On the Mexican Elections: AMLO’s Bitter Victory

Manuel Aguilar Mora

June 28, 2021

Introduction by Dan La Botz

The Mexican midterm elections of June 6, which were considered a test for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or AMLO), are the subject of the following article. With five candidates in the race, AMLO won the 2018 election with over 50 percent of the vote and carried Mexico City as well as 30 of the 31 states. He had already had a long political career. He was in the 1980s a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that had ruled Mexico since 1929. He left the PRI in 1989 and joined the left nationalist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and was its candidate for governor of his home state of Tabasco in 1994. After losing that election, he became the president of the PRD from 1996 to 1999 and in 2000 was elected mayor of Mexico City where he proved popular with business, the middle class, and the working class. He first ran as PRD candidate for president in 2006 and probably won that election, which appeared to have been stolen by the PRI. He ran again in 2012 and lost again; this time blaming the PRD, he formed his own party, the Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA), and won in 2018.

As president of Mexico, AMLO faced several problems: First, the country’s perennial poverty and inequality with 40 percent of the people in poverty and about 10 percent in extreme poverty. Second, the violent deaths that have, since the drug wars began in 2006, taken about 150,000 lives. Third, the corruption that is rife throughout the Mexican government, military, police, and business. Some believe AMLO was making progress and others have been more critical, especially after the COVID pandemic which he handled in a manner that resembled the disastrous policies of U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro.

There are bitter victories. One such is the victory of the party of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) this past June 6 in one of the most important elections in Mexican history; an election in the middle of his six-year term and carried out at a crucial moment for his administration. Even though he himself was not a candidate, everyone understood that it was nevertheless a referendum on his presidency. More people participated in this election than in any of the mid-term elections that had preceded it (more then 47 million voted) and it also represented the highest proportion of voters with 51% of the registered voters (some 97 million). The victory of his party, Morena (Movement of National Regeration), however, seemed far from the presidential election of three years ago when AMLO received 32 million votes, a tsunami that many in the ranks of Morena mistakenly thought would be repeated.

With many fewer votes than it had three years ago, Morena will face the second half of AMLO’s term in less favorable conditions, since in order to hold on to its majority in the House it will have to depend upon its not very reliable allies in the Workers Party (the PT, which got just over 3% of the vote) and most importantly the Green Party, which came out of the election greatly strengthened with more than 40 representatives, who will auction themselves off in the parliamentary market in search of the best position.

Therefore, as we said, these are profoundly contradictory conditions, even unfavorable ones in which undoubtable triumphs combine with processes that portend decadence and failure. That’s why López Obrador’s victory this past June 6 has a distinctly bitter taste.

The Victories

The coalition organized by Morena, which included the Green Party and the Workers Party, won with a little over 42% of all votes. The opposition, in a coalition that included the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) (1) and the National Action Party (PAN) (2) — the PRIAN (3) — and together with them the much-diminished Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), won about 40% of the vote.

López Obrador’s biggest triumph is the winning of 11 of the 15 governor’s mansions — out of 32 — that were on the ballot. Among those are four strategically important states in the Northwest, namely Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora and Sinaloa, a key region in which the reign of the drug cartels is well known. AMLO has been attempting a new strategy of refraining from the use of military forces in direct confrontation with the cartels in order to avoid as much as possible violent and bloody confrontation (“hugs not bullets”) which in practice has not been achieved, in fact, far from it.

This victory has painted large sections of the North, Center, and South of the country purple (Morena’s color), areas that just three years ago were green, white, and red tricolor (the PRI’s color) or blue and white (the PAN’s color), and which even had some yellow spots (the PRD’s color). This means that some 18 million inhabitants of those 11 states are now directly governed by Morena. To those one should add the other states that were already governed by Morena, 18 states, which is more than half of the country. One fact that stands out as a consequence of these developments is that the PRI has been completely eliminated from all governorships.

Though 51% of eligible voters participated in these mid-term elections, establishing a record, still one cannot avoid the fact that in reality the citizen’s participation was inadequate, given the serious political situation into which the country is ever more rapidly falling. With 96 million voters in which less than half voted, and taking into account the vote received by Morena, we can conclude that only one-fifth of the potential electorate voted for the president’s party. A survey would show that a somewhat larger fraction supports AMLO, but nevertheless, it is problematic for the situation of his party that just before, during and after the election profound divisions have been appearing that prefigure tempestuous times in its ranks, and even breaks.

