Opinion

Finally, Mexico gets its Jesse Ventura

There were big headlines in the media describing the victory of an independent politician as the new governor of Mexico’s key northern state of Nuevo Leon as the rise of a new political star and a turning point in Mexico’s history because it could open the door to a powerful independent presidential candidacy in 2018. But I doubt that any of this will happen.

While Jaime “El Bronco” Rodriguez won an impressive victory against all odds, and might turn out to be a great governor, Mexico’s established political parties are likely to do whatever they can to undermine his governorship. And they might succeed.

There is a good chance that “El Bronco” could end up being Mexico’s Jesse Ventura. Remember Jesse Ventura? He was the independent politician and former professional wrestler who against all odds won the Minnesota governorship in 1998 and served until 2003.

But the state Legislature and the media made his life as governor impossible, and he decided not to run for a second term. Ventura then moved to Mexico, where according to published reports, he lived part-time for many years.

Much like “El Bronco” today in Mexico, Ventura made world headlines when he won the 1998 race for governor as an independent running for the Reform Party, fueling hopes among many that his election would mark the start of a new era in which the Democratic and Republican parties would no longer have a virtual monopoly over U.S. elections.

But after some early successes, Democrats and Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature blocked most of his proposals. In his first three years in office, the Legislature overrode 12 Ventura vetoes. Comparatively, “No previous governor had more than four vetoes overridden in a four-year term,” USA Today reported on June 18, 2002.

Granted, “El Bronco” is a more traditional politician than Ventura – Rodriguez was a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for three decades – and has vowed to work together with politicians from all parties. But whether federal and local officials of traditional parties will allow him to be a successful governor is a big if.

Rather than the beginning of a new era marked by the rise of independent politicians, Mexico’s June 7 midterm elections might have shown an amazing resilience of the country’s historically corrupt PRI and its closest allies.

According to preliminary estimates by the Mitofsky polling firm, the PRI and two of its allied parties will maintain a combined majority of more than 250 seats in the 500-member Chamber of Deputies.

Although it lost some important governorships, that’s not a bad result for President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose popularity has plummeted over the past year. Several scandals – including last year’s disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students in the violence-torn state of Guerrero, and reports of a controversial purchase of a $7 million house from a government contractor by first lady Angelica Rivero – have fueled an outburst of criticism against Mexico’s ruling party, and traditional politicians in general.

Ninety-one percent of Mexicans don’t trust politicians, and 90 percent don’t trust political parties, according to a recent survey by the Center for Research and Economic Teaching (CIDE) and the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMC.) Still, the ruling PRI party, which has ruled Mexico for most of the past century, won the mid-term elections.

My opinion: The Pena Nieto government will maintain a still-to-be-determined majority in Congress thanks to the questionable practices of its satellite Green Party, which significantly increased its number of deputies through reported gifts to voters and other violations of electoral laws.

Unfortunately, the midterm elections showed that old-time electoral tricks by the PRI and its main allies, as well as by the center-right PAN party and the leftist PRD and MORENA parties, are alive and well in Mexico.

For an independent candidate like “El Bronco” to become a viable presidential candidate in 2018, he would have to prevail over a hostile state legislature, collect 1 million signatures to become a presidential candidate, and get the support of Mexico’s biggest television networks.

I wish “El Bronco” well, but I don’t see all of that happening. Rather than pin its hopes on the illusion of an independent presidential candidacy, Mexico should work on perfecting its voting system to make sure that traditional political parties don’t bend electoral laws, like some of them did – again – this time.

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172; email: aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com.

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