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Electoral paradoxes in Mexico: Popular victory and re-branding of neoliberalism

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO or Lopez Obrador), the candidate of the center left, and his party of National Regeneration (MORENA) won the Presidency of Mexico with 53.2% of almost 62 million people voting. His party won a relative majority of federal Deputies and Senators, the government of the City of Mexico, various state governments and numerous local authorities.  His party achieved this victory in part by aligning itself with a center-right party called “Together We Will Make History.”

The victory unleashed a euphoria little seen in Mexico, and one that spread to famous people and political forces in other countries.

AMLO and MORENA won through the collective action of millions of people fed up with the grave crisis created all over the political map by the three great parties, the Party of Institutionalized Revolution (the PRI), the National Action Party (the PAN) and the Party of Democratic Revolution (the PRD).  This political map included three smaller parties within the PRD with their electoral registration at risk, the New Alliance Party (PANAL), the Citizens Movement (MC) and the party of the Social Gathering (PES).

A scheme that stopped working

AMLO’s victory broke apart the elite’s previous scheme, a governing pact that had been agreed to in 2000. That pact called for alternating parties between the PRI and the PAN. This opened the door for Vincente Fox and his PAN party to take the Presidency in 2000. Their scheme, however, did not include the PRD which took over the government of the City of Mexico that same year.

AMLO’s victory was due to the accumulated popular irritation with privatization, neoliberal reforms, insecurity, violence and rampant corruption. Especially hateful were the rise in prices for gasoline, natural gas, diesel and electricity, punitive educational reforms, the increase in part-time jobs, unemployment and the undermining of purchasing power.

AMLO’s victory was also due to people being fed up with the war on drugs, beginning with the Merida Initiative by President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) which not only left the country bloodied but also did not, to this very date, stop the flow of drugs nor the associated money laundering.

The popular irritation with all this private and governmental corruption became an oozing sore that simply overflowed.

Explaining the popular victory

There were serious splits within the nation’s power bloc to the point that no one was prepared to sacrifice their candidate against Lopez Obrador.  Some of them talked about how “marvelous” the situation was in Mexico. Others imagined an alliance of the PAN and PRD parties that would put in the mouths of the right a language of the left designed to attract the youth.

The State itself consented to a generalized violence that saw 56 political candidates assassinated and 134 political murders linked to the electoral process.  This was designed to reduce popular participation in voting. The entrepreneurial bloc that supported Presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya used the press, radio and TV to polarize the electorate against “the threat” of AMLO.

The electoral campaigns and debates were degraded with personal attacks, judicial accusations,  physical assaults on tribunals,  the closing of spaces for meetings by MORENA and explicit threats  to candidates and voters saying, “if you don’t choose your candidate carefully….”

Activists denounced the purchasing of votes by the PRI, PAN and PRD (by conditioning social program benefits upon your vote for a particular party),  the electronic manipulations of social networks and  efforts to question the validity of the polls.

Despite all this, people rushed to vote en masse, repudiating the PRI, PAN and PRD.

Five paradoxes of the Mexican election.

The conflict before and after the election, the surprising results and the unusual climate of “post-election civility” is explained by five paradoxes.

Fraud, popular uprising, neoliberalism

First, fraudulent operations did not discourage the vote, but in fact encouraged it.  There was so much accumulated bitterness that the population was not going to give up the opportunity to punish the PRI, PAN and PRD.

Factions in the ruling bloc who wanted to pursue fraud to its extreme were stopped for several reasons.  There was the precarious economic situation along with the spontaneous social uprising due to the 2017 hike in energy prices that neither the political parties nor social groups organized. Then there was the need by oligarchs to establish a climate of respect for laws implementing the profound neoliberal reforms. Then, once the electoral outcome was clear, the violence preceding the elections transformed into a smooth governmental transition.

AMLO won the Presidency, but not yet the power. For this to happen, the people will need to crush bipartisan neoliberalism, push for fiscal reform so those who have more pay more, and cancel the neoliberal structural reforms. Popular power must ascend to that of AMLO.