A brief rapid summary of Morena’s victories nationally indicates that certainly the party advanced in comparison with its situation three years ago, an advance that is necessary to contextualize in order to evaluate it correctly. Many of these victories were won at the cost of conflicts within Morena’s ranks as a result of a cynical and careless political operation carried out by the party’s president Mario Delgado who, for example in San Luis Potosí, publicly supported a gubernatorial candidate different than Morena’s. In Sonora too there were strong conflicts among local morenistas that paralyzed the party and resulted in the PRI retaining power in that state’s capital of Hermosillo.

The election campaigns were marked by violence, exemplified in the bloody assassination of several candidates and pre-candidates. (4) Fortunately, there were many citizen and foreign observers. The information that has been published leaves no doubt about the obstacles and limitations that impeded a clear, democratic vote, as was scandalously demonstrated in the territories dominated by organized crime.

The smashing victory of nearly 70% of the vote in Sinaloa, the state that is the base of the Chapo Guzmán cartel, was due in large measure to the intervention of the criminal gangs’ henchmen in their struggle to retain their control over the state. On the day of the elections, they operated shamelessly for the candidate put forward by Morena and the Sinaloa Party (PAS), Rubén Rocha Moya: kidnapping the PRI’s officials and candidates, and threatening the citizenry with messages on social and other media with the slogan, “If Rocha doesn’t win, we will kill everyone,” as reported by the brave journalist from Culiacán, Ismael Bojórquez. (Cited by Julio Hernández López in his column Astillero in La Jornada, June 17, 2021.)

All of these victories increase the influence of López Obrador’s party throughout the country, but they do not make it the overwhelmingly dominant party. For example, among the populations of the big cities they are far from it. In the capitals of the three most populous states of the country — Toluca in Estado México, Guadalajara in Jalisco and Monterrey in Nuevo León — Morena is a minority.

The Disaster in Mexico City

But the political event that shook the power of Morena, emitting waves that have marked the intransigent tendencies of an AMLO more authoritarian and combative than usual, is what occurred in Mexico City, which for 25 years has been the source and the center of a massive institutional leftwing current first headed by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and then by AMLO himself. (5)

The election results of June 6 show a city divided into two practically equal halves, east and west. The east voted for Morena and the west for the opposition: of the 15 boroughs, Morena lost 8, with seven remaining controlled by the incumbent parties (PAN and PRD).

Looking at this in more detail, one can add that the eastern belt, the location of the mostly densely proletarian concentrations of Morena, succeeded in holding on to the boroughs (6) with the highest levels of poverty (Iztapalapa, Iztacalco, Tláhuac y Venustiano Carranza) though there was greater competition than usual inand the northern Gustavo A. Madero district., though it is experience greater competition. A competition that was on the verge of breaking out in the south of Xochimilco, though it finally remained morenista.

On the other hand, the Morena losses were notable in the populous proletarian communities of of Álvaro Obregón, Azcapozalco, Coyoacán, Magdalena Contreras and Tlalpan, which also include the majority of middle-class neighborhoods in the city. Morena’s defeats were most evident in the middle-class boroughs like Benito Juárez y Miguel Hidalgo. The most disastrous Morena defeat came in the loss of the Cuauhtémoc district, the seat of the most important political, cultural and financial centers of the country.

Mexico City’s communities have distinct demographic characteristics, but all of its boroughs are divided by the class differences, more or less profound but present within their boundaries. Morena, beginning with AMLO himself, has attempted to explain its defeat by defining the eastern part of the city as the poor part, the good part, and the western part as “selfish, racist, social climbing, middle-class and individualistic,” which is profoundly false; and before this election was never thought of like that, since most were under the control of Morena.

This attitude has been so scandalous that it has provoked controversies and debates, including public replies by high-up leaders of Morena to the president himself. Such is the case of Ricardo Monreal, head of the Senate, who without mincing words responded to AMLO, reminding him that the middle class had been a key factor in Morena’s victory in 2018, and that in fact he had identified with the middle-class sectors (El Universal, June 16, 2021).

The Morenist blunder led to a series of polemics and challenges to this argument that “the poor vote for Morena” and “the middle-class votes against Morena.” At the level of the analysts who are demographic specialists and of the journalistic surveys, this claim is contradicted. Julio Boltvinik points out explicitly that the conclusion of certain sectors of public opinion about what happened in Mexico City concerning a “poor” sector that voted for Morena and a “not poor” sector that voted against Morena at the national level never happened. (Economía moral in La Jornada, June 18, 2021)

And Enrique Galván Ochoa in his column “Dinero,” who is always favorable to AMLO, on this occasion of the survey that he frequently takes of his readers was quite contrary to the president’s remarks, with 83% of responders declared themselves to be favorable to a Mexico of the middle class against 9% who opted for a country of poor people (the rest undecided). (Dinero in La Jornada, June 18, 2021)

The upshot is that what happened in Mexico City is completely unfavorable for Morena. Taking into account the events in this city often express what is happening at the national level, the defeat of Morena announces an inauspicious near future. In the demographic layer where the mass of men and women workers of the country are most concentrated and which has in large measure determined the national political evolution and will continue to do so, one of the key sectors of Morena’s domain has fractured.

