Mexican mid-terms

Build up to the mid-term federal elections in June begins in Mexico.

Mexico is battling an uncontrolled second wave of COVID-19, which saw the country reach 200,000 deaths and to make matters worse, there is growing concern about a lack of investment in post-pandemic economic recovery.

In this environment, the build-up to the 6 June 2021 mid-term legislative elections has begun. At present, President López Obrador’s (AMLO’s) party, Morena, holds a majority in both houses of Congress and controls most of the country’s states but will it last?

Our sources in Mexico describe the political situation as an “autocracy rather than a democracy”. As a former federal and local deputy and senator commented, “It is a very personal government where AMLO’s collaborators do not question him because he does not listen and no one is willing to risk their position. There is no space for serious or respectful debate and because there is no opposition, AMLO focuses on attacking the media and some businesses. Therefore, there is no federal government, but the government of an autocrat.”

“It is a very personal government where AMLO’s collaborators do not question him […], therefore, there is no federal government, but the government of an autocrat.”

Former federal and local deputy and senator, Mexico

This has understandably spooked investors, an experienced corporate finance adviser operating across Latin America explained, “You need prudence when investing in Mexico because the current government, although it’s not openly against foreign investment, is not in favour either. Two things are clear: a) thinking about investing in the government’s priority areas of its “nationalist” vision, such as energy, would not be recommended and b) if investing in non-priority areas be very careful to understand the regulatory framework and how it could change.”

Despite this, AMLO enjoys an impressive 65% approval rating with his highly politicised and polarising combative discourse combined with his improbable allies and a vague anti-corruption rhetoric which has galvanised his supporter base. Furthermore, and despite holding the presidency, AMLO continues to exploit his anti-status quo discourse, in response to an emerging alliance of the three largest traditional parties in the country (PRI, PAN and PRD) against him.

As the mid-term federal elections approach, a former government official and campaign manager doesn’t see much hope for the opposition, “The opposition has been emptied, it has no content and the ridiculous advances that it has supposedly made have been due to the errors of the government, not because they have an alternative policy proposal. In that sense, Mexico is the same as Venezuela. There is no renewal exercise, so Mexico has a double-sided challenge, AMLO’s populism and a famished opposition with no alternative.”

“The opposition has been emptied, it has no content and the ridiculous advances that it has supposedly made have been due to the errors of the government.”

Former government official and campaign manager, Mexico

According to a former government spokesman, Ambassador and former Secretary of Public Education AMLO’s strategy is clear, “On paper, AMLO wants to a) continue to bribe his voters with focused public spending and b) advance as much as possible the vaccination strategy. However, public spending has serious limitations because there is no cash due to trophy projects, keeping Pemex afloat and low tax receipts. Furthermore, the vaccination delivery depends on factors that are not under AMLO’s control, such as the availability of vaccines. Therefore, AMLO must further polarise the debate around binary logic: goods vs. bad, rich vs. poor, corrupt vs. honest.”

What happens next will depend on the electoral results, especially in the Chamber of Deputies, which is the truly important result for AMLO. A political analyst commented, “If AMLO’s result is the same or better, he will push ahead with trials of past presidents; he will be able to exercise almost absolute control of legislative and judicial powers; he will have room to radicalise his agenda with expropriations / nationalisations in strategic sectors; promote tax reforms to penalise the rich; will seek to make far-reaching changes to the Constitution (recomposition of the Chambers, elimination of counterweights, greater state interventionism in the economy) and eventually he will be tempted to probe the possibilities of reelection – this is an unlikely scenario because the polls indicate 57% against reelection vs 38% in favour (GEA ISA) but it is not impossible.”

“If AMLO’s result is the same or better, he will push ahead with trials of past presidents; he will be able to exercise almost absolute control of legislative and judicial powers”

Political analyst, Mexico

The verbose political analyst continued this scenario mapping with considerations for the opposition, “There are two scenarios for the opposition. If it advances, it will enable a better balance between powers and will make the judiciary and the Autonomous Constitutional Bodies (“OCAs”) think twice about their future resolutions; it will make it almost impossible to pass non-negotiated constitutional reforms; it will seek alliances with state governments for budgets and other issues, and it will be in better shape for the 2022 and 2024 processes. If, on the contrary, the opposition loses out, there will be an almost total loss of checks and balances; portions of the opposition parties will run towards Morena party seeking positions for the following years, and the conditions will be created to actually articulate a new hegemonic party, let’s say the restoration of the PRI of the fifties and sixties, where AMLO would try to maintain himself as the moral leader.”

“If, on the contrary, the opposition loses out, there will be an almost total loss of checks and balances; portions of the opposition parties will run towards Morena”

Political analyst, Mexico

AMLO has found an unlikely ally in the army, which has acquired a more prominent role than with past administrations, which included President Felipe Calderón’s war against drug cartels or President Enrique Peña Nieto’s continuation of the same strategy. However, AMLO is using the military as an ally of the people in the government’s fight against corruption and an ally of the poor. Nevertheless, his use of the armed forces transcends his well-intentioned discourse and is also used as a deterrent for political dissidents and opposition within civil society groups.

Consequently, AMLO’s party, Morena, is likely to win at least seven of the 15 state gubernatorial elections which will also take place in June 2021. Nevertheless, the mishandling of the pandemic and his vitriolic attacks on political opponents may start to take their toll, as an increasing number of voters are unsure about the forthcoming vote. Thus, the 6 June 2021 election will determine whether AMLO faces a smooth end to his term or if the opposition can pose a serious challenge to his seemingly uncontested leadership.

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