Independent Candidates in the Electoral Labyrinth: University Reflections

An unprecedented phenomenon occurred in the 2018 Mexican presidential elections: independent candidates appeared on the ballots. At the Permanent Seminar for the Analysis of Electoral Justice in Mexico, legal and political science experts presented their positions on the financing of these candidates and on the Special Sanctioning Procedure that some of them had to go through during the campaign. The permanent seminar consists of a series of conferences and debates with the participation of experts in electoral justice and the support of universities such as UIA, CIDE, UNAM, UP, ITAM, ITESM, as well as other institutions including FEPADE and Strategia Electoral.

For the organization of an electoral candidacy, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) differentiated within the budget between political parties and independent candidates. Parties are financed primarily with public resources, while independent candidates must resort to private financing to be truly competitive.

The speakers said that a candidacy with possibilities of winning is a public good, that is, it is neither rival nor exclusive in consumption. Defined in this way, the public good exists because it puts pressure on the government in turn to do well its job.

In addition, independent candidates obtain private and economic benefits if they win the election. The panelists warned that a perverse incentive exists for parties with little chance of winning to use their campaign money to benefit a particular actor. A typical example of this would be buying campaign material from a company created by the same party leader.

Figures on Funding for Independent Candidates in the 2018 Elections

Figures on the financing of independent candidates in the 2018 elections were presented during the event. When he was barely seeking to become a candidate, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón was in the lead in the contributions he received, which were four times higher than those of Armando Ríos Piter, who was in second place. Nearly all the contributions to the Michoacán candidate were awarded in kind, while all the other candidates received cash.

candidatos independientes 2018
2018 Independent candidate for the Mexican presidency, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón / Photo, courtesy of (CC)

For their part, Margarita Zavala and María de Jesús Patricio Martínez were far behind in last place. The difference in contributions between Rodríguez Calderón and Zavala, on the other hand, decreased considerably after they were accepted as presidential candidates. In the end, it was a complex process that received various criticisms on social media:

There is no justification for authority to get involved in party propaganda. It makes no sense in a deliberative democracy. If the propaganda is damaging to other parties: What a shame, but that’s what it’s for: @MarvanMaria

— Strategia Electoral (@Eleccionesymas) 21 June de 2018

Although independent candidates work to obtain financing from different sources, they must fight against the well-oiled party machine. That is why the panelists explained that the favorable sentence for Rodríguez Calderón in the Electoral Court of the Federal Judicial Branch was a consequence of his fight against this inequality of access, despite the proven fact that 810,995 signatures of support of his presidential candidacy were annulled due to some type of irregularity.

What is the Special Sanctioning Procedure?

After an analysis of the situation, the participants of the Permanent Seminar for Analysis of Electoral Justice in Mexico spoke about the special sanctioning procedure (PES), of jurisprudential nature, which has four basic assumptions: regulating radio and TV time purchases, overseeing equality in the use of public resources, avoiding violations of rules on electoral propaganda, and monitoring pre-campaigns.

The following presentation-summary [in Spanish] is a visual aid that facilitates better understanding the PES:

candidatos independientes y sanciones electorales
The panelists indicated that there are processes that take more than 100 days to resolve, as the procedures are not very agile. This means that the measures taken are not very effective when the sentence is applied after the end of the campaign. They also mentioned three issues that must be discussed for future legislation: the appearance of minors in propaganda, overexposure, or the use of local propaganda to promote federal candidates and vice versa, as well as political violence and gender political violence.

Independent Candidates and Politics in Mexico

Similarly, the panelists said that Mexico is far from embodying the essential assumptions of any electoral democracy, that is, when the government can defend the achievements of its party and the opposition parties are free to criticize. Likewise, it is very difficult for citizens to exercise their freedom of expression in the full sense of the word. In addition, they explained that the increase in the campaign rules requires more structure for the parties to deal with them, otherwise, they will only be making the campaigns more costly.

Sebastián Garrido, Adrián Lucardi, Felipe Fuentes Barrera, Arturo Espinosa Silis, Horacio Vives Segl, and Clicerio Coello attended this session of the seminary.



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