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Mexico measures López Obrador’s forces

Andrés Manuel López Obrador arrived minutes before seven in the morning at the offices of the National Water Commission (Conagua) in Coyoacán. He wanted to be the first to vote at his polling place, located on Insurgentes Sur Avenue. He got out of the car, the white Jetta he used when he was a presidential candidate, and waited by the gate of the building. Shortly after, his wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, their young son, Jesús, and César Yáñez, current general coordinator of Government Policy, joined. It was the morning of July 1, 2018, the polls were not yet open and López Obrador made an imprudent comment despite the electoral ban: “It is going to be a historic day. More than an election, it is a plebiscite. People are going to decide between more of the same or a real change and we think that people are going to give us their support to start the fourth transformation of public life in the country ”.

The scene and especially the words of the president, collected in the book Democracy was not built in a day, written by Lorenzo Córdova, president of the National Electoral Institute (INE), and the journalist Ernesto Núñez give an idea of ​​the climate that was breathed that day. And at least one of those premises is still in force almost three years later. The plebiscite around the politician and his project is what defines this Sunday’s elections. More than 93 million Mexicans are called to vote in the largest convocation in its history. Intermediate elections that will renew the Chamber of Deputies, the governorships of 15 of the 32 federative entities, mayors, local congresses, as a whole 20,417 public positions, and that represent the first major examination of the Government of López Obrador.

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The abyss of violence

The vote will measure the forces of the president and his party, Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena), which has dominated the political arena without difficulty since 2018 while assisting in the dismantling of the opposition and traditional forces, the PRI and the PAN. It will do so in a country convulsed by violence. Mexico bleeds to death amid shootings, kidnappings and murders. Citizens, who have suffered a structural security problem for decades, go to the polls after experiencing the bloodiest campaign. These elections are the largest because they elect thousands of local positions, the ones most exposed to threats from criminal organizations and cartels that dispute some rural territories, and in the long campaign almost 800 attacks and 36 homicides have been counted. The last one, hours ago, was an aspiring Citizen Movement shot in Veracruz. Even so, the president has tried to lower the alarm to claim a good management of the situation. “The country is at peace, there is governance, there are no risks of instability, we are facing the scourge of violence every day and we can speak of peace and tranquility in the country,” he said. And the electoral authorities have also asked for serenity. Lorenzo Córdova called mass participation the best antidote to violence.

To that is added an exceptional context due to the covid-19 pandemic, which has left almost 230,000 dead, and a vaccination campaign marked by delays that have only been unblocked in recent weeks. The rate of infections is uneven and if in most of the country there is a sustained fall, a trend that on Friday led the head of Government of Mexico City to decree the green traffic light for the first time since March 2020, in the Caribbean cases have increased again. The measure adopted by Claudia Sheinbaum, one of the most prominent figures in the ruling party, is intended to accelerate the reactivation of the economy, which last year suffered a drop of 8.5%, the largest since the Great Recession.

A man pushes a cart in front of a sign inviting to vote in Ecatepec, State of Mexico, on June 3.
PEDRO PARDO / AFP

Balances in Congress

Security is, along with the economy, one of the main fronts of the Government and the balance after three years in office is insufficient. They recognize EL PAÍS even Foreign Ministry sources. The authorities seek to overcome the scheme of the former Administration of the PRI of Enrique Peña Nieto, and refine the strategy with the United States, the country most questioned by this emergency. Just this Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris will land in Mexico to meet with the president and address, among others, this issue. But beyond the intentions, the elections this Sunday are also relevant because they will calibrate the power of López Obrador and Morena in Congress, where until now they have an absolute majority, to legislate on matters like this, that is, state policies. .

