In Mex­ico, ‘El Bronco’ rides to elec­tion his­tory

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Tracy Wilkin­son

MEX­ICO CITY — He cam­paigned on horse­back and called him­self “El Bronco.” On Mon­day, he was call­ing him­self gover­nor-elect.

Jaime Ro­driguez be­came the first in­de­pen­dent can­di­date elected to ma­jor public of­fice in mod­ern Mex­i­can his­tory, scor­ing an ap­par­ent land­slide Sun­day in the race for gover­nor of Nuevo Leon, one of the coun­try’s wealth­i­est and most im­por­tant states.

“We have started what many wanted and never dared,” Ro­driguez said in one of a string of victory speeches. “The par­ties have a lot of re­think­ing to do, both in Nuevo Leon and in the whole coun­try.”

His victory — and the elec­tion re­sults as a whole — ref lected wide­spread public anger over cor­rup­tion scan­dals and per­sis­tent deadly vi­o­lence that have tainted all ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The mes­sage to the par­ties was clear, an­a­lysts said: Vot­ers are fed up.

“It’s no more pol­i­tics as usual,” said Gus­tavo Gil, direc­tor of po­lit­i­cal anal­y­sis for the In­te­gralia con­sult­ing group. “This is a to­tal shift.”

Vot­ers, he said in an in­ter­view, want “new par­ties, new politi­cians and a new mes­sage.”

Voter dis­con­tent spilled over into vi­o­lence in a few places, but most polling was peace­ful.

Although the elec­tions were widely seen as a fierce state­ment of protest, Pres­i­dent Enrique Peña Ni­eto’s

rul­ing In­sti­tu­tional Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party, or PRI, fared bet­ter than some had pre­dicted. With two small al­lied par­ties, the PRI gained an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity in the lower house of Congress, free­ing its hand in fu­ture law­mak­ing.

The PRI can al­ways count on a con­sis­tent base of vot­ers who will show up at the polls, some­times in ex­change for gifts or money. But across the na­tion, vot­ers were dump­ing in­cum­bent par­ties in gov­er­nor­ships and city halls. Among the big­gest losers was the tra­di­tional left­ist party, Demo­cratic Revo­lu­tion, or PRD. It nar­rowly avoided los­ing its ma­jor­ity in the gov­ern­ment of Mex­ico City to a new left­ist party par­tic­i­pat­ing in its first elec­tions.

With 99% of the vote counted, the PRD took 17 seats; the new party, Morena, claimed 16.

New par­ties and in­de­pen­dents were the nov­elty in Sun­day’s midterm elec­tions for nine gov­er­nors, hun­dreds of may­ors and all 500 mem­bers of the lower house of Congress. Mex­ico’s elec­tion reg­u­la­tions were changed last year to al­low can­di­da­cies not af­fil­i­ated with par­ties.

Ro­driguez, a col­or­ful rancher who claims to have sur­vived two as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts, was a breath of fresh, if at times rib­ald, air in the race.

El Bronco — an un­tamed steed who bucks the sys­tem — ran his cam­paign with a min­i­mal bud­get, us­ing can­did chat­ter and back­slap­ping bravado to hit the pop­ulist chords that res­onated with a dis­af­fected public. He made am­ple use of Twit­ter and Face­book.

A re­frain he re­peated of­ten also hit a nerve. “One dead son, one kid­napped 2year-old daugh­ter and 2,800 bul­let holes in my truck,” he would say, re­count­ing his fam­ily’s suf­fer­ing at the hands of crim­i­nal gangs.

“Nuevo Leon will be the be­gin­ning of a sec­ond Mex­i­can revo­lu­tion,” Ro­driguez, 57, pro­claimed to sup­port­ers as the votes were be­ing tal­lied in Mon­ter­rey, the cap­i­tal of Nuevo Leon and Mex­ico’s third-largest and prob­a­bly most pros­per­ous city.

The cow­boy can­di­date was not uni­ver­sally ad­mired. He was a mem­ber of the PRI un­til quit­ting last year and had served as a sub­ur­ban mayor un­der the party’s ban­ner, rais­ing some skep­ti­cism as to how in­de­pen­dent he re­ally was. Some Mex­i­cans wor­ried about his caudillo swag­ger; for­mer Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderon, a con­ser­va­tive, likened him — un­flat­ter­ingly — to the late Venezue­lan strongman Hugo Chavez.