The Resurrection of the PRIAN

Three years after having been erased (and especially in the Mexico City) by the results of the 2018 elections, the PRIAN and to a less degree the PRD returned triumphant in the very center region that was considered to be unimpregnable, the absolute domain of Morena. And not only that, all of the densely populated municipalities surrounding Mexico City in the western (“blue”) zone of the State of Mexico (Tlalnepantla, Naucalpan, Atizapán, los Cuautitlanes, Coacalco, Huitzilucan) also leaned toward the PRIAN. It was a political earthquake: in the most populated region of the country, the misnamed Valle of Mexico, home to 22 million inhabitants (almost 9 million in Mexico City and 13 million in the State of Mexico) shuddered electorally.

But in fact this resurrection of the PRIAN is not due to its merits and its own potential, but rather is to be explained above all by the erratic and disastrously unsuccessful policies of López Obrador.

In realty such results came as no surprise for those who had followed with critical attention López Obrador’s policies, which were felt especially in this region, the principal social, economic, and cultural center of the country. 2019 and 2020 were years of profound crisis, dominated by an economic recession that developed in 2019 and then became a brutal depression, the worst in 90 years, coinciding with the planetary health emergency of COVID-19, which had a very strong impact on the country.

Millions of unemployed, hundreds of thousands of small businesses bankrupt or completely liquidated, millions of people fallen into poverty and extreme poverty, and in the face of such a colossal set of crises, a government insensitive to the suffering and pain that had seized vast social sectors with the detonation of the pandemic, very clumsily and irresponsibly managed during the first months by a neglected and underfunded public health system. The government demonstrated its callousness by putting into practice a counter-indicated policy of austerity, rather than an anticyclical policy, which consequently exacerbated rather than cushioned the social breakdown.

It was the same in Mexico City where the president and Morena harvested the grapes of wrath of a population utterly dissatisfied with the Morena government because during the three years of its domination there has been no substantial change in social life, while new problems and tragic upheavals have emerged. Of the most relevant social aspects, the persistent and relentless homicidal violence stands out. 2019 and 2020 exceed the homicide levels of previous years, and in 2021 the trends of femicides, murders of journalists and the terrorization and murder of immigrants have not let up.

The Collapse of the Olivos Station

But the shocking event that largely acted as the decisive trigger for the great malaise of the population of Mexico City — where the palaces of both governments, the national and the city, stand in the Zócalo, the national square — was undoubtedly the collapse of the Metro Line 12 train at the Olivos station on May 3, almost exactly a month before the date of the elections.

The fundamental importance of this fact in explaining Morena’s defeat in Mexico City is due to the aftermath of events that marked and will mark the life of the city in the coming months. The collapse of line 12 of the Metro, baptized as the Golden Line by Morena mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who was the head of the city government when it was built in the period 2008-2012, is now the source of comments of all kinds in public opinion, strong controversies between officials, inter-bourgeois conflicts, and massive discontent among the population. It had a decisive effect on the June 6 vote.

The question that immediately arises is why the tragedy that occurred precisely between the Tezonco and Olivos stations, on the exact dividing line between the two boroughs of Tláhuac and Iztapalapa in the very heart of the proletarian zone in the east of the city, is not reflected on June 6 with an electoral punishment of Morena in those boroughs?

The disaster that took more than 26 lives and left 100 injured, many of them seriously, fell on the eve of the election completely in the Morena camp, which left the president unable to draw on his classic formula that it was an inheritance from the former PRIAN rulers. The station’s construction took place during the term of mayor Ebrard, and his successor Miguel Ángel Mancera had to deal with its problems and suspended service for more than a year, and finally the collapse occurred during the administration of Claudia Sheinbaum. (7)

Line 12, now popularly rebaptized the “cursed,” will be the center of political struggles directly linked to the presidential succession of 2024, which the election results of June 6 have highlighted, because the two personages who have been most frequently mentioned as possible successors to AMLO — Ebrard and Sheinbaum — are also those most directly touched by the tragedy at Olivos station.

