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MEXICO’S mid-term elections produced a clear victory for Amlo’s Morena party, although with setbacks in the major cities.
The Mexican and international media have predictably invented a “defeat” for Amlo and his 4T Transformation of the country to benefit workers and the poor, so let’s begin with the basic facts.
All 500 seats in the lower house of Congress (Chamber of Deputies) were being renewed (but not the Senate); 300 by first past the post and 200 proportionally.
Morena won 198 seats compared with 191 in the previous such elections of July 2018; with two allied parties its coalition won 280, so a clear majority.
The media claim that before the elections Morena had 253 seats and thus lost 55, but they do not explain that this situation only arose because during the previous two-and-a-half years many deputies “crossed the floor” from other parties to join Morena.
Comparing like with like — Morena’s electoral tally in 2021 compared to 2018 — the party actually gained seven seats.
The media also claim that Morena previously had the two-thirds majority necessary to pass constitutional amendments and has now lost this, but again this is false: the only constitutional amendments Amlo and Morena succeeded in passing were achieved by negotiating with a section of the opposition, and this will still be the case if they want to pass any more such amendments.
Fifteen of Mexico’s 32 states had elections for governor; all but one of these positions were held by opposition parties until last Sunday.
Morena won 11 of the 15, and a 12th state (San Luis Potosi) was won by its allies.
State legislatures were being elected in 30 of 32 states; Morena and its allies won majorities in 19 of the 30.
There were also elections for mayors and councillors in over 1,900 municipalities, with very varied results.
The one clear setback for Morena and the left was in local elections in Mexico City and the neighbouring State of Mexico (Edomex) which includes many of the outer suburbs: opposition parties took many of these positions from Morena.
It should also be recognised that Jalisco state (home to the country’s second city, Guadalajara, population five million) and Nuevo Leon (with the third city, Monterrey, population 3.5 million) remain right-wing strongholds.
Jalisco has a right-wing governor who still has three years of his term remaining, but Morena hoped to make gains in local elections there and failed.
The right again won the governorship of Nuevo Leon (as it has done for decades), and Morena also failed to make gains in local elections there.
In both of these states local right-wing elites have successfully played on regional sentiment to exclude the left.
The setbacks in Mexico City and its suburbs are more surprising, and do suggest a political problem for Amlo and Morena.
In part, as Amlo has said, this is no doubt due to the vicious campaign of lies and distortions by the media which have greater influence in the capital city.
The tragic accident on Line 12 of the city’s metro system just over a month ago, in which 24 people died, was used by the media against the government and may have influenced the vote.
Another factor to be taken into account is that where previously Morena was competing with two major opponents, PAN and PRI, that often competed with one another, producing a three-way race (and minor parties also), now the opposition united in many of the elections in two- or three-party alliances against Morena.
To an extent this scenario was deliberately created by Amlo in a high-stakes strategy: for over a year he has been saying that the real choice is between his 4T Transformation and its opponents, and that it would be better to recognise this simple division.
In some areas this strategy worked. In particular Morena’s decisive victories in gubernatorial elections in the north-west region, with unprecedented wins in Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Sinaloa and Nayarit, is a vindication of this.
But opposition alliances, or tactical anti-Morena voting, worked against Amlo’s party in greater Mexico City and in some states like Chihuahua.
A more fundamental issue concerns the character of Morena itself and the long-term viability of Amlo’s project.
Morena means “National Renewal Movement,” and it aims to be a broad grassroots movement for popular democracy and social justice rather than just a political party.
As with similar movements elsewhere, electoral logic forces it to behave as a conventional political party and to engage in partisan manoeuvres and horse-trading, but this weakens its radical potential.
None of this, however, should detract from the main story which is that Amlo and Morena have just won a remarkable victory.
In Mexico as elsewhere, mid-term elections normally lead to substantial losses by the governing party: instead, Morena has held and even increased its representation at various levels of government.
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