The forecast is that the next Chamber of Deputies will be more fragmented, especially due to the distribution of the 500 seats – directly and proportionally elected – which would force the ruling party to negotiate more frequently with its allies, especially the Party. Green, to carry out your initiatives. López Obrador has spent three years trying to promote what he describes as the “fourth transformation”, a set of structural reforms with which he intends to leave a mark on the country’s history. The constant references to two of his models, Presidents Lázaro Cárdenas and Adolfo López Mateos, help to get an idea of ​​that ambition. Despite the fact that the context today is radically different from that of the middle of the last century, there is still a conception in part of the Mexican left that the true heads of state, “the great heroes are those who expropriated and nationalized”, according to the analysis from consultant David Shields.

In recent months, the president has accelerated his plan with a package of energy laws that seek to revolutionize the electricity and hydrocarbons system by strengthening two state companies, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and Pemex against private initiative. The two measures are paralyzed in the courts, but that course has ignited all the alerts of the economic sectors, also reflected by the increasing flight of capital, just as the justice reform has unleashed a melee between the governor and the government. judiciary.

López Obrador has opted, since the beginning of his term, for overexposure. And if with this strategy he runs the risk of increasing the wear and tear of his Government and Morena, at the same time he uses it, from the daily pulpit of his morning press conferences, to fight ideological battles, deepen polarization and become the main axis. of the political debate. That is why these elections are also a plebiscite, although on a smaller scale than a presidential one. Since the morning, the president has attacked his adversaries, has launched accusations of corruption based on insinuations, has crossed the border of the separation of powers on several occasions and the INE considers that the vast majority of his appearances during the campaign have not been neutral. The electoral authority ordered him to withdraw the contents of four of them and he has agreed, reluctantly and rejecting the measure.

The territorial battle

The enormous role of the president, who maintains high levels of popularity among an electorate fed up with traditional politics, is also due to the absence of his opponents. Morena proclaims itself as a progressive formation, but in practice it is a movement catch all with very blurred ideological borders. And many attitudes of the president himself, for example his attacks on the feminist movement, have reflected a clearly conservative ideology. However, both the PRI and the PAN, and also the left of the PRD, have been almost completely swept off the federal political scene and lack strong leadership.

Supporters of the candidate of the Citizen Movement for governor of Nuevo León, Samuel García, during his campaign closing in Monterrey on May 30.
Supporters of the candidate of the Citizen Movement for governor of Nuevo León, Samuel García, during his campaign closing in Monterrey on May 30.GLADYS SERRANO

The battle with the opposition is played mainly on a territorial scale, in which these forces often come together as a coalition in a sort of “all for one against Morena”. This Sunday the governments of almost half the states are renewed and the pre-electoral climate foreshadows an especially tough confrontation in the north of the country. The dispute in Nuevo León, Mexico’s economic locomotive, raised expectations due to the momentum and omnipresence during the campaign of the candidate of the Citizen Movement, Samuel García, who seeks to become a counterweight to the Government from the border strip. But if the electoral race was complicated for Morena there, this formation has allowed itself more luxuries in the south, confident of the support of an electorate more affected by the economy. It happened, for example, in Guerrero, where both the president and the party leadership supported Félix Salgado Macedonio until the end, a candidate denounced for rape who was finally disqualified by the INE for not having justified pre-campaign expenses.

Heading to the future

The polls for these midterm elections have not yet opened, but already during the campaign the political debate has revolved more around the expectations related to the 2024 presidential elections than on the results of these elections. The president has not yet reached the middle of his six-year term and in recent weeks he has repeated that he does not intend to run again, which would also mean a constitutional reform for which the conditions for sufficient consensus are not met. Even so, when the scrutiny is over, the starting boxes will also be more defined. The place that the opposition parties may occupy in the discussion on the succession of López Obrador.

The composition of the Chamber of Deputies, the territorial origin of the vote, the results in the northern states and also those of Mexico City will be read carefully, since Sheinbaum is, together with the chancellor, Marcelo Ebrard, the Morenoite leader who more rings to pick up the witness of the president. Although everything is going to play in the long term, the game has just begun.

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