By Gretel Cuevas Verdin
Latin America Analyst
Millions of voters across Mexico went to the polls last Sunday to participate in the largest election in Mexican history. With more than 21,000 contested positions in all three levels of government, this election represented the consolidation or fracture of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s political project. With all of the 500 seats in the lower house of Congress, 15 state governorships, and thousands of mayorships and local positions at stake the election put on the line whether MORENA, the ruling party of the President, would be able to retain the political control of Congress while gaining new influence in the states controlled by the opposition. Meanwhile, the opposition political parties– the NationalAction Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)– joined forces to create a legislative coalition seeking to regain influence in a context of upscaling violence, voter dissatisfaction, and a decaying economic situation.
Of the 93 million registered voters, 52.5% participated across the country. Although President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s coalition was able to maintain its control of Congress they lost its supermajority in the lower house. This means that despite his victory in the polls, he will face new limits on his power that could obstruct the consolidation of his ambitious “Cuarta Transformación” reform plan. According to the preliminary results, MORENA will keep between 197 positions, followed by the conservative PAN, with around 111 congress seats, and the PRI with around 69 seats which leads to an opposition bloc that also does not achieve the absolute. MORENA was also the definitive winner of the governorships with 11 won of the 15 in dispute compensating their loss in Congress. This was a severe defeat for the PRI which until now ruled 8 of the 15 governorships at stake representing their severe decay as a political force.
In the capital, the results divided the 16 mayoralties into two groups. In the east of Mexico City which has a low per capita income compared to the west, the Morena-PT alliance remained as the party in power. However, in the western neighborhoods of the opposition led by the PAN together with the PRI and the PRD in 13 of the candidacies obtained the mayoralties of Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juárez, Azcapotzalco, Álvaro Obregón, Coyoacán, Cuauhtémoc, Cuajimalpa, Tlalpan and Magdalena Contreras. The victory of the PAN-PRI-PRD coalition represents a severe defeat for MORENA in an area which they used to have high levels of influence and in which used to be considered an important part of their political base.
Among the thousands of candidates who contended for the positions there was a significant number of outsiders with zero political experience. From Lupita Jones, a former Miss Universe who contended for the mayorship of Mexicali, to boxers and soccer players who run for public positions, mediatic candidates with no experience invaded the ballots demonstrating that electoral victory in recent democracies depends more on popularity rather than on political experience or expertise.
In the southern state of Guerrero, Evelyn Salgado Pineda, who replaced her father Félix Salgado Macedonio as the MORENA candidate after he was accused of rape, won the governorship of the state of Guerrero. Despite the claims that she will be an autonomous public servant, everyone knows it will be hard to keep her father out of her government.
In the northern state of Nuevo León, the 33-year old candidate, Samuel García, won the election for the governorship of Nuevo Leon. His campaign was designed as a reality show that departed from all the political campaign scripts but achieved its objective of building popularity among the electorate and catapulting García to victory. Drama and gossip were the main ingredients of a campaign that mainly took place on social media and portrayed the dramatic and ostentatious life of the candidate and his famous influencer wife, Mariana Rodríguez Cantú. It is not surprising that a successful tv-producer known for producing one of the most successful reality shows in Mexico, Big Brother, was part of the candidate’s electoral team.
Violence was also at the center of this electoral process which developed in a context of political assassinations that reflect the incapacity of President Obrador, just as his predecessors, to curb the violence caused by organized crime. Between the start of the electoral process in September of last year until the end of May, there were 89 assassinations of politicians in Mexico and 782 crimes committed against them, according to Etellekt. Thirty-five of those murdered were candidates running for office in the upcoming election. Among the victims is Alma Rosa Barragán, a mayoral candidate in the state of Guanajuato, who was killed during one of her rallies a few days before the election. Similarly, Abel Murrieta, a mayoral candidate in the state of Sonora was gunned down while distributing campaign flyers. The day of the election was no exception with five election workers shot dead in the state of Chiapas, a grenade attack attempt in a voting station in the State of Mexico, and the apparition of body remains in a polling station in Tijuana.
While the president can claim victory for the election results he cannot declare triumph as the country is experiencing one of the deadliest episodes of violence, a severe economic recession, and a sanitary crisis that is still far from over. Despite the still high popularity and approval rate of the President’s party, the opposition achieved significant progress to consolidate a diverse Congress that can adequately subject the president to a process of checks-and-balances. At different times, President Obrador has railed against democratic institutions, the judiciary, and the free press making it a priority to build a political counterbalance that helps protect the democratic institutions of the country. The election results represent the population’s decision to protect democracy by controlling the indiscriminate use of power that characterized the first three years of Obrador’s presidency. While the political future still looks promising for the President’s party, their loss of the absolute majority in Congress gives evidence of the growing discontent of a large sector of the population and an opposition determined to recover its political influence. This election was not a definitive win for anyone but a step forward to consolidate a diverse democracy that is able to represent the interests of the different sectors of the population and provide solutions and that can serve to demand adequate responses to the country’s most pressing challenges.
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