Chihuahua’s Governor’s Race: Betrayal and Ambition

Chihuahua’s pre-campaign season has seen significant movement in recent weeks as candidates and parties position themselves for the election that will take place on 5 June 2016. After the pre-candidate registration closed on 11 February 2016, National Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) leader Agustín Basave Benítez indicated on 15 February it was unclear whether or not it would ally with the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) to back their candidate in Chihuahua against the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which currently holds the state governorship. However, by 29 February, PRD Secretary General Beatriz Mojica confirmed the two parties will run separate candidates.

After initially registering with Chihuahua's Instituto Estatal Electoral in December 2015 to run under PAN for a municipal president seat, former Delicias Mayor Jaime Beltrán del Rio broke with his party in January 2016 to run for governor under the PRD, the party structure he used to win his current mayoral position. Beltrán del Rio cited disagreeing with the methods the PAN uses to select its candidates. Now, PRD has two pre-candidates running for the governorship -- the other is Rosalba Bernal, who has already attacked Beltrán del Rio, calling him an ambitious traitor. 

The PAN also lost former Cruz Pérez Cuéllar. The former Chihuahua PAN President and Federal Senator decided to renounce his party membership to run as an independent with Movimiento Ciudadano. Pérez Cuéllar explained he departed from PAN due to the corruption he saw in the party. Now he is campaigning on an economic development plan tailored to the different regions of the state which shares a border with the United States. Businessman José Luis González Barraza, “El Chacho,” is also throwing his hat into the ring after collecting more than the required 75,000 signatures (he collected 140,000) from 45 municipals to be put on the ballot as an independent. Por Movimiento de Regenación Nacional (Morena) put forth Javier Félix Muñoz as their pre-candidate.

The PAN’s only pre-candidate is Texas-born Federal Senator Javier Corral Jurado, who has a background in journalism prior to starting his political career. The PAN hopes he can capture the Chihuahua governorship back from the PRI and recreate the years under PAN Chihuahua Governor Francisco Barrio Terrazas (1992 to 1998). Despite the uncertainty of a political alliance for these elections to date, some PRD politicians have come out supporting Corral on Twitter with the hashtag #PRDconCorral.

Without much controversy, Enrique Serrano Escobar is the PRI’s only pre-candidate for the governor's race. He is campaigning for the PRI, which hopes it can maintain a hold over Chihuahua in the upcoming June elections. Analysts widely consider Serrano the frontrunner in the election given his popularity as the mayor of Ciudad Juarez, a city widely viewed as reviving and more secure than it was just five years ago. Serrano has significant support among the business community along the border and is backed by three other parties, Nueva Alianza, Partido Verde and Partido del Trabajo (PT).

Even though the candidates have already hit the pre-campaign trail, which lasts until 11 March 2016, many parties are still sorting out their candidates and political alliances. In the meantime, Serrano can use the organized PRI network to advance his campaign, undistracted, potentially widening the gap between him and his competitors further. However, there is a small check on how far ahead Serrano can get; the Comisión de Quejas y Denuncias del Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE) demanded spots for PRI Serrano be pulled on 11 February. Since Serrano Escobar is the only PRI pre-candidate, promotional ads for him create an unfair playing field for other pre-candidates, who may not be the only ones running for their party at this time. 

The INE is keeping other candidates in check as well, making calls on several other ads. On 21 February 2016, spots for Pérez Cuéllar were pulled because the ads implied Pérez Culler is the only pre-candidate for Movimiento Ciudadano, creating unfair conditions in the race. Yet, on 23 February, the INE rejected the PRI’s request to pull general PAN ads for being slanderous. The INE decided the content of the ads just describe the status quo and do not directly attack the PRI, which currently holds the governorship.

Organized crime and drug traffickers take advantage of Chihuahua’s border location, making violence and security important issues in this election. Serrano’s track record and “mano duro” like stance on security, which has been relatively popular among voters, will be tough for other candidates to beat. PRI surveys indicate other top issues are more employment opportunities, school scholarships, support for families and improved benefits for the public. Similarly, Movimiento Ciudadano candidate Pérez Cuéllar said a government development plan, including how to generate employment, provide better education, and bring security to the region is essential moving forward.

Chihuahua has been a PRI versus PAN battle for several elections, with the PRD and other leftwing parties playing a lesser role. However, given the multiple candidates and the new trend in Mexican politics towards “independents” running for office at the state level, this election may see a wider selection of ideological candidates than previous elections as they jockey for position.