But when it came time to vote, sup­port for Ro­driguez sur­passed all pre­dic­tions. He won about half the vote in a four-way race, un­seat­ing the PRI gover­nor. His near­est com­peti­tor, also from the PRI, was more than 25 per­cent­age points be­hind.

“We are giv­ing the par­ties that have been gov­ern­ing a six-year va­ca­tion,” he said, al­lud­ing to the length of the gover­nor’s term. “Peo­ple like [can­di­dates] who tell them the truth and who sound like them,” he said in ex­plain­ing his suc­cess.

Ro­driguez said his first act as gover­nor will be to set up a cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­volv­ing the man who will be­come his pre­de­ces­sor, Gov. Ro­drigo Me­d­ina, and Me­d­ina’s fam­ily. They have been ac­cused by op­po­nents of us­ing Me­d­ina’s po­si­tion to amass large amounts of wealth and prime real es­tate.

Those charges come on the heels of rev­e­la­tions that Peña Ni­eto, his wife and fi­nance min­is­ter pur­chased homes and prop­erty from gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors un­der fa­vor­able terms.

Ro­driguez has said he cut ties with the PRI. But to gov­ern, he prob­a­bly will have to reach out to it and other tra­di­tional par­ties.

Only 130 of 16,000 can­di­dates run­ning in the elec­tions did so as in­de­pen­dents, ac­cord­ing to a count by po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Jose An­to­nio Cre­spo. He op­poses al­low­ing in­de­pen­dents to run for ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions such as the pres­i­dency or gov­er­nor­ship be­cause a vic­tor would need the back­ing of Congress or other al­lied politi­cians to suc­cess­fully gov- ern — the dilemma Ro­driguez now faces.

“It wouldn’t be a di­vided gov­ern­ment but a com­pletely iso­lated one,” Cre­spo said in an anal­y­sis be­fore the elec­tion.

Among other vic­to­ri­ous in­de­pen­dents was Manuel Clouthier, son of a one­time pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Clouthier, a for­mer mem­ber of the Na­tional Ac­tion Party, will take a seat in Congress. He ac­knowl­edged Mon­day that in­de­pen­dents will come un­der in­tense scru­tiny.

“We can­not com­mit the er­ror that the par­ties did by turn­ing their backs on so­ci­ety,” he said in a ra­dio in­ter­view. “And to­day, so­ci­ety turned its back on the par­ties.”

Though the elec­tion of El Bronco and other in­de­pen­dents is un­doubt­edly shak­ing Mex­i­can pol­i­tics to the core, it re­mains to be seen what ef- fect it will have on the next pres­i­den­tial race, in 2018.

“This has re­con­fig­ured many things; there is no longer a cer­tainty for po­lit­i­cal par­ties,” said Gil, the po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst. But with pres­i­den­tial elec­tions three years away, there is plenty of time for tra­di­tional par­ties to re­group, and, for an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date to suc­ceed, he or she would need the same con­ver­gence of public dis­con­tent and other fac­tors present now, he said.

Pre­em­i­nent Mex­i­can his­to­rian Enrique Krauze was more op­ti­mistic. “The tri­umph of El Bronco,” Krauze said via Twit­ter, “is a warn­ing to the par­ties — re­new or die — and the presage of a cit­i­zen’s can­di­dacy in 2018.”

Hans Maximo Musielik As­so­ci­ated Press

JAIME ‘EL BRONCO’ RO­DRIGUEZ shows his inked fin­ger af­ter vot­ing in Nuevo Leon state, where he won the gov­er­nor­ship. He is the first in­de­pen­dent elected to a ma­jor of­fice in mod­ern Mex­i­can his­tory.

Jorge Rios Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

IN GUER­RERO STATE, a man throws stones at po­lice. Vi­o­lence was ram­pant in the lead-up to vot­ing, but polling was mostly peace­ful.

Hec­tor Guer­rero AFP/Getty Images

ELEC­TION OF­FI­CIALS count votes at a polling sta­tion in Uru­a­pan, in Mi­choa­can state. The rul­ing In­sti­tu­tional Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party, or PRI, fared bet­ter than some had pre­dicted, but the coun­try’s main left­ist party, PRD, lost seats to a ri­val par­tic­i­pat­ing in its first elec­tion.

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