Mexico’s elections take shape

June 28, 2017

Discontent in Mexico has left the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto facing a crisis of legitimacy--and interest in next year's vote to pick is replacement is already intense. Here, SW contributor Héctor A. Rivera collaborates with a comrade from the Colectivo Acción y Resistencia from Mexico City to analyze the alliances and debates shaping the political landscape leading toward the 2018 elections.

MEXICO HAS been abuzz with political developments in the lead-up to a general election in 2018. The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), headed by President Enrique Peña Nieto, is more unpopular than ever, and seems unlikely to perform well in next year's vote.

With the PRI's political bankruptcy exposed after six years of Peña Nieto, the presidential race started sooner than expected. As a result, the Mexican left is looking for a way to move forward in the coming elections.

The PRI's return to the presidency in 2012 after a dozen years since its seven-decade reign came to an end was contested from the beginning.

Even though it managed to pass a series of aggressive neoliberal reforms via the so-called Pact for Mexico, Peña Nieto's administration has been rocked by scandals. In 2014 it was revealed that the president's wife had received a $7 million dollar home from a government contractor.

From the beginning, the left wing of the teacher's union was a vocal opponent of the government's education "reform" scheme and effectively stopped it from being implemented in several states.

Protesters flood the streets of Mexico City to oppose gas price hikes and a corrupt president
Protesters flood the streets of Mexico City to oppose gas price hikes and a corrupt president

The most serious test to the administration came when 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher's College were disappeared. The government's incompetent investigation and reluctance to confront the army produced mass demonstrations calling for the president's resignation. Since then, the Mexican state and its institutions have experienced a crisis of legitimacy.

Peña Nieto's presidency has been nothing short of disastrous for working-class Mexicans. The economy hasn't taken off as the government promised it would with neoliberal reforms. Violence has increased to the point where a recent study placed Mexico as the second-most violent country in the world behind Syria.

Mexicans are ready to put this tortuous administration behind them, and political parties on all sides are preparing their campaigns for next year.

BESIDES LOSING credibility with most Mexicans, the PRI's crisis of legitimacy has lost it the sympathy of a large segment of business in Mexico. Within the PRI, there have been internal struggles, and there isn't a single figure in this party that appears as a viable candidate for the presidency.

However, despite the scandals of former PRI governors imprisoned for corruption and widespread public disapproval of the party and Peña Nieto, the PRI remains as the main political force in the country.

The situation of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is similar, if less scandalous.

Since the bloody war on drugs initiated by its former President Felipe Calderón, PAN has not been able to recover. Currently, only two PAN members are pre-candidates for the presidency, with Margarita Zavala de Calderón, the wife of the former president, in the lead.

The PAN has roots in the extreme right and has been able to snatch some governorships from the PRI--most recently, the populous state of Veracruz and the border state of Tamaulipas.

For the most part, Mexico's third major party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), has lost its credibility as the party of the left, epecially after the murder and disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa--which took place in Guerrero state, until then a PRD stronghold.

The Ayotzinapa was the last blow for the PRD's left façade, but it remains an electoral force, albeit through alliances, usually with the PAN.

The political terrain in Mexico has changed in important ways during Peña Nieto's time in power, and as the elections approach, it seems Mexico is headed for a major political shift.

THE MOST obvious winner from this fallout is the center-left Movement of National Regeneration (Morena), headed by Ándres Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO), the former mayor of Mexico City under the PRD and a two-time presidential candidate with the same party.

Morena began as a political current within the PRD, but because of the party's degeneration over the last two decades, AMLO split off to form a new leftist party under the name of the Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA).

After the PRD debacle, Morena managed to position itself as the party of the left, and former PRD supporters, artists, intellectuals and personalities of civil society flocked to its ranks, despite criticisms of its undemocratic top-down tendencies.

Thus, in the lead-up to 2018, AMLO is the only clearly identified candidate, and he has been leading the polls since March 2016.

All along, AMLO has spoken out against corruption and the neoliberal programs of the PRI and PAN, and he has denounced the way in which sectors of the Mexican bourgeoisie and the political class enriched themselves at the expense of national well-being. AMLO refers to this elite as the "Mafia of Power" and calls for left unity behind his party to defeat them in the coming elections.

