" given that in Mexico, “medium or high line” smart phones are expensive and internet access is not universal.
“Marichuy emerged as a candidate against discrimination and the first thing she gets from the INE is discrimination,” said writer Juan Villoro, one of the founding members of the civil association that supported her candidacy. “It's unfair for all candidacies, not just this one.”
A smart phone that supports the app costs about 5,000 pesos, equivalent to three months of minimum salary (80.04 Mexican pesos a day, about US$4.4). According to official data by the Mexican Demography Institute, 81.7 percent of the working population earns three times the monthly minimum salary, which means they would need to spend their entire month salary to buy such a smart phone.
They also denounced that the official guide listing the accepted smart phones wasn't precise, as phones that don't support the app are included in the list and ones that are support it are not included.
“This is deeply discriminatory, anti-democratic and exclusive form of understanding and doing politics,” said members of the same civil association, named “It's time for people's blooming.”
Internet access is another main obstacle to gathering signatures. When the process began in Oct. 16, the CIG and its spokeswoman Marichuy were campaigning in Zapatista territories. More specifically, in the mountains of the Mexican southeastern state of Chiapas. It was expected to be a difficult area, as internet access is scarce and a lot of people don't have a voting ID. Even as their caravan entered bigger cities, the application still had connection problems.
Because of this, the INE decided to allow collecting hand written signatures in remote zones with limited internet access, publishing a list of specific municipalities where this would be permitted. But this also proved to be inefficient.
“The municipalities selection was 'random.' There are many municipalities in similar conditions where that is not permitted,” said members of civil association, citing cases in which neighboring towns with no internet access were treated differently by electoral authorities.
The “Independent” Candidates
Jaime “El Bronco” Rodriguez is the governor of Nuevo Leon and was the first independent candidate to become a governor in 2015. He got ambushed by armed groups twice when he was the major of Garcia, surviving both murder attempts as his bodyguards engaged in shootouts.
He got enough signatures last December, but several investigations have shown irregularities. He is being accused of using his position as governor of Nuevo Leon to gather the signatures, as he has public money and networks at his disposition.
Jaime H. Rodriguez Calderon. | Photo: WikiMedia Commons
One of his assistants, for example, gathered 242 signatures each day using 60 different phones, which suggests Rodriguez was hiring people to complete the task under the name of only one registered assistant, according to an investigation by Reforma.
Moreover, the application registered that most of his support came from public officers during working hours.
Other critics have pointed out that Rodriguez has support from the ruling Institutional Revolution Party, PRI, which he was formerly a member of.
Margarita Zavala is the wife of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon. She decided to run as an independent candidate after internal division inside of the right-wing National Action Party. She has denied claims about buying signatures, but she is a constant object of memes pointing out that nobody wants to sign for her.
Zavala has a strong base of conservative sympathizers, who see her as a feminine alternative to a male-dominated political sphere. Feminist public figures regularly critique her, pointing out that she has no feminist agenda at all.
In a video that went viral, she was seen rejecting being filmed with two women when she found out they were a couple, even though she had agreed before realizing this, saying she believes marriage is only between "women and men."
Armando Rios Piter is the third candidate that will probably get in the ballots. He got all the necessary signatures despite being virtually unknown in Mexico's political life. He has denied corruption claims during his signature collecting campaign, but media has called it a “silent campaign” since people just found out about him when he became an eligible independent candidate.
A Change of Political Climate
The July 1 presidential elections promise political change for Mexico.
The “independent candidate” concept was first accepted in the country in 2014. That means this year's election will be the first in which independent candidates are going to be able to run for president. The process proposed by the electoral authorities seemed almost experimental, if not intentionally discriminatory, and proved controversial.
Some criticized the decision because they claimed it would further divide the vote of the population. The election process consists of only one round of voting, which means a candidate could be elected as president with minimum approval, especially if there are too many candidates.
With only 217,992 signatures collected so far, the CNI, a revolutionary anti-capitalist alternative, won't make it into the ballots. But they already knew this was going to happen and accepted it, since they never actually wanted to seize power. For them, the electoral process was always just a platform to help them amplify their voice.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, leader of the National Renewal Movement, Morena, still leads the polls and represents the first leftist candidate to have a real shot at becoming the next president of Mexico.
In a recent interview, current President Enrique Peña Nieto said his political career will end on Nov. 30, the last day of his administration, after a disastrous administration with more than 100,000 violent deaths under his tenure. He said he plans to spend more time with his family.
Political parties and independent candidates that gathered enough signatures will be able to register officially as presidential candidates between March 11-18.