Latin America Advisor

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What’s at Stake in Mexico’s June Midterm Election?

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador

Mexicans on June 6 will elect the entire Federal Chamber of Deputies, as well as 15 governors and members of 30 state legislatures, in the nation’s first major vote since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in December 2018. The ruling Morena party, which currently holds a majority in both chambers of Congress, is leading in the polls with 56 percent of respondents’ support, Bloomberg News reported. What’s at stake in Mexico’s midterm election, and which issues are most important to voters? Will opposition parties’ coalition garner enough support to strip Morena of its near-supermajority in Congress? To what extent, and in what ways, might the results influence López Obrador’s political agenda going forward?

Earl Anthony Wayne, former ambassador to Mexico and co-chair of the Mexico Institute Advisory Board at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars: “President López Obrador is pressing for a large victory June 6 that provides a strong mandate to pursue his ‘fourth transformation’ (4T) of Mexico. He has become more aggressive in this effort, sharply criticizing individuals and institutions he views as opposing his plans or limiting his freedom of action. Mexico’s voters are getting a clear sense of their president’s strong desire to push ahead with major reforms that will concentrate more power in the presidency and the state. In early May, AMLO and his party, Morena, retained the level of public support that produced victory in 2018. However, recent polls suggest a downturn and a greater likelihood that Morena and its allies could fall short of the two-thirds majority needed in the Chamber of Deputies to amend the constitution. This helps account for AMLO’s harsher criticisms, including of the National Electoral Institute, and new investigations of opposition figures. The president has also taken a more nationalistic tone, including by criticizing the United States for funding NGOs that criticized the government. AMLO remains very popular, but there has been consistent criticism of government performance on Covid-19, the economy and security. Key for the election outcome will be the vote tallies in swing districts, where good polling data is lacking. Covid’s effect on voter turnout remains a wildcard. If AMLO’s coalition wins a large majority in Congress and among governors, he will pursue the 4T vigorously. Even with a more modest victory, AMLO will likely press hard to achieve as much of his vision as possible before the end of his six-year term.”

Lorena Becerra, political analyst and head of polling at Grupo Reforma: “This midterm vote is unlike any other because of the size of the local elections concurrently taking place. The opposition has formed successful alliances in some states, federal districts and municipalities that pose an important challenge to Morena. Voters will be making their decisions with their local and state authorities in mind, and the most pressing issues focus on the economy, insecurity and the Covid pandemic. The fact that López Obrador will not be on the ballot this time leaves room for local forces to become very salient and, in many states, even influence the vote for federal congresspeople. Morena will be held accountable for the way it has governed in many states and municipalities, including disastrous governments in Veracruz, Morelos and Puebla. All of these factors will hinder the possibilities for López Obrador to hold to his constitutional majority in the lower chamber. Finally, Morena is on track to lose important races in which it had started off as a front-runner in the polls, such as in Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí. It will also face important losses in the center of the country. This election represents the most important redistribution of power during López Obrador’s term in office, and the country will look very different for him starting June 7. We have yet to see how and whether willing he will be to negotiate with the opposition during the second half of his administration.”

Alma Caballero, director at McLarty Associates: “The June 6 midterm elections will be the largest in Mexico’s history, with 15 governorships, the entire Chamber of Deputies (500 seats), 1,063 local legislature seats and 19,760 municipal posts up for grabs. With 93.9 million eligible voters, this election is shaping up to be the most consequential in Mexico’s short democratic history as various fundamental issues are at stake, including the possibility of altering the country’s system of checks and balances. Despite the president’s party, Morena, being favored to win multiple races, the outcomes are still unclear. However, recent polling suggests that the Juntos Haremos Historia electoral alliance (Morena, PT, PVEM) will obtain a simple majority in the congressional race, and Morena will advance in the number of states it governs. The Va Por México coalition (PRI, PAN and PRD) was created to counter Morena’s overwhelming congressional majority and serve as a check on AMLO during the second half of his six-year term. A decisive Morena win would solidify AMLO’s centralization of power and lead to a more authoritarian state, one characterized by further deterioration of Mexico’s investment climate and increased tensions between the public and private sectors. A strong showing from the opposition would increase checks and balances on the executive while marking a gradual return to predictability and certainty in policymaking.”

Ruben Olmos, president of Global Nexus: “The upcoming elections are the largest in Mexico’s history, given the number of officials who will be elected—500 federal deputies and more than 19,000 state and local authorities. According to the national electoral authority (INE), there are 94 million registered voters in Mexico. While midterm elections tend to have lower voter participation, this time around we can anticipate a more than 50 percent participation at the polls. This is a critical election for the remaining three years of President López Obrador’s administration and particularly for the future of his ‘fourth transformation,’ leftist, populist agenda. While recent polls show his popularity is high and Morena candidates leading in many areas of the country, the poor handling of the Covid-19 crisis and the dire economic scenario—including a deteriorating business climate and escalating crime—gives the opposition coalition a chance to surprise many in the election outcome. The final days of the campaign will be critical. If polls show Morena losing, López Obrador might sharpen his rhetoric against the opposition, including a last-minute arrest or scandal. His government could alter the Covid-19 stoplight system to avoid a high voter turnout and discredit the electoral authority and the final results, which could also include post-election civil unrest. At this point, it is unlikely that his party and coalition will win the majority he needs in Congress to make additional reforms to the constitution and to continue to erode the country’s young democracy and institutions.”

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