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AMLO’s ‘Fourth Transformation’ Leaves Mexico on the Brink

Despues de AMLO, México enfrenta el riesgo del caos. Imagen: Unsplash

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After AMLO, Mexico could face an even more complicated future as the disorder deepens because neither the ruling party nor the opposition has been able to consolidate a political project or leadership with enough weight of its own to give a long-term direction to the country, which risks coming adrift.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador became president almost three years ago, crowning with his inauguration a successful political career, in which he was able to transform himself from a local politician in the state of Tabasco, to a national party leader to then become the most relevant Mexican political figure of the last half-century.

AMLO is idolized by his followers with an irrational certainty and repudiated by his opponents with equivalent passion. In just a couple of decades, he managed to consolidate the most electorally successful political movement in Mexico’s democratic history, controlling not only the presidency but also the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, and most of the local congresses. 

And all this was achieved with Morena, a party designed specifically for him as a vehicle for a motley alliance, ranging from old PRI and traditional leftists to progressives, conservatives, and various interested parties. To get such a stew of competing interests to function as a political party is already remarkable; to get it to win elections and to do so in such an effective manner is simply extraordinary.

To end quickly, if we want to find another Latin American figure with an ideological range and political success similar to Andrés Manuel’s, perhaps we would have to think of Juan Domingo Perón, the populist who knew how to include from the ultra-left to the ultra-right in his movement, and who shaped (more for the worse than for the better) modern Argentina. 

Obrador could have a similar impact in Mexico and project his influence through the decades, or he could end up as an abandoned political pothole after 2024 when the presidency of the Republic is renewed. That fate depends on Mexico’s inevitable political realignment after his presidential term.

After AMLO, the possibility of chaos arises, because both the ruling party and the opposition are fragile, discredited, and captured by increasingly isolated, mediocre party bureaucracies incapable of mobilizing the hope and action of citizens.

The ruling alliance, headed by Morena, will reach the 2024 elections controlling the vast majority of state governorships and driven by a consolidating political structure. However, none of its natural candidates for the presidency (Ricardo Monreal, Claudia Sheinbaum and Marcelo Ebrard) is even the shadow of López Obrador.

After AMLO, Morena will have to choose a politician with no grassroots charisma.

Monreal is a skilled political negotiator, capable of forging top alliances with both the ruling party and the opposition, but he is not a character appreciated by the majority, not even within Morena. Claudia Sheinbaum heads the government of Mexico City, but she does it as a mere representative of López Obrador; she has no political weight of her own beyond the brilliance that AMLO transmits to her from the National Palace. Marcelo Ebrard, Secretary of Foreign Relations, has no charisma and the serious accusations of corruption against him are a burden for any political project he may venture into.

A similar scenario occurs with the great majority of the official candidates for state and local offices: they are unknown or infamous, and they win elections specifically and directly because they are the candidates who have the backing of López Obrador. After AMLO, forced to rely on their own forces, many of them will collapse.

The opposition parties still do not understand the political message of their overwhelming defeat in the 2018 presidential elections. They know that their structures and leaderships are irreversibly weakened in most of the country, but they do nothing concrete or effective to solve that problem.

Just one example is enough: at the beginning of November, an audio was released in which Marko Cortés, national leader of PAN, affirms that his party is ruled out in advance in 5 of the 6 elections for governors to be held in 2022. Worse yet, in the subsequent controversy, a PAN Governor announced that Marko Cortés also already considered the 2024 presidential elections as lost.

Yes, the leader of the main opposition party considers 5 out of 6 state elections as lost before the campaigns have even started or the candidates have been made official, and he would even consider the next presidential election as lost. And the worst part of the case is that he is right: We are already less than 2 years away from the beginning of the 2024 electoral process (it starts in September 2023) and the opposition still has not consolidated a single leadership capable of challenging López Obrador and Morena.

Yes, anti-Obradorism has nurtured numerous referents, but they have essentially been speaking to their own followers for 3 years. Despite the almost absolute disaster that the AMLO government has been, the opposition has been unable to add followers outside of the red circle and upper-middle-class urban areas. The opponents have been basically focused on winning Twitter, but elections are not won by tweeting.

No PAN or PRI candidate manages to ignite the hopes of the citizens, to the extent that in opposition circles the option of backing Ricardo Monreal, who is perceived as a lesser evil, is becoming more and more common. Such is the size of the crisis. Even citizens who recognize that López Obrador was bad for them are not willing to vote for the opposition; after all, they like AMLO and dislike the opposition.

Mexico after AMLO, facing the risk of chaos. Image: Unsplash

Pending chaos?

The combination of political discredit and the growing violence of organized crime, added to the increase in poverty due to Lopez Obrador’s policies and the consequences of the pandemic, are creating the conditions for chaos in Mexico after AMLO.

At the very least, we would be facing a scenario similar to the Peruvian one. In Peru, the traditional parties were completely overwhelmed by new popular movements, both from the left and the right, which took the presidential elections by storm and fractured citizen support into smaller pieces.

In Mexico, this should have happened years ago, but it has not done so because the electoral legislation is designed to prevent the emergence of political movements that are independent of the previous party. When those barriers are knocked down, either through the legislation itself or through political pressure in the streets, the partisan bureaucracies will be left unprotected and exposed to the consequences of their routine incompetence.

What comes next could be a Pedro Castillo, a Chávez, perhaps something worse.

The great risk is that with the collapse of the system, the mechanisms of dialogue and the institutional barriers that keep ambitions relatively at bay will also be destroyed, and this would turn Mexican politics into a free-for-all, a parody of Fortnite, marked by uncertainty, backwardness, poverty and eventually generalized political violence.

Yes, Mexico is in crisis today, but it can still get much worse, and the clock keeps ticking as the Obrador administration reaches the middle of its term. That is why it is urgent for both the government and the opposition to see beyond the short term and begin to ask themselves this key question: what is next after AMLO?

The future of Mexico will depend on the answer.

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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