The political scenario in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas has seen an historic change in 2015. More than 1,000 women have gained positions as members of the state government, mayors, municipal treasurers and councillors through popular elections.
This unexpected political advance by women in Chiapas, one of the poorest states in Mexico, came as the result of sustained civil campaigns to ensure that the constitutional reform of electoral law was fully complied with.
This new federal legislation, passed on 10 February 2014, aims to guarantee equal representation of both genders among candidates for both federal and local elections.
It was in 2015 that the first elections since the passing of the new law were held. On 7 June 2015, Mexican voters renewed all 500 seats in the Federal Chamber of Deputies, 9 governorships, 641 district councils in 17 areas, 993 mayoralties in 16 states, and the 16 heads of local municipalities in Mexico City.
Elections in the state of Chiapas took place on 17 July 2015 to renew all seats in the state congress and 122 municipal mayors.
The principle of gender parity was applied in different ways in each state.
In some states such as Nuevo León, Sonora and the State of Mexico, where women’s groups claimed the new legislation had not been respected, the Federal Election Tribunal (TEPJF) chose to give priority to the juridical security of the elections, since the electoral campaigns had already begun.
Gender parity will be brought in for these states in the 2018 elections.
In the state of Chiapas however, matters took a different and surprising turn. Although the campaign had already begun, a multidisciplinary women’s group that comprises the recently created Red Chiapas por la Paridad Efectiva (Chiapas Network for Effective Parity, REPARE) as well as two political parties, the Partido de Acción Nacional (National Action Party (PAN) and the Movimiento Ciudadano Citizens’ Movement (MC) challenged the failure to implement the law.
With a total of 803 male candidates as against only 264 women, no party except for the left-wing Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (MORENA) had complied with the new legislation.
In an unexpected turnabout, the TEPJF Electoral Tribunal put its foot down and only ten days before the elections, ordered a suspension of the campaigns and gave the political parties 48 hours to reconstitute their lists.
This left both the political parties and the electoral authorities in a quandary, but despite predictions of social unrest – some people claimed Chiapas was not prepared for women in power, while others said there were not enough women to fill the candidacies- the political parties obeyed regulation SUP-REC-294-2015 from the TEPJF calling for gender parity, and completed fresh lists of candidates within the stipulated 48 hours.
The ways in which the parties fulfilled the instruction to implement gender parity was another matter. The newly passed General Law on Political Parties omitted any mention of the criteria or methods by which the candidates were to be selected.
The law upholds the right of any party activist to put themselves forward, providing they fulfill the ‘dispositions’ that each political party outlines in its own statutes.
This meant that in many cases, in order to comply with the TEPJF’s ruling, male candidates stood down tin favour of their wives, friends, sisters and mothers.
The consequence of this last minute change was that the female candidates had no time to run political campaigns or to set out their agenda.
In most cases, the electorate voted for the political party or for the formula on the ballot papers, as the former candidates continued to figure as representatives or councillors.
As a result of the elections, a total of 38 women were elected as municipal mayors, eight of them in indigenous municipalities, whilst 24 had their election challenged, some of them because they were related to the former male candidates.
Of the 38 women elected as mayors, 35 were ratified in their posts. The others lost their battle in the courts: one as she was the wife of the outgoing mayor, the second because following a recount she lost by six votes, and the third due to an internal dispute at municipal level.
At the start of October 2015, the political panorama of Chiapas was transformed, on paper at least.
For the first time in its history, the state of Chiapas will have 35 female mayors, 84 district representatives, 77 alternate representatives, 345 councillors and 163 alternate councillors, and well as 327 plurinominal councillors.
This means that 28.6% of the total of 122 municipalities will be governed by women.
The Chiapas state congress also saw a significant advance, as 58% of its LXVI legislative is made up of women (24 out of 41 seats). This is an increase of 19% on the previous legislature, where there were only 16 female deputies.
It remains to be seen whether the female mayors will remain in their posts or will resign in favour of their husbands; and whether the local populations will accept them, especially in the indigenous communities where the transfer of powers is usually based on traditional customs.
Be this as it may, in Chiapas at least a start has been made on the long march to a democracy with gender parity, and a balanced participation of men and women in key political processes.