The adjective “conservative” is commonly applied to Jalisco by journalists looking for a quick way to summarize its culture. Few can deny that the description is apt, especially when compared to “liberal” Mexico City, which has legalized abortion and gay marriage.
Yet on June 7, Enrique Alfaro of the left-of-center Citizen’s Movement (MC) won a landslide election, a triumph that may lead journalists to question their phrasing.
The victory spoke volumes about the failure of Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to connect with young voters in a city with an average age of 24.
Even more crucial was the mass desertion from the conservative National Action Party (PAN), which swelled support for the MC to more than five times that of the PAN and almost double that of the PRI.
In old-fashioned Jalisco, it represented a historic change, bringing an end to the two-party system that has dominated since 1929.
Nevertheless, Guadalajara has not suddenly been swept by a wave of socialist sentiment.
A closer look at the political history of Guadalajara’s new mayor suggests a canny political operator, with populist tendencies and a history of party-switching.
On social issues, Alfaro is far from a partisan leftist. He is anti-abortion, firmly on the fence regarding the legalization of marijuana, and in favor of gay marriage but against gay couples adopting.
In his capacity as mayor he emphasizes austerity, aiming to cut down on bureaucracy, corruption and the mismanagement of funds.
Often derided as a political chameleon, Alfaro’s career began in the PRI, before he became a Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and Labor Party (PT) coalition candidate in 2009 and an MC candidate in 2012. Somewhere along the way, he is rumored to have formed a close alliance with former PAN state governor Emilio Gonzalez Marquez.
In short, Alfaro has history with at least five parties, from the conservative PAN, to the socialist PT. His political opponents have been keen to point this out, and he was demonized throughout the campaign as the puppet of the former governor. The day before the elections, leaflets were illegally distributed declaring Alfaro a danger to the state. It was even claimed that his election would lead municipal and state police to war in the streets.
Yet judging by the results, where he secured a margin of victory of more than 26 percent, the smear campaign was not only ineffective but actually helped his candidacy. The former priista was recast as outsider, an anti-establishment figure heading a sweeping popular movement.
So while Jalisco may not have broken with its politically “conservative” past, the results tell us that this is definitely not a state that is scared to try something new. Voters last week came out in droves to back change, handing victory to a party promising an entirely different future.