An electoral system in disarray

The second paradox is that Lorenzo Cordova, President of the National Election Institute, first aligned himself with the candidacies of the PAN and PRI, denying the validity of polls showing support for AMLO, saying “polls decide nothing” and “they were only polls.”

Then without disclosing his sources, he announced that the Election Institute was preparing for conflicting scenarios in anticipation of an  exceedingly close vote. None of this was indicated in the public polling.

He approved the “independent” candidacy of Margarita Zavala, the wife of former President Felipe Calderon — even though she submitted a large number of fictitious signatures in registering her candidacy.  He then opposed the registration of Jaime Rodriquez “El Bronco” as an independent.

Cordova demanded that everyone respect his authority to post election results, warning of dangers to economic and political stability if “someone” posted the results before him. He signed an agreement with Facebook to control the publication of “fake news” in social media, just as Facebook was responding to judicial complaints in the European Union for not safeguarding its database.

Cordova also abandoned the use of the Program of Preliminary Electoral Results (PREP). Instead, he recommended the use of a poll less representative, the “calculation of votes” supposedly in order to have results on election day, then stated he could have nothing before 11:00 pm.

José Antonio Meade, a Presidential candidate and a statistician who “does not believe in polls,” was the first to recognize the victory of AMLO at 8:40 pm according to trends that “his” information identified.  Presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya said the same thing about an hour after Meade.  Based on his information, Anaya recognized that the trends favored AMLO and that they were irreversible. Without mentioning a word to the candidates of either the PAN or PRI, Lorenzo Cordova confirmed at 11:00 pm that AMLO had won according “to information currently available.” Thus, leaking information from all sides, the crisis of the electoral system was on full display. This crisis has been ignored and, as a result, continues unresolved.

More than a movement but less than a party

The third paradox is that while this electoral result ended the scheme of alternating two parties in power, what emerged in its place is a hegemonic party, MORENA, that is more than a movement but less than a party. What might eventually be deployed is a “dual party hybrid” (MORENA-PAN & PRI) alternating power in state governments.

The climate of this “civilized” transition was also tainted by the electoral process in the state of Puebla. Here the wife of a former governor, Rafael Moreno Valle, officially won. She and the functionaries of the PAN demonstrated a disposition to violence on the day of the election, purchasing of votes, armed aggression in the voting booths, alteration of ballots and various other things that should annul this state’s election. In this sense, elections are still not concluded, nor were they as clean and exemplary as the voting officials hastened to characterize them.

Positioning for NAFTA amid “trade wars”

Fourth. Despite the clashes between the PRI and the US Republican party during the renegotiation of NAFTA, it is apparent that US-Canada-Mexico relations could now run more rapidly through formal channels even as the authority of the US President is questioned by the popular sector and by segments of the US oligarchy.  Plus, Mexico will now have a more solid position with regard to the profound deterioration of commercial relations among the three countries, as Trump mounts his “global trade war.”

A great step forward, but…

Fifth. As seen through the first declarations of AMLO and his team about “respecting macroeconomic equilibrium,” not raising taxes and trimming the state with a “republican austerity” like stopping the million dollar pensions for ex-presidents and lowering the salaries of federal bureaucrats, the paradox of tranquility can be seen. The frightened capitalist investors got a glimpse of how the extractive and finance-based neoliberal model can continue, as the legitimacy of growth itself will be reinforced by the policies of redistribution intended to strengthen the internal market.

These paradoxes are real challenges for the popular movement with its duty to reconstruct national sovereignty. In Mexico, we say that the conquest of the Presidency by AMLO was a great step  forward.  However, the disaster provoked by neoliberalism still must be resolved, as neoliberalism now claims that “everything must change so that everything can remain the same.”

Alejandro Alvarez Bejar is a Professor of Economics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He wrote this analysis in Spanish for Works in Progress. It was translated by Dan Leahy, who has a long history of working with Mexican teachers.


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Con el 53.2% de un total cercano a 62 millones…