AMLO stepped on the accelerator towards tyranny, and to stop it the opposition needs to correct the course of its message and its efforts before the mid-term elections on June 6, which are the last chance to institutionally contain the consolidation of an increasingly authoritarian, capricious and disastrous regime.
Three different signs
The first of these was the announcement that the revenues from the Tren Maya (a mega tourist infrastructure project that the government is promoting in the southeast of the country in spite of its serious environmental effects) will go directly to the Army, which is also increasingly in charge of the construction works of the train itself, as well as the Santa Lucia airport and 2,700 branches of the new government bank, among other multi-million dollar projects.
In his campaign, López Obrador promised to return the Army to the barracks. However, while in office, AMLO consolidated the Army’s participation in the supposed fight against crime (through the National Guard) and expanded the participation of the Armed Forces in the control of ports and airports. In addition to turning them into the main contractor of the large infrastructure projects of his administration.
The growing presence of the military is serious, because it puts the separation of military and political power at risk, thanks to which Mexico has been free of coup attempts for more than 80 years. Worse still, the growing linkage of interests between the military and the President of the Republic seems to draw dangerous similarities with the mafia pact that sustains Venezuelan Chavismo.
The other two signals have to do with the fight for the energy market. Last week, AMLO published in the Federal Official Gazette a series of reforms to the Electricity Industry Law, which practically destroy the private electricity market and restore full control of the Federal Electricity Commission.
Immediately, the companies in the sector sought the protection of the federal courts, since these reforms are flagrantly unconstitutional. The judges granted several provisional suspensions, which prevent the government from applying the counter-reform, while they analyze the merits of the case in order to reach a final decision.
The President reacted by lashing out against the Judiciary and demanded that the judges who stopped his reform be investigated for possible corruption. Worse, on March 17, he announced that if his reform is declared unconstitutional, he will propose to modify the Constitution, using the ample majority he has in Congress.
To make the smell of tyranny even clearer, a pro-government congresswoman presented a reform to prevent judges from suspending the application of “laws and resolutions whose purpose is to promote the operation and functioning of State Productive Companies”, which would weaken the writ of ‘amparo’ as a counterweight against a government that is increasingly voracious in its control of the economy.
These are just three examples of the tyrannical tendencies that are deepening as the country heads towards the mid-term elections on June 6. These elections will renew 15 governorships, the Chamber of Deputies and the majority of local Congresses.
If, as polls indicate, the ruling party manages to maintain its current majorities, AMLO will have a free hand to consolidate his agenda, destroy institutional counterweights and strengthen the power of the Presidency of the Republic to influence and even determine the outcome of the 2024 presidential elections. It would be, in short, the return of the “Party of the State.”
Three ways to stop it
The opposition is clear about the seriousness of the threat and to face it they have built an alliance that, under the name of “Va por México”, seeks to take the Chamber of Deputies away from the ruling party, to prevent it from continuing to impose its agenda without even the courtesy of negotiating it. But, in spite of their praiseworthy efforts, they need to correct the path if they hope to win and save the country. Three actions are urgently needed:
Not focusing on the future
The opposition narrative is repeating the same mistakes that led it to disaster in the 2018 elections: a technocratic discourse, focused on betting on the future and technology and demonstrating the “contrast” with López Obrador’s supposedly retrograde vision.
What the opponents do not understand is that for the normal citizen the future is not something that fills them with hope, but with fear. The “future” is that robot that will take their factory job, that Amazon that will bankrupt their small business, that computer that will replace them at the grocery checkout, that autonomous vehicle that will replace them as cab drivers. That life of algorithms and computers that they do not understand and do not trust.
For those millions of Mexicans, the opposition speech focused on the future represents a direct threat that they will not support, no matter how inept or disastrous López Obrador is, because in their minds he, at least, gives them the certainty of living in a world they understand and in which they are useful.
AMLO represents the “good old days” where everything was clear, while the opponents embody an uncertain future, dominated by machines and rich people with Harvard degrees. To end quickly, it is that sentiment embodied by Panteón Rococó in their classic song “La Carencia”: in a globalized world, poor people have no place. Yes, rationally that statement is absurd, but on an emotional level that is how millions of Mexicans who will vote on June 6 feel.
AMLO representa los “buenos tiempos” donde todo estaba claro, mientras que los opositores encarnan un futuro incierto, dominado por máquinas y por ricos con título de Harvard. Para acabar pronto, es ese sentimiento encarnado por Panteón Rococó en su clásica canción “La carencia”: en un mundo globalizado, la gente pobre no tiene lugar. Sí, racionalmente esa aseveración es absurda, pero a nivel emocional es así cómo se sienten millones de mexicanos que votarán el 6 de junio.
Going from the abstract to the concrete
The opposition speech continues to focus too much on abstract elements that are not very understandable for normal people. Talking about the “defense of institutions,” “constitutional balances” and the “autonomy of technical bodies,” means nothing to those outside the political elite.
In order for people to really understand the seriousness of what is happening with López Obrador and dare to vote accordingly, it is necessary for the opposition to explain in concrete terms the damages that AMLO’s reforms and whims cause in the daily life of Mexicans. People do not give a damn about legislation and institutions; what matters to them is their mother, their children, their siblings and friends.
For example, while the energy counter-reform was being discussed, opponents took to the social media with the hashtag #LeyCombustóleo, which nobody understood. To have a greater impact, the opponents should have opted for something like “#LeyAsfixia”, which clearly transmits the damage to health caused by the burning of fuel oil promoted by AMLO’s reform.
Strong campaigns with strong candidates
We are less than 3 months away from the mid-term elections and the opposition is still not positioning its agenda or candidates. At a national level, the feeling is as if we were not even in an election year, and this lack of enthusiasm will affect the opposition much more than the ruling party, since the lower the participation, the easier it will be for the Federal Government to take advantage of its social program structures and its agreements with local leaders to “carry” the votes that will allow it to keep its parliamentary majority.
To end soon, the fact that the media return of the octogenarian former PAN presidential candidate Diego Fernandez de Cevallos is the most exciting thing that has happened to the opposition in the last two years is a strong condemnation of the inability of the new leadership to generate connection, not only with the people in general, but even with their own sympathizers.
There are approximately 10 weeks left until the elections and in those 10 weeks the opposition needs to build relevant and effective campaigns that can keep the attention of voters in the midst of the pandemic and the constant witticisms of the president. Campaigns designed to concentrate the attention of all and sundry on themselves, snatching oxygen from the rest of the political actors.
If the opponents manage to put aside their counterproductive narrative of the future, move from the abstract to the concrete and run very good campaigns, they may be able to contain AMLO’s authoritarianism. Otherwise, they can only hope for a miracle or a tyranny.