Mexico’s Fragile Governing Coalition

A New Government May Just be the Answer to Mexico’s Woes

Mexico, Latin America’s second largest economy with a population of 127.5 million people, went to the polls on 1 July 2018 to vote in their next President for a six-year term and other elected officials at Congressional and Gubernatorial levels. The election comes at a time of NAFTA re-negotiations, the prospect of a border wall with the United States spearheaded by a populist US President, Donald Trump, and domestic issues at home such as increased crime and corruption. Such a complex set of circumstances coupled with a populace lulling for change has led to a landslide victory for the new president-elect.

The elections give a mandate to a President who wins a first round majority for a six year term without the possibility of re-election. The Mexico Congress consists of two chambers — Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Those members of Congress sitting in the Chamber of Deputies total 500, with 300 elected for a three year term through a simple majority while the remaining 200 are elected in one-multi member nationwide constituency. Senators, on the other hand, are elected for a six year term to coincide with the president with varying allocation methods — 96 by majority in 32 constituencies, 64 are elected from the party with the highest votes (2 from each state) and the remaining 32 are elected with a single nationwide constituency based on proportional representation.

Main Political Parties

Prior to the 2018 election, Mexico was ruled by two major parties — the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN). From 1921 until 2000, the PRI were in control. In 2000 and 2006, the PAN won the elections, with the return of the PRI in 2012. It was widely expected in 2012 that the PRI was going to win with the winner Enrique Peña Nieto bringing the PRI back to power.

The year 2018 represented a very different political landscape, because governors, members of the Mexican congress, and the presidential elections were all taking place at the same time. It is the biggest election in history with voters selecting their president, up to 9 different governors, and 629 members of Congress were all elected during this electoral cycle.

In 2018, the political landscape comprised of parties who banded together to form a coalition with a total of nine parties having representation in Congress. The first coalition comprised of the ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that ruled Mexico for nearly seven decades, the Green Party (EVEM), and the new Alliance party (PANAL). The next coalition comprised of the National Action Party (PAN), the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), and the Movimiento Ciudadano. The last coalition comprised of National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), the Labour Party (PT), and the Social Encounter Party (PES).

It’s important to note that there were independents who participated. These individuals were allowed to participate in this election due to a 2014 electoral reform that was implemented in 2015. They are allowed to run for any office, but were not expected to do well — only 1 out of 22 were elected in the Chamber of Deputies while the others were not elected at all.

Presidential Winner

The winner is a man named Andrés Manual López Obrador commonly known as AMLO who founded and represents MORENA. He was a presidential candidate who ran in 2006 and 2012. In both contests, he faced stiff competition from established political parties. In 2006, Felipe Calderón, a member of the PAN, was the winner after his fellow party member Vincente Fox won the presidency in 2000 ending the nearly seven decades of rule under the PRI.

The 2018 elections shook the political landscape as Mexicans were looking for a change. The man who vowed to fight for the poor and vowed to tackle corruption and inequality, AMLO, was given a chance. Previous presidents failed to combat this problem. In addition, Calderón failed to combat the war on drugs with at least 60,000 dead during the six years he ruled Mexico. Peña Nieto didn’t fare much better in terms of tackling the war on drugs as the homicide rate continued to rise.

AMLO created a unique, diverse coalition garnering a total of 53% of the electorate during the elections. The advantage for him is the relatively little opposition that he has, since his party captured five out of nine gubernatorial races. His supporters welcome the result and should be pleased for the man who founded the MORENA party in 2014 after losing the 2012 elections. The one issue that he may face is pushing through his political agenda. To understand more, let us take a look at the fragile coalition.

Fragile Coalition

AMLO’s MORENA party is a left-wing party with its roots in nationalism and left-wing policies. Some critics liken his policies and ideas to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as part of the pink tide. The PES is a new conservative party that joined his coalition and holds more conservative views namely anti-abortion and close links to neo-evangelicals. Finally, the PT comprises of moderate progressives pressing on for worker’s rights. The obvious conclusion is that each of these parties have their own ideas and ideological objectives.

Naturally, the consequence is that AMLO may struggle to push through reforms as the reforms could cause conflict between members of the coalition. His coalition allowed him to rally different segments of the electorate together who felt that he is the man who can change the way things are done. The reason for this is that AMLO has a political agenda that benefits the different segments represented by his coalition’s parties.

