By Jacob Lubbers Estrada-
In 2024, Mexico will face crucial elections that will concern both the Executive and Legislative branches of the state. Nevertheless, the outcomes of those elections are already proving to be quite predictable: Morena, the party of the current left-wing, populist President López Obrador will win again. This is not necessarily because President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has been doing a magnificent job, but rather, because of the arrogance, inflexibility, and stubbornness of Mexico’s traditional status quo to adapt to the electorate’s demands. Morena was elected based on an anti-establishment platform that rallied against Mexico’s political and economic elites. On this platform, AMLO managed to attack the so-called PRIAN (the nickname he invented for the PRI and PAN), two right-leaning parties that governed Mexico before 2018. As a result of this strategy, AMLO has become Mexico’s most voted president ever. As I argued in this article, the opposition (or old status quo) had one solution: to get rid of its own leadership for disappointing Mexico’s electorate, to show some openness to AMLO’s political project, and in that way, slowly recover from the 2018 debacle. However, the contrary has been done.
The performance of AMLO’s government continues to have mixed effects, especially for those who belong to the upper-middle and higher socioeconomic classes of the country. Nevertheless, Mexico is a country where most people belong to the poor masses and for them, the President has delivered important results. It is, therefore, not surprising that AMLO continues to have an approval rate of more than 60%. As Jorge Zepeda Patterson explains in The problem with populism is that it works, Mexico’s elites have continued to assert that AMLO’s popularity can only be explained by his ability to “manipulate” the masses, and not because of his ability to provide for a majority of poor Mexicans. Yet, Jorge Zepeda explains that AMLO’s government has “increased the minimum wage 60%, dispersed to eight million farmers bimonthly USD$190 of government subsidies which saved them from absolute misery, and more generally, handed over USD$35 billion a year to the less privileged sectors of society”. Clearly, it is debatable as to whether or not this is the way to foster development and more long-term well-being for all Mexicans. However, for the first time in decades, millions of Mexicans feel that someone in power understands their concerns and defends their interests. To many, López Obrador followed through with his campaign slogan: “For the well-being of all, the poor go first.”
The opposition, however, has continued to reject the empowerment of Mexico’s poor. An example of this is Carolina Viggiano, a former candidate of the PRI-PAN-PRD opposition coalition for the governorship of the state of Hidalgo, and wife of Rubén Moreira, a controversial member of the PRI party. She claimed that, if elected as Hidalgo’s governor, she would reduce the social benefits given to the elderly, and instead, invest those resources (USD$430 million) in other areas, such as infrastructure. Given that the majority of Mexicans face soaring rates of poverty, the opposition seems very far removed from the economic reality of the country, failing to understand that Mexico is not the bubble in which they live. For example, Polanco, one of Mexico City’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, only has 5,978 inhabitants, whereas Iztapalapa, a vast working-class area of the capital, counts 1,835,486 inhabitants. To whom, then, is it more logical to make an appeal in order to get rid of AMLO: the people that live in neighbourhoods such as Polanco, or to the ‘real’ people? The opposition’s incapacity or even unwillingness to get in touch with those who felt left out and now feel empowered by AMLO is key to understanding their failure and their likely future loss in 2024.
Furthermore, the opposition’s reaction to AMLO and those that support him have been qualified by many as “classist”, including the rector of one of Mexico’s most exclusive private universities, the Universidad Iberoamericana. The opposition’s leading figures – both in political and economic domains – perceive most of AMLO’s voters as irrational, or uninformed individuals. As rector Fernández Dávalos puts it, “they’re afraid of being affected” and they do not understand why those chairos– the (mostly poor) base of AMLO – now want to govern, instead of being governed, as Mexico’s previously, highly hierarchical structure commanded them to. The idea of the lower classes shaping Mexico’s policies rather than Mexico’s status quo is therefore frightening to them, as Hernan Gómez Bruera explains. This is perfectly illustrated by former First Lady and prominent leader of the opposition Margarita Zavala when she stated in 2016 that her party, the PAN, “looks for valuable votes, not those of the poor, uneducated (voters) that strengthen López Obrador”.
Undeniably, AMLO’s presidency has had its shortcomings. Violence remains at high levels and poverty rates continue to be elevated. Mexico also continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman or journalist. Having said that, none of these issues are solely a product of AMLO’s policies. They are the outcome of previous neoliberal economic policies that allowed a very small segment of Mexican society to prosper but did not contemplate the poorer masses. They are also the outcome of a lethal drug war that has fuelled violence since 2006, rather than reduced the power of cartels. They are, also, the outcome of corruption, a point that AMLO has made very clear since the start of his political career. Mexico’s process of mass-privatizations in the 1980s sold state assets for under-valued prices to a very compact group of businessmen who had close ties to former president Carlos Salinas. The rise of cartels has also been intrinsically linked to corruption within previous administrations. A good example of this is the fact that Mexico’s minister of Public Security from 2006 until 2012 (Genaro García Luna) was on El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel’s monthly payment list. The opposition, however, has failed to acknowledge the huge role they’ve played in shaping Mexico’s contemporary reality, and instead, continues refusing to adjust themselves to the needs of Mexico’s majorities.
The June 2022 elections for different governorships in six states might have been a sneak peek of what awaits the opposition in the 2024 presidential elections. All disputed entities were governed by the PRI or PAN opposition parties. Of all these six states, four were won by Lopez Obrador’s party Morena and their electoral allies. Despite it being very clear that four is more than two, the opposition claimed that it had won the elections as Morena’s goal was to win six out of six state governorships. This simplistic attitude towards losing four but emphasizing that at least ‘the other two’ were not lost, illustrates the current state of Mexico’s opposition: it is decaying. It, therefore, seems likely that in 2024 Mexico’s left will win again. Of course, a lot can happen in two years, but judging by how things stand today, it is hard to imagine that the opposition will take back Mexico’s presidency in 2024.