Escape valves in the Mexican elections

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In Mexico, it’s nothing new, even though it seems like it. A couple of decades ago, during the long rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, some voices of discontent called on people to vote for the comedians Cantinflas or Capulina. They never won because they couldn’t. Now that the PRI has retaken the presidency, discontented people are calling for people to vote for a cat. It’s not a metaphor. Morris, a domesticated cat, has presented himself on his Facebook page as a “candicate” to become mayor in Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz. Click here to see one of his campaign videos. 

by Jorge Tirzo

In his day, Cantinflas symbolized people’s criticism of politicians. His personality represented the average person, ignorant but honest. Faced with the dishonest ignorance of politicians, the protest movement identified an honest comedian as the best option. Just recall the beginning of his speech in the movie If I were a congressman:  “I’m here because I don’t belong to any party and because you asked me to. If the people ask me, they know what they’re doing.”

If he could speak, Morris the candicat would probably say more or less the same thing. He’s a key player in the Xalapa elections because the people want him. His election platform? To get rid of “rats”, “to rest and frolic”. At least that sounds honest. Some people say it’s a strategy to encourage abstentions. Morris’s Facebook page already has more than 100.000likes. The people know why.

Morris the candicat has more followers on Facebook than all the official candidates combined. The PRI candidate, Américo Zúñiga, is leading in the polls, but he only has 32.000 followers on Facebook. While Zúñiga shares a picture of how reporters gather around him when he has breakfast (148 likes), Morris the candicat asks for people to donate blood for a baby suffering from leukemia. The road proposals of candidate Dulce María Dauzón (Citizens’ Movement) have 155 likes, but a call by Morris to make posters about freedom of expression on social networks has 369 likes. One thing is clear: the cat has used Facebook for his campaign in a more much interactive and clear fashion than the rest of the candidates.

One way of looking at this phenomenon is that voters prefer not to choose any of the official options. During the 2009 elections, a movement which supported abstentions in order to protest against the existing political choices gained a lot of momentum. At the time, it was accused of being a PRI strategy to favour its candidates, but it was clear that a significant number of people opted for this form of protest.

The emergence of animal candidates in these elections could be a transformation of that movement. Instead of abstaining, people are opting for an absurd gesture to protest against a situation which is even more absurd. The political parties have not established effective measures to ensure that the candidates are well received and that the electorate can identify with their policies.

Why Xalapa?
A few months ago, President Enrique Peña Nieto made a slip of the tongue, mixing up the capital of the state of Veracruz. He was attending an event in Boca del Río and said that was the capital, not Xalapa. It was interpreted as symbolising the federal government’s lack of interest in the situation in the state.

In recent years, violence levels in Veracruz have risen considerably as a result of conflicts between various organized crime groups. It’s currently the most dangerous Mexican state for journalists . Despite this, the Mexican Association of Newspaper Editors awarded the state’s government, Javier Duarte, an award for his efforts “to defend journalists”. The prize has been called a “chayo prize”, referring to the practice of giving money to reporters in exchange for articles favourable to the government. Since Duarte was elected, nine journalists have been murdered.

There’s something wrong with politics when official candidates don’t represent large numbers of voters and humorous candidates have to appear to fill the void left by serious politicians. It doesn’t matter if it’s Cantinflas or Morris the cat.

Another animal is also campaiging in the Mexican elections: Chon, the donkey.