Morris, a black-and-white kitten with orange eyes, is running for mayor of Xalapa in eastern Mexico with the campaign slogan, “Tired of Voting for Rats? Vote for a Cat.” And he is attracting tens of thousands of politician-weary, two-legged supporters on social media.
“He sleeps almost all day and does nothing, and that fits the profile of a politician,” said 35-year-old office worker Sergio Chamorro, who adopted the 10-month-old feline last year.
Put forth as a candidate by Chamorro and a group of friends after they became disillusioned with the empty promises of politicians, Morris’ candidacy has resonated across Mexico, where citizens frustrated with human candidates are nominating their pets and farm animals to run in the July 7 elections being held in 14 states.
Also running for mayor are “Chon the Donkey” in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, “Tina the Chicken” in Tepic, the capital of the Pacific coast state of Nayarit, “Maya the Cat” in the city of Puebla and “Tintan the Dog” in Oaxaca City.
Their campaigns, though, are not as well organized as that of Morris.
Low trust ratings
Politicians repeatedly rank at the bottom of opinion polls about citizens’ trust in institutions.
A survey last year by the Mitofsky polling agency ranked Mexicans’ trust in 15 institutions. The result: Politicians and government officials landed among the bottom five, while universities and the Catholic Church were the top two.
Morris’ cuteness, the clever campaign launched by his supporters and their promise to donate money collected from the sale of campaign stickers and T-shirts to an animal shelter have attracted cat lovers.
But Chamorro said most of his cat’s supporters were citizens tired of corrupt politicians and fraudulent elections.
“Morris has been a catalyst to show the discontent that exists in our society,” Chamorro said. “Our message from the beginning has been ‘if none of the candidates represent you, vote for the cat’ and it seems people are responding to that.”
Xalapa, a university city of 450,000 people, is the capital of the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, where residents have in last two years been beleaguered by drug violence, corruption scandals and the killings of at least nine reporters and photojournalists.
During last year’s presidential election, a video posted on social networks showed a massive warehouse in Veracruz stuffed with election give-away groceries.
Authorities also seized $1.9 million in wads of cash when police decided to search passengers of a private plane arriving from Veracruz to Toluca, the capital of the home state of current President Enrique Peña Nieto. Officials later said they had found no wrongdoing and the money was returned.
Giovanna Mazzotti, a 48-year-old university professor from the city of bright colonial buildings and steep streets, said she supported Morris’ campaign and planned to go to a party being held for the cat on Friday. The feline candidate is not expected to attend.
“In this state there is no rule of law, there is no respect for human rights, there are no institutions,” Mazzotti said. “It’s great that this campaign is showing the fiction in our elections. Every three years politicians laugh at us, it’s good to laugh at them a bit, too.”
Morris has a website, a Twitter account and a Facebook page with more than 115,000 likes, that makes him more popular in social networks than the five human mayoral contenders.
Americo Zuñiga, the candidate for the ruling party who is leading in election surveys, had 33,000 Facebook likes as of Friday.
Morris’ website has a collection of memes that picture the cat yawning while describing his “ample legislative experience,” an image that mirrors photographs of lawmakers sleeping during congressional sessions.
Morris’ campaign managers are asking supporters to write-in “Morris” or draw a cat’s face on the ballot to send a message to authorities, who are not taking the cat’s growing popularity lightly.
Members of the Electoral Institute of Veracruz this week called on voters not to waste their vote on a cat.
“We are asking for people to participate by voting for those citizens registered on the ballots,” Carolina Viveros, president of the Electoral Institute of Veracruz, told local media this week.
“Everything else is part of expressions happening in social media and I respect that, but you have to vote for the registered candidates, please,” Viveros added.
Morris also has international supporters.
On Friday, the animal welfare group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote Morris congratulating him for his campaign.
Stubbs, a cat serving as the honorary mayor for more than 15 years of the sleepy Alaska town of Talkeetna, has shown support for Morris by posting his fellow feline candidate’s spot campaign on its Facebook page.