La Semana: Monday, May 30
The week in election campaigns
Welcome to a Monday edition of The Mexpatriate. In today’s newsletter:
June 5 Elections: A Field Guide
I dedicated this entire newsletter to the topic of the upcoming local elections in six states as an opportunity to give readers more background on Mexican politics.
An edition of Entre Semana will also be arriving in your inbox this week.
Please send me your comments, feedback and questions, and feel free to forward this to anyone who may be interested. You will find all sources linked to directly in the body of the text.
June 5 Elections: A Field Guide
Next Sunday, 11 million voters in six Mexican states (Aguascalientes, Durango, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo and Tamaulipas) will elect new governors, as well as mayors and Congressional representatives. Last June, the largest number of simultaneous federal and local elections ever held—in all 32 states—brought the ruling party, MORENA, a total of 16 governorships. While the elections were marred by violence—35 candidates were murdered—reports of electoral irregularities (other than assassination of course) or fraud were minimal.
The campaign season this year has been much quieter, but the outcomes of these elections will begin to set the stage for the grand presidential battle of 2024. According to recent polls, MORENA is ahead in 4 of the 6 governor’s races (none of which is currently governed by MORENA) and could be on the path to hegemony once blazed by the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), which may find itself with the weakest national presence in its history.
Democratic political ecosystems are diverse. The plurality of possibilities creates features peculiar to each political system, which is why citizens of one democracy (the United States, for example) might find themselves at a loss in the Mexican political landscape. While “polarization” is the buzzword across global political discourse, in the U.S. its intensity is reinforcing the two-party division to such a degree that one can often identify someone as “red” or “blue” from an ever-greater distance.
There is certainly no shortage of vitriol in Mexican politics—in fact, it is a national extreme sport—but generalizations have been harder to make and ideological persuasions harder to identify. I’ve known priístas who are devout Catholics even though the party was founded by the most staunchly anticlerical president in Mexico’s history, and panistas who have little interest in religion though their party is the bastion of conservative Catholics. However, the emergence of MORENA under Andrés Manuel López Obrador catalyzed an inevitable “us” vs “him” phenomenon since AMLO is the master of the black and white populist narrative, the epic mythology of heroic politics. He and the “Junto Haremos Historia” coalition (MORENA-PVEM-PT) have skillfully put the opposition in an unenviable position: no single party is strong enough to confront them, but their alliances are viewed cynically by voters. “Va por México”, the alliance of PRI-PAN-PRD, was formed in 2020 and has so far accumulated more defeats than victories. Rumors circulate of “PRIMOR” (PRI-MORENA), which isn’t too surprising since many members of MORENA are ex-priístas. Voters are left disillusioned with the “chapulineo” or “grasshopper-ing” of politicians from one party to another and the formation of ideologically awkward relationships.
Feeling lost yet?
Any explorer in a new landscape needs a field guide. Consider this yours for the Mexican political jungle, which you will have the opportunity to observe next Sunday.
MORENA (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional), “National Regeneration Movement”
Presidents: Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-24)
MORENA was formed by AMLO during his bid for the presidency in 2012, in alliance with the Partido de Trabajo (PT) and Partido Encuentro Social (PES). Today it is not only the ruling party at a federal level, but has made significant inroads at a local level, with many former members of the PRI joining their ranks. MORENA is now in a coalition with the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM) and the PT.
MORENA is a “leftist nationalist social movement and political party” that first participated in elections at a national level in 2015. Since then, the party has not only won the presidency, but also a supermajority in Congress (until 2021) and 16 of 32 governorships. Many analysts see MORENA as more of a social movement—permanently campaigning—than an organized political party, powered by the charisma of AMLO and lopezobradorismo. Despite its triumphs at the ballot box, the party may flounder under new leadership once AMLO is out of office, or be weakened by festering internal divisions.
PRI (Partido Revoluctionario Institucional), “Institutional Revolutionary Party”
Presidents: All of them for 70 years before PAN victory in 2000. Most recently, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-18)
The PRI is a remarkable political oddity. It is a party with no clear ideology, the creator of a seven decade-long “perfect dictatorship”, an adaptable survivor. From 1929 to 1982, the PRI “won” every presidential election by well over 70 percent of the vote and also dominated in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. Every Mexican state was ruled by a PRI governor until 1989, when Baja California went rogue and elected a PAN candidate. The PRI isn’t just another performer in the Mexican political spectacle; it has been the ringmaster.
