Understanding Mexico‘s elections is indispensable for the entire region. On June 6, Mexicans will go to the polls to participate in the largest and most important mid-term elections in their history. The direction the country will take for the next decades will depend on their results, since for practical purposes they will serve as a referendum on the centralizing, regressive and authoritarian political project of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
What happens in the elections will have effects far beyond the Rio Bravo, so here are five keys to understanding the Mexican elections and their importance at a regional level.
What will be decided?
On June 6, more than 93.9 million Mexican voters are called to renew the Chamber of Deputies (equivalent to the American House of Representatives), made up of 500 deputies. In addition, 15 of the 31 governorships, 30 of the 32 local congresses and thousands of elected positions within municipal governments will be renewed.
Why is this election important?
Beyond the obvious relevance of renewing all these positions, the June 6 election will be fundamental for the history of Mexico, because it is the opportunity to consolidate or contain the new regime that President López Obrador has promoted as of 2018.
Between 1978 and 2018 Mexico underwent a process of transition to democracy, which implied not only guaranteeing transparency and fairness in campaigns and vote counting, but also the decentralization of power, so that little by little the President of the Republic ceased to define economic, telecommunications, public security and human rights policies, among others, on his own.
During four decades, a whole structure of institutions was built, designed to act based on technical criteria and prevent the president from making bad decisions driven by his ignorance, whims or prejudices, as had traditionally occurred in Mexican history.
However, since his arrival to power (in December 2018) Andrés Manuel López Obrador has focused on reversing this modernization and rebuilding the old “imperial presidency”, recovering the powers that had been handed over to trusts and autonomous bodies. He wants to directly control the organization of elections and manage economic policy at his whim.
In order to achieve this goal, Andrés Manuel needs Congress to approve several constitutional reforms (for which a two-third majority is necessary in the houses of deputies and senators, as well as the support of the majority of local congresses) and multiple reforms to secondary laws (which he can approve with the support of more than half of the deputies and senators).
In the Senate it has a near two-thirds majority and will maintain it at least until 2024, when the upper chamber will be renewed. However, its comfortable two-thirds majority in the Chamber of Deputies is at stake on June 6.
If the ruling party does not obtain at least two thirds of the deputies, Andres Manuel will no longer be able to approve any constitutional reform that is not negotiated with the opposition; and if he were to lose the absolute majority of the chamber (more than 50% of the deputies) then he would be unable to approve any legal reform and even to obtain a budget for the Federal Government as of 2022, without prior negotiation with the opposition.
In short, if the pro-worker alliance sweeps the elections, the president will have 3 years to eliminate counterweights and consolidate a state party regime that will turn the next presidential elections to be held in 2024 into a mere formality. On the contrary, if the opposition wins, it will paralyze López Obrador’s political project, will place him in a disadvantageous position for the second half of his government and would obtain the margin to start the road to the presidential elections with an advantage.
There are currently 10 national political parties in Mexico, but the situation is complicated by the fact that many of them operate in official or tacit alliances in different regions of the country. Roughly speaking, there are 3 blocks to take into account:
The official alliance, which in approximately 180 of the 300 districts of the country competes with common candidates through the coalition “Juntos Hacemos Historia” (Together We Make History) integrated by the parties Morena, del Trabajo and Verde Ecologista de México. To the officialism we must add 3 other parties that, being newly registered, cannot officially ally in their first election, but that in practice operate as part of the ecosystem of support for López Obrador. They are Redes Sociales Progresistas, Encuentro Solidario and Fuerza por México.
The opposition alliance, which in approximately 220 of the country’s 300 districts competes with common candidates through the coalition “Va por México”, and includes the National Action, Institutional Revolutionary and Democratic Revolution parties. These were the 3 major parties in Mexico before the emergence of Morena, and beyond their ideological differences, they coincided in promoting the institutional modernization of the country that López Obrador intends to reverse today.
Finally, in an intermediate range is the Movimiento Ciudadano party, which theoretically is opposition, but refused to join Va por México and is accused of “dividing” the opposition to benefit Morena. Movimiento Ciudadano is competitive mainly in the states of Nuevo León, Jalisco and Campeche.
What are the most likely scenarios?
A year ago, the ruling alliance seemed to have assured an absolute triumph, maintaining a two-thirds majority in the Chamber of Deputies and winning 14 of the 15 governorships.
Today, the situation is no longer so clear-cut. Some polls suggest that the opposition could even obtain a slight majority in the Chamber of Deputies, while others point to the government maintaining a majority, but without reaching the two thirds. This means that AMLO could continue to approve budgets and legal reforms at whim, but could no longer modify the Constitution.
As for the governorships, Morena is currently ahead in 8 of the 15 that are in dispute, something that both parties could publicly present as a triumph: Morena because only one of the governorships at stake was theirs, so everything will be a gain; and the opposition, because a year ago they were going to win 1 and now they would be winning 7.
What are the implications of this election for the U.S. and the rest of the continent?
López Obrador maintained a very conciliatory profile during the Republican administration, because he knew that former President Donald Trump was a person of character and a person of his word. Biden has none of those attributes, so López Obrador has begun to mark more distance and assume a more confrontational discourse towards the United States.
Worse yet, many of Lopez Obrador’s top advisors are open supporters of the Chavista model and a victory for Obradorismo in the June 6 elections, coupled with the advance of leftist movements in Latin America, would mean that the Mexican government would have more incentives and temptations to assume a position similar to that of Venezuelan Chavismo or Argentine Kirchnerism.
This would bring problems for the Americas in two major dimensions:
The first is that, with AMLO already consolidated, Mexico could try to imitate the South American socialists and move diplomatically closer towards the orbit of Russia, China and Iran, with the obvious national security risks that this implies for the government in Washington.
The second is that if López Obrador manages to control the Bank of Mexico, demolish institutional counterweights and set economic policy at his whim, the country will quickly enter an inflationary spiral similar (at least) to that of Argentina.
This, added to the growing problems of public insecurity, would imply serious risks for American companies operating in Mexico, for the productive chains that depend on trade between both nations and for the migratory situation itself, as millions of Mexicans would rush to the borders and airports to escape the new tyranny.
Essential to understanding elections
What voters decide on June 6 will determine the role Mexico will assume in the coming decades, both in domestic politics and in diplomatic and economic collaboration.
A few weeks ago, in his exclusive interview with The American, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, explained that “if we had closed the land border to international trade when the pandemic began, the United States would have gone into recession in about 5 days”. Well, that’s how important Mexico is, that’s how important the bilateral relationship is. That is how definitive the stakes are.