However, to become more acceptable to the ruling class, AMLO has watered down his leftist rhetoric--and, more alarmingly, formed alliances with politicians and businessmen from this very "Mafia of Power." He claims that anyone can join his party if they "repent" for previous wrongdoing.

One such politician is Esteban Moctezuma, currently head of social development for Morena, but previously a secretary of state and secretary of public education during President Ernesto Zedillo's PRI government at the end of the 1990s. Most recently, Moctezuma was director of "Fundación Azteca," the foundation of Mexico's second-richest businessman, Ricardo Salinas Pliego.

Moctezuma isn't the only political figure from the establishment joining Morena. AMLO has also welcomed large numbers of public officials and members of other political parties, especially the PRD and PRI.

Another questionable ally is Alfonso Romo, former adviser to the Mexican transnational corporation CEMEX and responsible for the media campaign against AMLO's 2006 presidential run in 2006, when the then-PRD candidate was, by all accounts, robbed of the presidency by fraud. Today, Romo is the coordinator of the Morena National Project.

Other members of the ruling class throwing their support behind AMLO include Miguel Torruco, the father-in-law of the richest man in Mexico, Carlos Slim; and Marcos Faschlicht, father-in-law of another Mexican billionaire, Emilio Azcárraga.

AMLO's political agenda leaves much to be desired. To oppose Donald Trump's anti-Mexican positions, he has bowed to expanding Canadian mining investments in Mexico. In a Bloomberg TV interview in March, he stated that he does not intend to renationalize the oil industry--a critical demand of the left--but would promote domestic and foreign private investment, claiming that public investment is insufficient.

With all these changes underway in Morena, Luis Hernández Navarro, opinion editor of La Jornada and contributor to the Guardian, criticized AMLO for moving away from his original leftist project and turning Morena into a sort of Noah's Arc that will take in all sorts of political specimens from their sinking ships.

ONE OF the most important developments in the lead-up to the elections was the recent announcement by the National Indigenous Congress (CNI)--a body strongly dominated by the Zapatistas--that it would propose its spokesperson as a candidate for next year's presidential election.

Although the CNI first expressed these intentions at the end of 2015, it took months of deliberations to elect María de Jesús Patricio Martínez--or "Marichuy"--as the spokesperson. Marichuy is a doctor of traditional medicine with a history of militancy in left and Indigenous organizations, and she has vowed to carry out the will of the CNI.

The CNI has stated that it isn't competing for votes in the coming election. Rather, it has decided to participate to organize the communities, gain a greater prominence in the media and get a platform for denouncing the harm caused by the capitalist system.

Though it is very unlikely for the CNI to get many votes, this could be an opportunity for the anti-capitalist left to start a unified campaign to promote a working-class political program. The CNI is planning take its campaign on the road across Mexico, like the Zapatista's Otra Campaña of 2006.

Since the announcement that the CNI would put forward a spokesperson for the election of 2018, members of Morena have sought to discredit the organization and its candidate, initially resorting to racist and misogynist attacks, and going as far as saying that this was a government ploy to divide the left.

Many of these charges were so egregious that the leadership had to rein in those who voiced them. But all diplomacy aside, Morena clearly sees the CNI campaign as a threat to its claim as the only left alternative. In recent months, the left wing of Morena has doubled down on its efforts to convince activists that Morena is the only option in the elections.

Nevertheless, Morena's electoralist strategy, its historic abstention from social movements and its open embrace of the rich has shown that its campaign is not genuinely in the interests of the working class and indigenous communities.

In many ways, Morena's campaign is so focused on winning elections that it fails to see the bigger picture: The State's crisis of legitimacy has opened an intense period of political struggle across all levels of Mexican society. Morena's legalist-electoralist strategy will only go so far in challenging a regime hell-bent on staying in power.

As Marichuy and the CNI have argued, their campaign is bigger than the elections. It can become a powerful social force if it is able to cohere the social movements across the country--urban, feminist, labor, Indigenous and the dispossessed fighting the same multinational corporations that AMLO is courting.

The key challenge for the left will be to build an opposition from below that goes beyond the elections. It seems that Marichuy and the CNI are providing just that opportunity for the anti-capitalist left. The campaign slogan says it all: "We don't want votes, we want everything!"

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