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Five Things We Learned From Mexico’s Midterm Elections

Las lecciones de las elecciones mexicanas son las de un país que sigue en juego. Imagen: EFE/Mario Guzmán

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The lessons from Mexico’s mid-term elections draw a much more competitive picture than we would have expected a few months ago. The economic and political future of the country is still at stake, and it is still possible to reverse the advances of socialism.

With the results complete, with a cool head and the unveiled answers, after the intense campaign that concluded last Sunday June 6 with the largest mid-term elections in the history of the country, Mexico now readjusts its political balance, while both the ruling party and the opposition begin to digest the lessons learned, heal the wounds and take the advantages offered by a new scenario where, as we explained a few days ago, everyone won the minimum necessary to stay on a war footing.

López Obrador is not invincible

After his resounding triumph in the 2018 presidential election, the idea that López Obrador’s movement was invincible and destined to expand unchecked until it completely dominated the country became one of the pillars of the officialist rhetoric. The narrative was that the opposition parties were supposedly doomed to become extinct and that, once Mexico experienced AMLO’s honesty, the country’s “fourth transformation” would be an absolute reality.

On June 6 it became clear that this is not true. Morena (the president’s star party) lost half a hundred seats in the Chamber of Deputies and suffered scandalous defeats in 9 of the 16 mayoralties of Mexico City, which for two decades had been the impregnable bastion of Obradorism. If AMLO is the messiah, as many of his supporters believe, then that messiah may bleed and may lose. Mexico is not condemned to Obradorism as a historical destiny, and now the whole country knows it.

PRIAN is viable

A year ago, when businessmen Gustavo de Hoyos and Claudio X González redoubled the efforts of the “Yes for Mexico” movement and projected a great alliance between the 3 traditional parties of the country (the PAN, of the right; the PRI, of the center; the PRD, of the left) their idea was received with wide skepticism. Many militants and analysts (myself included) mistakenly thought that this “PRIAN” alliance was doomed to failure, because the parties’ structures would not be able to collaborate and the result would be a chaotic, impotent and catastrophic campaign. This was not the case.

On June 6th it became clear that the “PRIAN” is a viable model to compete against López Obrador. The regional strengths of the PRI, PAN and PRD complement each other well and their structures are capable of sharing a candidate without falling into the abyss of jealousy or resentment. The success of the opposition alliance, especially in Mexico City and the State of Mexico, is a reason for hope for the future, although it does not mean that we are already on the other side.

The PRIAN has many challenges ahead

On June 6, it became clear that the opposition alliance is a “minimum viable product”. That is to say: it works, but it has many defects to be corrected before it becomes a finished product, reflecting its full potential in votes. The good news is that with their results in these elections, the opponents have “bought” another couple of years to perfect their message, to build a campaign that transcends the mere anti-Orteiro vote.

A fundamental part of this “PRIAN 2.0” will be the impulse of their own leadership, which will not only drive the bases of the parties that conform it, but also the citizenship in general. To win the presidency they need a candidate that excites, that connects and that is a source of pride to support in the campaign, and the bad news is that so far no one with that profile is seen, so they will have to work against the clock to develop candidates, project them and consolidate them before the presidential campaign of 2024.

Opposition unity is key. That is one of the lessons of Mexico’s elections. (Image: EFE)

Morena works

In spite of its deep internal crisis and the poorly disguised hatred among its internal groups, the party of President López Obrador demonstrated in these elections that it has enough discipline to acquire the support of the citizens and then mobilize such support on election day to translate it into votes.

This strength in terms of territorial work allowed them to win 11 of the 15 governorships, even without the backing of López Obrador’s name on the ballot. If Morena continues to consolidate the functioning of its structures, it will be an even more difficult rival to defeat in the presidential elections, although it will have to successfully renew its national leadership and its state committees, as well as its political councils, which will not be easy.

Eventually, AMLO himself will be forced to openly influence in favor of one of the internal groups of Morena, in order to impose his successor, and at that moment all the loyalties of the ruling party, which even now seem to be wavering, will be put to the test.

People don’t want strange novelties

The elections made it clear that, in general terms, the Mexican voter has opted to back party brands that he or she feels reliable (or, at the very least, predictable).

In 2021, independent candidates, who had emerged in 2015 as a viable option to challenge the dominance of political parties, virtually disappeared. The problem was that this type of candidacy quickly became a refuge for politicians with no greater loyalty than their own interests, causing citizens to lose respect for this form of political participation. The result? In 2021, barely 0.08% of the valid votes for federal deputy were cast in favor of an independent candidate.

The same thing happened to the three new political parties: Fuerza por México, Encuentro Solidario and Redes Sociales Progresistas bet on “citizen”, colorful or showbiz candidates, in an attempt to attract the attention of voters, but failed miserably. Their candidates generated memes and mockery in the social networks, but when it came down to it, they fell far short of the 3% of the valid vote they needed to keep their registration. Therefore, all 3 will disappear.

The lessons of the Mexican elections show us a country where the political competition is still slightly unbalanced in favor of the president (but not definitively) and where, in spite of everything, citizens maintain a minimum of respect or resignation towards the traditional parties and leaderships. Mexico is not yet ready for a Bukele or a Pedro Castillo. Not yet.

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”

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