With a football legend, a famous clown, a former Big Brother contestant and several soap stars in the running, the list of candidates in Mexico’s forthcoming elections reads more like the line-up of a television panel show. But the emergence of these maverick contenders reflects a growing sense of disillusionment, which has been compounded by a high-profile movement to boycott the elections.
Enrique Peña Nieto, who has the lowest approval rating of any president in the past two decades, still has three years left in office, but there are more than 1,200 positions at stake in the mayoral and congressional contests to be decided on 7 June.
This is the first time independent candidates have been allowed to participate in Mexico, an unwelcome development for the three major parties that have been tarred by years of bloodshed. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed since 2006 and at least 23,000 have disappeared, including 43 students who were infamously abducted in southern Mexico last September.
The government says the students were massacred by a drug gang, but their parents continue to search tirelessly for them. They are calling for a nationwide boycott of the elections, arguing that a vote for any politician is a vote for corruption and impunity.
“Our position is that there won’t be any elections until our boys reappear,” Mario Cesar Gonzalez, whose son Cesar Manuel is among the missing, told The Independent on Sunday. “We’ve been a waiting a long time but the government is just toying with us. If they don’t respond to our requests then we’re willing to do what it takes to stop the elections.”
Elsewhere in Mexico, celebrities are offering an alternative at the polls. Patricio Zambrano, a TV presenter and former contestant on the Mexican version of Big Brother, is running for mayor of Monterrey, Mexico’s business capital.
“I’m a public servant, not a politician,” he said. “Today’s politicians are robbing our children’s futures. They’re racking up the biggest debts in history in Monterrey…. There are two million people living in poverty here in Nuevo Leon, which is the second richest state in the country.”
Mr Zambrano has taken the unusual step of releasing his mobile phone number to the public so they can reach him at any time. Such openness puts him at odds with the political establishment, he said. “Unfortunately we’re governed by shameless crooks who hide behind armoured vehicles and bodyguards with machine guns, while claiming Mexico is perfectly safe.”
Security remains a major concern for many Mexicans, not least in Cuernavaca, a city that a Mexican NGO declared to be the most violent place in the country in February. Among those contending to come to the city’s rescue is the unlikely figure of Cuauhtémoc Blanco, one of Mexico’s greatest footballers. Having grown up in one of Mexico City’s toughest neighbourhoods, Mr Blanco, 42, believes he is capable of restoring law and order in Cuernavaca.
Mexico’s joint-second highest goalscorer of all time, Mr Blanco starred in three World Cups and ended his professional career on a high last Tuesday, by helping Puebla FC to a 4-2 win in Mexico’s domestic cup final. Now free to focus solely on his campaign, he will be hoping for an equally positive result at the polls in June.
With Mexican politics increasingly appearing to resemble a circus, it is only apt that Guillermo Cienfuegos, a famous clown and children’s television star, is running for mayor of Guadalajara, the nation’s second biggest city, under the slogan “It’s time for a real clown to govern”.
Mr Cienfuegos’ political aspirations were cut short when electoral authorities barred him from the race after finding hundreds of duplicate entries on the list of signatures he needed to endorse his candidacy.
Yet the clown is fighting the decision before a tribunal, while continuing to campaign in his mobile circus tent. In a statement, he denounced the decision against him as “not funny at all”.
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While they may have captured the nation’s imagination, polls indicate that few, if any, of Mexico’s maverick candidates are likely to triumph in the elections.
Critics have highlighted their lack of experience, but Mr Zambrano believes this should not count against them.
After all, he said, “Those who are qualified to govern, at least in Mexico, have robbed us blind.”