“Politics is the art of uncertainty, which leads to a principle of widespread political uncertainty” –Edgar Morin.
Uncertainty is a feature of politics. In the past, in the time of uncontested power, its appearance was limited to the time of the selection of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate. And that was its extend because the rest, the election, was the chronicle of an announced result. Today is different. As in any democracy, the definition of the candidates marks the beginning of the race but the uncertainty about the outcome extends throughout the dispute over the vote.
What happens now is even more uncertain. From the level of analysis, not of politics, it is difficult to anticipate a forests for the coming governor elections. Of course, according to the peculiarities of each state it is possible to anticipate the profile of each competition, and eventually, predict an outcome, but the uncertainty is the dominant figure in almost any competition.
This happens for a special reason: political parties have lost density in social representation. Only a very narrow minority considering the total of the electorate professes affinity or party membership. Neither the inertial or hard vote that could ensure a significant minimum voting and allow to project an outcome can be perceived now. Mexican society has been moving away from political parties, even more now that the door is open to independent candidates.
The PRI remains the party with the largest electoral base and the most horizontality, although in some places, such as Mexico City, it has lost representation in recent years. The National Action Party (PAN) is not living its best moment. Its strength depends on the presence it achieves in local governments. For example, the defeats in Morelos and Jalisco have placed it in a very low level regarding vote intention. In the case of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), the crisis is deeper and accelerated, and the competition it is facing from the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) and the Citizen’s Movement parties means a decrease in its historic electoral base.
The historical political parties are increasingly weak regarding the new times. In fact, this situation suggests that they are strong where they rule, and not that they rule where they are strong. Still, one cannot neglect the stable electoral base that characterizes the PRI in most of the country and that of the PAN in the center and north areas. However, as noted, the parties’ stable vote is not enough to mitigate the uncertainty of the democratic competition for power, with some exceptions.
Looking at the 12 elections for governor in 2016, the challenge is to understand the way in which the contending parties are building their chances for success. The first step is to select competitive candidates and maintain party cohesion. That is, prevent domestic competition that may cause a fracture in the election. In this context, it is uncertainty itself that gives way to frictions within a party and to the possibility that those who were not favored in the candidate selection could seek the nomination through other party, or even become independent candidates.
Precisely because of the terms of the competition, coalitions become important. It is a paradox that, knowing all the options and alliances available to parties, independent candidates can be competitive. However, they are, thanks to the weaknesses of the parties themselves and the lack of social prestige of the whole system of representation. That is the source of strength and viability. That is why, in certain environments, the competitiveness of the independent candidates is based on their anti-systemic character, not their biographies or the strength of their political project. A strong independent candidate must be against the established political parties, as well as being a good communicator in order to lend credibility to his position.
The PAN-PRD coalition of six years ago was crucial to open the government alternation in Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa, but today the conditions are not the same as then. PAN can will only in Puebla, while the PRI could recover Sinaloa and could emerge as the winner in Oaxaca, especially if the PRD is divided when selecting candidates. The PAN and the PRD could work together for Quintana Roo, supported by the strength of candidate Carlos Joaquín, not so much that of the coalition. And in Veracruz, the effect of the union between the PRD and the PAN could make room for Morena, a party that has performed well in the recent past. In Zacatecas, as in Oaxaca, the opportunities of the PRD may be affected by the difficulty of making a bid for unity. Meanwhile, competitive independent candidates are emerging in Chihuahua, Aguascalientes and Oaxaca.
The PRI has learned to build electorally successful partnerships. It couldn’t have won the elections in Colima without the contributions of votes from the Labor Party (PT), the New Alliance Party (Panal) and the Green Party (PVEM). These two last parties will accompany the PRI during the next gubernatorial elections, with the probable exception of Puebla. Finally, in almost all cases, the contest will focus on the candidates, not on their parties or coalitions.
Uncertainty is decanted as the contest and campaigns advance. Almost always, the scenario has been dominated by two competitors, or in occasions, three. It is likely that several of the states with a bipartisan profile such as Chihuahua and Aguascalientes could raise three-way contentions. The same could occur in Tlaxcala, Zacatecas and Veracruz. Oaxaca could be a different matter and may have four candidates competing.
The issue that parties should focus on is the definition of campaigns in light of the new paradigm which is already evident and which will be accentuated over time. The segment of the population that is under 30 years old, which represents a significant portion of the electorate, is far removed from the communication model of the parties based on electronic media. Their domain is digital communication. Campaigning in the digital world is a major challenge that requires assuming the principles and ways of this world. In order to understand it, parties will have to unlearn what they knew.
Indeed, uncertainty is the hallmark of election times. That is how it is in 2016 and how we can expect times to be for the 2018 presidential elections.