'El Bronco' bucks old order, rides hopeful wave in Mexican elections

Jaime Rodríguez Calderón has become the first independent candidate to win a state governorship in Mexico. His victory highlights an electorate fatigued by a corrupt government and traditional politics.

Daniel Becerril/Reuters
Jaime Rodriguez, independent candidate for governor of Nuevo Leon state, celebrates his victory after midterm elections in Monterrey, June 7, 2015. Rodriguez, alias "El Bronco", has become Mexico's first independent candidate to win a governorship, capitalizing popular anger angainst the traditional parties and taken advantage of a new electoral law, local media reported.

Mexican politician Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, aka “El Bronco,” trampled his opponents in the northern state of Nuevo Leon in midterm elections this weekend, becoming the nation’s first-ever independent to become governor.

His photo – with hands and cowboy hat held high in victory – is splashed across the front pages of national newspapers today with headlines like “El Bronco commands,” and “An example for Mexico.”

The historic win by the straight-talking candidate underscores a sense of growing discontent with politics as usual here, and could signal bigger changes to come as politicians look toward 2018 presidential elections.

This sends a “clear message that the population has had enough of traditional politics,” says Rául Guillermo Benítez Manaut, a political analyst and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“El Bronco's victory will likely provoke a national political change, clearing the way for more independents in the future” and leading top parties to reevaluate how they govern, Mr. Manaut says. This was the first election where candidates without party backing could run for office in every state, but they faced plenty of hurdles like campaign financing and access to TV and radio advertising.

Political scandals have rocked Mexico at all levels of the government over the past year: from corruption scandals related to home purchases by the first lady and the finance minister to the disappearance of 43 teacher’s college students that allegedly involved a local mayor, police officers, and members of a criminal gang. Between 80 and 90 percent of Mexicans say they don’t trust political parties here, according to two recent surveys.

“Who won yesterday’s election?” asked columnist F. Bartolomé in leading daily Reforma. It was “change,” he writes.

“Thousands of citizens raised their voices to demand through the ballot box something different: a different approach, an alternative proposal.”

'I need you to help me do this work'

Mr. Rodriguez defeated the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) with a tally of nearly 50 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election. The PRI, which has controlled the economically powerful northern state of Nuevo León for 80 of the past 86 years, won 23 percent of the vote. Voter turnout in Nuevo León neared 60 percent – much higher than the national average of 46 percent – an indication that when given an alternative option, citizens will participate, observers say.

The only choice established parties have in responding to this message of citizen discontent is to “govern well and without corruption,” Manaut says. “I don’t see any other option.”

Despite the high levels of hope and opportunity around what El Bronco’s win can mean for the future of politics in Mexico, there’s also a lot at stake.

“He must reconcile with local congressmen, or else Nuevo Leon will live in chaos, and the illusion of the possibility of independent presidential candidates will go to hell,” wrote columnist Juan Pablo Becerra-Acosta in the daily Milenio.

Rodriguez acknowledged this after his win, calling for citizen participation in his six-year administration, which begins in October. "The government can't be Santa Claus or Superman. I need you to help me do this work," he said.

Supporters offered congratulations to El Bronco on his Facebook and Twitter accounts – pivotal to his social-media driven campaign strategy – but many came with words of warning.

“Now comes the hardest part,” wrote a Facebook fan who goes by the name of Manuel Mtzz. “The whole country is watching…Our expectations as citizens are very high,” he wrote this morning.

“I hope you don’t disappoint us.”

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