Annulling an election is a very serious decision. In any democratic system, repeating elections because of irregularities — real, alleged or imagined — is a decision which has many negative implications. First, it sets a precedent that encourages par- ties and candidates to “play” a form of runoff when the result is adverse to them. Second, it annuls the decision of citizens made and processed in the polls. And third, it creates a considerable loss of energy and resources, made even more acute in an election system characterized by professional organization and political parties with exceptionally onerous prerogatives. The repeat of elections is an inconvenient measure which should be only used in special exceptions. The decision should not take into account the narrowness of the result. That is, the elections should not be annulled arguing a reduced advantage for the winner.
In Mexico, three gubernatorial elections have been annulled. One in Tabasco in 2000 and two in Colima, in 2003 and 2015. In all these cases, the winning candidate in the original election won again in the extraordinary election. The cases of Manuel Andrade in Tabasco and Gustavo Vázquez and Ignacio Peralta in Colima, show a clear trend; that even this consistency has not discouraged some losing candidates from seeing a possibility to reverse their unfavorable results in the special elections. In Mexico, democratic normality is measured in decades. The considerable public and social investment to have reliable electoral bodies and instruments has paid off and now we are seen as one of the countries with the greatest strength in that area.
However, there are insurmountable issues. For example, the inevitable inequality in the election. Candidates and parties do not have equal status because of their different paths. In addition, the law may not match what is par of reality. Of course, extreme inequality cases should be avoided, but that should not lead to the annulment of the results. The law also does not question the legitimacy and strength of the electoral system as a whole, the persistence of malpractices such as patronage or the presence of public and private resources outside the provisions of the law. There are problems, but they are minor and don’t justify the repeated attitude of candidates and parties who lose and systematically ignore the results. A look abroad would highlight the childishness of many to our political actors. The extraordinary elections in Colima is a good start, not just for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the candidate who confirmed his victory with clarity, but also to the elections, which were transparent, legal and equal. It was the first time that the National Electoral Institute (INE) was responsible for local elections, which favored the credibility of the results. It was very important that the candidate who lost recognized this result the next day. It is also worth noting that the conciliatory message shared by winning candidate Ignacio Peralta showed restraint.
The election was a tough one because of the chance of success for the top contenders. As in any electoral campaign, the struggle for power was fierce and the results showed the new electoral reality in Mexico. With less than one third of the votes, the PRI won the election with the help of the votes provided by the Green Party (PVEM), the New Alliance Party (Panal) and the Labor Party (PT), which accounts for 10 percent of the votes. Another very important factor was that voters’ participation in the extraordinary elections were the same as in the annulled elections.
Yes, there was divisiveness and attack campaigns during the process. There is an idea that an election should be a contest dominated by restraint and good behavior. The reality is that elections are no picnic, anywhere in the world.
It is true that candidates verbally assault each other during campaigns, which is not ideal. Elections end and bitter disputes hamper reunion and reconciliation afterwards. There is the example of the recent elections in Spain where aggressions between President Mariano Rajoy Brey and opposition leader Pedro Sánchez have hindered the negotiations regarding the investiture of the next government. In a time where an agreement between the two historical great parties is needed in order to provide governance in the face of the possible independence of Catalonia, the situation is complicated to the detriment of the whole.
The extraordinary elections in Colima are a good beginning. It is significant because it will create a favorable precedent for the dozen of governor elections to come. Although these elections will not be headed by the INE but the Public Electoral Local Organizations (Oples), every election has its peculiarities, its unique environment and dynamics.