The first incarnation of the PRI was the PNR (Partido Nacional Revolucionario), under former president Plutarco Elías Calles (El Jefe Máximo) and from its earliest days, the PNR was more the instrument of a powerful politician than a political party; its ideological identity was ambiguous. The PNR was a member of the Socialist International, yet Calles was intrigued by fascism and suppressed Mexican communists. The party was renamed the Partido de la Revolución Mexicana (PRM) in 1938 and was heavily influenced by President Lázaro Cárdenas, known for nationalizing petroleum and redistributing agrarian land through the creation of the “ejido” system. Throughout the 20th century, the PRI could be described variously as nationalist, corporatist, and by the time of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94), as neoliberal in its policies.
While the PRI looks on the verge of significant setbacks in 2022, it would be too soon to sound a death knell and underestimate its shape-shifting abilities.
PAN (Partido de Acción Nacional), “National Action Party”
Presidents: Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012), Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006)
The PAN has the longest history as “the opposition” in Mexico, founded as a conservative, Catholic counterweight to the PRI by lawyer and politician Manuel Gómez Marín (one of the founders of the Banco de México). The party struggled to gain a foothold, though it participated in elections throughout the decades of PRI dominance. In coalition with the PVEM (Partido Verde Ecologista de México), the PAN candidate, businessman Vicente Fox Quesada, won with 42% of the vote: a watershed moment in Mexico’s history as a democracy.
Felipe Calderón Hinojosa became the second PAN president in 2006 after a very contentious election that was considered illegitimate by then-PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democrático) candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his followers. Calderón was declared the winner with 0.56% margin over his opponent. Some speculate that the declaration of “war” on drug traffickers by Calderón ten days after taking office was an attempt to fortify his political popularity after the election controversy. If so, there may be no more blatant an example of blowback in history.
Today the PAN governs seven states, but the party could lose two of them (Durango and Tamaulipas) on June 5.
PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática), “Democratic Revolution Party”
Before AMLO’s star began to rise, the leftist orator who inspired Mexican voters (and lost elections to alleged fraud) was Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, son of revered President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40). In 1989, Cárdenas founded the PRD upon the heels of the first election that revealed cracks in the príista edifice. The coalition of leftist parties led by Cárdenas had gained traction and on the day of the vote, the computer-based counting system “crashed”. Once it was restored, the PRI candidate (Carlos Salinas) was declared the winner and “se cayó el sistema” entered the Mexican political lexicon as shorthand for electoral fraud.
“An order from [Cárdenas] would have sent Mexico up in flames. But perhaps in memory of his father, the missionary general, a man of strong convictions but not a man of violence, he did the country a great service by sparing it a possible civil war,” noted historian Enrique Krauze of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas’s decision to found the PRD rather than fight the election results. Cárdenas left the PRD in 2014.
AMLO was the president of the PRD (1996-99) and ran as the PRD candidate for president in 2006 and 2012.
PVEM (Partido Verde Ecologista de México), "Green Environmentalist Party of Mexico”
You may make a few assumptions about a party that is called “green” and “environmentalist” but know that they are probably entirely wrong. Let’s go through some questions you might ask:
Does the PVEM support environmental causes?
If using a toucan in the logo counts, then yes.
Does the PVEM stand up for social justice?
Not unless you think pushing for capital punishment qualifies.
Is the PVEM representative of a grassroots movement?
The party is known to be run as a family business that abhors transparency.
The PVEM is truly the wild card in Mexican politics. The founder, Jorge González Torres, and his son, Jorge Emilio González Martínez—known in the media as “El Niño Verde” after a series of scandals involving lavish parties, drunk driving and apparent acceptance of bribes to open protected lands near Cancún to development—have been wily in forming alliances and growing the party’s representation in Congress. The PVEM has a knack for picking the winner: the party was in coalition with the PAN in the 2000 victory and with the PRI in their 2012 victory. In 2019, they joined MORENA and the PT (Partido de Trabajo) to become the “Juntos Haremos Historia” coalition.
Movimiento Ciudadano (MC), “Citizen’s Movement”
While MORENA is technically the newest of the political parties on this list, Movimiento Ciudadano (MC) feels most like the “outsider”, less promiscuous in its political bed partners. Founded originally as Convergencia por la Democracia by Dante Delgado (former campaign manager for AMLO), the party generally allied itself with other left-leaning parties and describes itself as “social-democratic” and “progressive”. While it still has limited representation in Congress, the party has managed to win governor’s seats—not as part of a coalition—in two of Mexico’s most economically important states (Nuevo León and Jalisco), powered by its second and third-largest cities, Monterrey and Guadalajara. The mayor of Monterrey, Luis Donaldo Colosio Riojas (son of the presidential candidate assassinated in 1994), is also a member of MC and is being watched as a potential opposition player in the presidential election of 2024.