Apr 12, 2018

Bombshell court ruling blows open the 2018 Mexican presidential race, the Digie Zone Network

Bombshell court ruling blows open the 2018 Mexican presidential race
Kent Paterson/Correspondent
Special to the Digie Zone Network

Jaime "Bronco" Rodriguez
When Mexico's general election campaign officially began at March’s end, four candidates were qualified for the July 1 presidential ballot. With less than three months to go, the number has increased to five, maybe six.
In a stunning decision rendered late Monday, April 9, Mexico's election court, known as TEPJF by its Spanish initials, ruled that independent Jaime Rodriguez Calderon, governor on leave from the northern border state of Nuevo Leon, will have a place on the ballot alongside Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Jose Antonio Meade, Margarita Zavala and Ricardo Anaya.
The court also ordered that independent Armando Rios Piter, senator on leave from the state of Guerrero, will have ten extra days to prove that he meets the ballot qualification standards.
Rodriguez, popularly called "El Bronco," and Rios, nicknamed “El Jaguar,” had earlier been disqualified from the ballot by Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE), which found that the two had submitted hundreds of thousands of fraudulent or irregular, electronically transmitted nominating petition signatures. The INE is the official authority in charge of organizing and overseeing federal elections.
To qualify for the ballot, potential independent candidates, as opposed to party-nominated contenders, each had to submit 866,593 valid signatures of registered voters from at least 17 different states, with one percent of the voter roll represented in each of the 17 states, as well as turn in campaign finance information.
Of several independents who attempted to reach ballot status, Margarita Zavala, former National Action Party (PAN) lawmaker and wife of former President Felipe Calderon, was the only one to make the  INE’s cut-and barely. The federal election authority found that she too submitted invalid signatures but had enough valid ones to make the ballot.
In Rodriguez's case, the TEPJF ruled 4-3 that the INE had violated the hopeful’s due process.  INE President Lorenzo Cordova assured that the institute will abide by the TEPJF's decision. Nonetheless, Cordova defended the INE’s previous findings, saying in a statement issued by his office that modern technology aided in identifying fake or photocopied signatures and filtering out “(signatures) that should not be considered.”
Cordova said the INE would analyze the effects of the TEPJF’s ruling on election logistics, including the printing of ballots and the “recently approved” format of the upcoming presidential debates.
Two days after the court ruling, Mexican media reported that the INE was pressing an investigation with the Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes (Fepade) over illegal signatures submitted by independent candidates. 
The TEPJF’s resolution produced shock waves throughout the political system, in the media and on social networks. The responses ranged from sheer joy to tepid welcome to outright disgust. "El Bronco," of course, was elated.
"God is great, thank you. Faith is great," the reborn candidate wrote on his Twitter account. 
Rios, who is aiming for the potentially decisive but nebulous Millennial vote, was likewise overjoyed.
“I have never felt more pride at being a Mexican,” he gushed on Twitter. “My hope is alive and I see that it is possible if you have the truth, work and support of the people on your side…” 
Skewering the TEPJF, Jenaro Villamil, Proceso magazine journalist and pundit, accused the majority of justices of undermining hard-won election rules and law.
In a column, Villamil took the court to task for ignoring major election law violations that, in Rodriguez's camp, allegedly included delivering 810,000 "ghost" signatures that did not appear on the voter roll (Rodriguez delivered 2,034,432 signatures, a surprising amount for an independent, according to Proceso), as well as 158,532 signatures that were deemed phony.
The candidate also allegedly deployed Nuevo Leon state employees in the political campaign during work time and had nearly a million dollars in campaign funds of "suspicious" origin.
The TEPJF's action means, Villamil contended, that "important candidates can invent, buy, photocopy and replicate signatures when necessary and as long as they comply with the necessary minimum."
Prominent pundit Denise Dresser likewise lashed out at a TEPJF decision that "sends the institutions to hell, puts a stamp of approval on trickery and is subjugated to the (ruling PRI party)" all with the goal of "dispersing the opposition vote."
Politicos React
Politicians’ reactions to the April 9 court decision were mixed. Armando Luna Canales, vice-coordinator of the ruling PRI party's fraction in the lower house of the Mexican Congress told La Jornada newspaper that the ruling was a positive development. "It's a good resolution that is strictly based in legality and we will see a bigger choice of candidates for the citizenry," Luna was quoted.
Representatives of two of the political parties (the PAN and PRD) in the electoral coalition that is fielding Ricardo Anaya for president offered varied opinions. PAN leaders reluctantly accepted the TEPJF's resolution, with PAN Senator Fernando Herrera insisting that reforms were needed so all electoral processes "follow a route of transparency, that the signatures supporting independent candidates are socially validated and that there exists the least inkling of doubt about the way in which (signatures) are collected."
PRD Senator Luis Sanchez was creative in his assessment. "In terms of what Darwin said about the adaptation of the species, it's now the case that we have a raccoon-wild horse," Sanchez was quoted in Proceso.
In Mexico, a mapache, or raccoon in English, is an election-time dirty trickster.
On the campaign trail in Jalisco state, presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador dismissed the legal decision as a maneuver of “the power mafia” that runs Mexico. 
Alejandro Encinias, a former interim mayor of Mexico City, commented on the irony of El Bronco-and possibly El Jaguar-gaining ballot status while another early independent hopeful, “Marichuy,” the spokeswoman for the Zapatista-supported Indigenous Council of Government, was rejected for falling far short of the 866, 593 valid signatures, even though the INE determined that she had submitted the highest percentage of clean signatures.
According to Reforma newspaper, the INE validated 94.5 percent of Marichuy’s signatures.
Quoted in Proceso, Encinias said, “The moral of the story is that it’s more profitable to break the law than to obey it.”  
Coming prior to the first scheduled presidential debate, the TEPFJ's ruling this week adds new dynamics to the presidential race, though it remains to be seen to what degree and to whose benefit.  
Meantime, the twists and turns in the first independent presidential candidacy process permitted under recent Mexican law leave many unanswered questions in the air with implications for election day, such as the accusations by former independent contender Pedro Ferriz that widespread trafficking of voter data marred the independent side of the concluded primary season.
Author-Journalist Kent Paterson is an expert on Mexican politics.