Already the technical commission, including a special Norwegian firm contracted by the Sheinbaum administration, which is investing the causes of the civil engineering failure that produced the collapse, has begun to make its first findings, which were leaked to the The New York Times in its June 13 edition and made known around the world. (8)

The article concerned a preliminary Phase 1 report, with others to come in the next few months. It said that the accident was due to a failure of structural origin, deficiencies in the procedures and technologies in the construction; referring to details of the process of the anchoring of beams of diverse origin, quality and material, poorly placed Nelson bolts, poorly made welds, use of different types of concrete, and implausible construction failure issues.

It points to Marcelo Ebrard as the promotor of the project who insisted on its rapid construction in order to be able to inaugurate it before his term ended; and it suggested that the Carso corporation, belonging to Calos Slim, the richest capitalist in Mexico, is responsible for the engineering failures to which the disaster is attributed.

Hardly a month after the tragedy of the Olivos Metro station came the elections. Iztapalapa y Tláhuac, together with other boroughs in the eastern section of the city, had been the source of the massive support for AMLO for more than two decades, as mayor and later as president. The punishment for what happened on May 3 at the station on the border between Tláhuac and Iztapalapa has already begun in these municipalities, although its expression has not been as evident as in the western municipalities. Belatedly, but surely, it will also express itself there, as Morena’s crisis unfolds in full force.

And this crisis, already in full swing, announces ruptures and configurations that will have consequences for the recomposition of the country’s left forces, both in the institutional and revolutionary left.

The Crisis of Morena

The political change that these elections have brought about has been felt immediately. It is a profound, disruptive change. Morena without its allies cannot successfully support AMLO in his constitutional reform initiatives. And its allies aren’t exactly trustworthy.

The Workers Party (PT), which did not do well on June 6, has already shown in these same elections that it will unite with the PRI if it suits it. But the most dubious ally is the Green Party, a party that has joined with the highest bidder since its emergence thirty years ago: it has joined with the PRI, with the PAN government of Vicente Fox, and today it is AMLO’s main ally and has reaped a good harvest of representatives from the relationship. AMLO in 2015 crudely defined the Grens as a party of “rich kids, the crafty and the corrupt.”

To get the 334 votes he needs for his constitutional reformist goals, AMLO is willing to woo even the PRI, which has been left behind. Everything is possible in the swamp of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois representatives and senators that make up the two legislative chambers. Thus the Fourth Transformation, which is so grandly presented by AMLO as inheriting the epic exploits of the War of Independence, the Juarez Reform and the 1910 Revolution, waits in these prosaic times in which its fate will depend not on the epic heroism of combat but on vulgar bourgeois parliamentary marketing. (9)

Meanwhile, AMLO is also announcing his “reformist” objectives: an electoral reform to make the officials of the National Electoral Institute (INE) pay for the humiliations to which they submitted various frustrated Morena candidates; the conversion of the National Guard into a military force directly controlled by the army, which is already the fact but needs to be “legalized;” and finally the third constitutional reform to stop the complete privatization of the electrical industry.

As can be seen, these are aspirations far removed from any transformation of the regime, from any objective or feat of an historical caliber. They only announce a greater and more dangerous militarization of the country, a decline in electoral rights, and an attempt to confront the large consortiums of the transnational electricity industry, but without the firm and militant support of the electrical workers and popular users of the Federal Commission of Electricity, this is an absolutely illusory goal.

Mexico City, June 19, 2021

Notes

  1. The PRI ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000 as a virtual one-party state.
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  2. The PAN, founded I 1939, is historically conservative, Catholic Party closely tied to finance and business.
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  3. The author refers to the PRI and the PAN alliance as the PRIAN, suggesting they are fundamentally one party, as some American leftists have sometimes talked of the Republicrats.
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  4. An estimated 88 candidates were assassinated leading up to the election. See: https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/30/americas/mexico-political-killings-intl/index.html
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  5. The author uses “institutional leftwing” to refer to C. Cárdenas who led the Party of the Democratic Revolution and out of which came Morena led by AMLO, both of which had their origins in the PRI, the ruling party for seventy years.
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  6. Mexico has 16 subdivisions previously known as delegaciones but in a recent reform became alcaldías or boroughs. I have translated the word as “boroughs.”
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  7. Ebrard was a member of Morena, Miguel Ángel Mancera was in the PRD, and Claudia Sheinbaum was in Morena. She was the first woman and the first Jew to be elected mayor of Mexico City.
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  8. See also the June 17 New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/06/12/world/americas/mexico-city-train-crash.html
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  9. The Fourth Transformation refers to AMLO’s political vision and objective of a society without wealth inequality, privilege, and corruption.
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Translation and notes by Dan La Botz. This article appeared on the Unidad Socialista website here.

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