The ruling coalition secured seats in the congressional and other municipal elections. One of the most notable was securing the gubernatorial seat in Mexico state, a former PRI stronghold where Peña Nieto was Governor. The electoral wins for MORENA and his coalition further enables him to push through his agenda.

López Obrador holds the power to make the changes he desires to have. The question remains whether his agenda will cause political paralysis or a brighter future for Mexico. The political paralysis may only affect domestic issues. But, the foreign issues may prove to be as equally challenging.

Mexico’s Contentious Relationship with its Northern Neighbour

Mexico has long held a strong trade relationship with its northern neighbour especially since the signing of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). Many US companies like Ford outsourced their operations to Mexico. This outsourcing lead to the rise of maquiladoras or ‘manufacturing plants’ that lie in the border towns of Northern Mexico. Since President Trump’s election, the US/Mexico relationship has soured.

President Trump’s election manifesto included the construction of a border wall while insisting that Mexico will pay for its construction. Mexico has clearly stated that it will not. Further, recent tariffs targeting steel and aluminium imports were introduced thus having a direct negative impact on Mexico and others. In response, Mexico has retaliated by announcing various tariffs targeting US products such as bourbon and pork.

Populist Counter to Trump

The wave of populism has lead to the political game changers such as Brexit, AfD (Alternative for Germany), and the election of Donald Trump as the next US President in 2016. Populist movements are right leaning with a focus on tighter immigration with hints at nationalism. López Obrador’s victory falls into this pool of political game changers. Some may argue that López Obrador is the Donald Trump of Mexico having risen through a populist wave after two unsuccessful presidential bids. Such an argument may prove slippery, because AMLO has bucked the trend of populism and conservatism sweeping Latin America.

In Latin America, candidates, such as Iván Duque in Colombia, have been winning elections on the back of rebuking Chavez’s politics. Duque painted his left opponent as a leftover of Chavez’s Venezuela or Castro’s Cuba. On the hand, AMLO has a leftist approach and concentrated on fighting for the poor and tackling other domestic issues.

The idea of tackling domestic issues is also an objective of Donald Trump’s with the ideology of “America First” and “Make America Great Again” mantra. Trump and AMLO wish to combat their domestic problems and the way they may handle it. The difference may be in the approach. The Trump approach is more combative and aggressive in terms of immigration, trade, and his approach with leaders. On the other hand, AMLO faces a different set of challenges including managing his relationship with Trump.

López Obrador has a more delicate position where he needs to counter Trump by protecting his country’s trade interests while at the same time he needs to advance his domestic agenda. He may need to walk a tight line and use his charisma to counter Trump. In addition, he can counter Trump using his own populist ideas by using his unique, diverse coalition to advance his country’s agenda namely cleansing the country of corruption. In addition, it’s expected that he will take a less combative stance on Mexico’s 11 year old war on drugs.

Future Outlook for Mexico

The future depends on whether AMLO manages to tackle corruption and set an example in Latin America. He finds himself in a potentially tricky situation as conservatism takes over as the main stream way of governing. On the other hand, some may argue that leftism has lost its place with the likes of Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff being impeached and Argentina’s Christina Kirchner no longer in power.

The question remains whether AMLO can remain honest, authentic, and continue to focus on his agenda of reforms. There is a lot of hope for Mexicans who are looking for change and a better future for themselves. A majority of Mexicans live below the poverty line, so many ordinary Mexicans would like to have the opportunity to live with more comfortable means.

In addition, the economic future lies on the line as NAFTA is currently under negotiation. AMLO’s relationship with Donald Trump can greatly influence the outcome of those negotiations. Of course, his relationship with Trudeau and Canada has an influence too.

Final Thoughts

In the end, only time will tell how AMLO will act in terms of staying true to his election manifesto and keeping the poor’s best interests at the top of his agenda.

The political dynamics of the governing coalition will be the ultimate decider whether AMLO will be successful in implementing his agenda. It should be clearly stated not to be overly hopeful of change during the López Obrador’s six-year term.

If AMLO’s tenure proves successful then he can not only achieve success for his country, but bring a different meaning to populism for left wingers.