Sunday, February 20, 2011

The "citizen candidacy" debate

Senator José González Morfín, who is the head of PAN's group in the Senate, came out strongly in favor of "citizen candidacies," that is, candidates not emanating from parties, for elected office, and claimed PAN's 40-strong group of senators would back this.

González Morfín touch upon the conventional arguments: Yes, Mexicans have a constitutional right to be candidates, but are blocked from being so unless they go through a party; this is anti-democratic, etc.

The senator said PAN would back non-party, "citizen" candidates on all levels - mayors, deputies, senators, even the president. He criticized a proposal from PRI that went in the other direction, requiring 18 months of party membership before being allowed to run for office.

In a time of (or perennial?) discontent with political parties, such proposals do strike a chord and certainly warrant a hearing. But for all the talk of the glories of a "citizen," non-party candidate for the presidency, no mention is made of the potential negative implications of this.

For one, in Mexico, one can imagine a situation where a "citizen" candidate, riding a wave of anti-party sentiments, can simply, through means legal or not, "buy" him or herself the presidency. What if the narcos decide to postulate a candidate? El Chapo throwing his billions behind a person promising to put an end to the drug war and withdraw the army? It may sound and be far fetched, but let's keep in mind that parties, for all their flaws, do function as some kind of filter here.

But let us also look to Latin America: What have been the consequences of these "citizen" candidates? The cases of Alberto Fujimori and Fernando Collor de Mello, non-party presidents of Peru and Brazil, leap to mind. Even if the candidate would be a competent democrat, they would face likely problems of not having legislative backing from a reliable party. And what if they are outright criminals like Fujimori and Collor de Mello, elected on what they claimed to be a mandate to rule as they pleased? The results were not pretty.

By all means: There are arguments to be made for allowing citizen candidates. But so far there has been virtually no mention of the potential pitfalls of "anti-party" candidates, which need to be brought into the debate.


  1. Chapo doesn't need to buy a candidate, he's already bought a president... or so it is said in Sinaloa and elsewhere

  2. Regarding the previous comment: "so it is said..." -- THAT is certainly a compelling argument!