In the 1992 U.S. presidential race, Bill Clinton’s campaign coined the phrase “it's the economy, stupid.” It was the single most important issue to American voters.
Similarly, Mexican elections are becoming single-issue polls on corruption. In the last two years a wave of corruption scandals has pushed a large majority of Mexicans to cast a so-called “voto de castigo” or “punishment vote” against corrupt politicians of every political stripe.
That ballot box behavior was confirmed on Sunday when Mexicans voted to elect governors, local congressmen and mayors in 13 states and Mexico City. Once again, corruption was the great motivator.
The country’s ruling Partido de la Revolución Institucional (PRI) lost big. Against most predictions, the country’s conservative opposition Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), allied with the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), won 7 out of 12 governorships that were up for grabs.
"The PRI assumes responsibility in the message the citizenry has sent to the party and its governments. There are things to reflect on and change." — PRI president Manlio Fabio Beltrones.
The results of Sunday's elections are again challenging the time-honored assumption that people only vote with their pockets. But whereas political parties once rose and fell with the economy, today's election results seem to be determined by voter indignation, rage and the urgency to say “ya basta,” or “enough already” to corruption.
Consider a few examples from Sunday’s election:
1.- In the coastal state of Veracruz, the ruling PRI lost for the first time amid allegations that governor Javier Duarte’s administration used fake shell companies to embezzle public funds.
2.- In the southern state of Quintana Roo, the incumbent PRI was voted out after Governor Roberto Borge was accused of illicit enrichment.
3.- The PRI was defeated in Tamaulipas, after a string of previous PRI governors did little to prevent organized crime from infiltrating the state and instilling a climate of fear.
4.- The PRI lost the northern state of Chihuahua, where Governor Cesar Duarte is accused of using public funds to create a private bank.
5.- The PRI also lost in Durango, where the last two governors were accused of protecting drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Other political parties were also “punished” in Sunday's polls: The PAN lost in Oaxaca, thanks to a governor who did little to maintain order against the radical teachers syndicate CNTE. And the PRD lost in Mexico City to the PRD splinter group MORENA, which won most of the seats for the constitutional assembly.
In many ways, the anti-corruption vote in Sunday's elections was a continuation of a voting trend that started in the 2015 midterm elections. The anti-corruption vote first showed its power to determine some elections during last year's poll:
1.- The PAN lost in the northern state of Sonora, where Governor Guillermo Padrés was singled out for using the office for personal enrichment.
2.- The PRI lost in the northern state of Nuevo León, which was governed by Rodrigo Medina, who last week was accused by prosecutors of embezzling some $160 million.
3.- The PRI lost in the southern state of Michoacán, which was governed by Fausto Vallejo, whose administration became a symbol of close ties between narcos and politicians.
4.- The PRD lost significant power in its traditional bastion of Mexico City, as corruption allegations surfaced around the construction of a newly built subway line.
Corruption is now a driving force for many Mexicans to vote for “el menos malo” or “the least worst” candidate. And the political parties know it, which is why they spent so much time during the campaign accusing each other of graft rather than proposing innovative solutions to the country’s problems.
“It’s the corruption, stupid.” That’s the new slogan Mexican campaign staffers will probably utter in years to come.
Carlos Loret de Mola is an award winning Mexican journalist and popular news anchor of Televisa’s “Primero Noticias.” He has served as a war correspondent in Afghanistan, Haiti, Egypt, Syria and Libya and writes for a number of news outlets on issues ranging from the drug war to international politics. Carlos has broken many influential stories about the operations that led to the capture of some of Mexico’s most wanted criminals. In 2001 he wrote the book "The Deal. Mexican economy trapped by drug trafficking." He is a frustrated chef, runner and guitar troubadour… but he keeps trying.