Voting in Mexico will test support for López Obrador’s agenda for change
Mexicans will go to the polls on Sunday to choose their representatives in the lower house of Congress and the governors of 15 of their country’s 32 states. Midway through President Andres Manuel López Obrador’s six-year term, the vote will test public support for his efforts to expand government control over the economy and improve living standards for all Mexicans .
The veteran left-wing leader won the election in a landslide in July 2018, and although he remains very popular, cracks in his support have emerged. Eurasia Group pundits Ana Abad, Carlos Petersen and Daniel Kerner explain what is at stake for the president on Sunday.
How will the mid-term results affect Lopez Obrador’s agenda?
Morena’s ruling coalition currently holds two-thirds of the seats in the lower house of Congress, which has given the president plenty of leeway to push forward legislation to increase social spending, launch major infrastructure projects and strengthen regulations on private companies. It also allowed him to make constitutional changes, which he did to push through sweeping changes in areas such as education, the military, and government employee pay. The coalition holds 60% of the Senate seats, and López Obrador has managed to convince a few more senators to vote in favor of most of the amendments, although the opposition has managed to block some of the more controversial.
If Morena retains his two-thirds majority in the lower house, López Obrador is expected to pursue constitutional reform to strengthen the role of Pemex state-owned enterprises and the Federal Electricity Commission in the country’s large energy sector, essentially reversing the changes made. by the previous administration to attract more private investment.
What about governor races?
Given that Morena currently governs only one of the 15 states that hold elections, this electoral cycle offers the coalition a good opportunity to expand its power to the state level.
What are Morena’s prospects?
One of the world’s worst COVID epidemics – with the economic fallout from it – has had limited impact on the views of the president and the ruling coalition. López Obrador’s approval ratings remain high, at almost 60%. He came to power in 2018 promising to increase social spending and end what many saw as rampant corruption, and that message continues to resonate. Signs of a post-pandemic economic recovery and vaccine rollout, although progressing slowly, contribute to the perception that conditions are improving somewhat.
But a tightening of some of the gubernatorial races could signal that discontent with the president is wider than the polls suggest. Of course, relations with the business community are strained, which has resulted in low levels of private sector investment. In addition, the pandemic has been mismanaged, and the President’s emphasis on advancing priority legislation to the exclusion of almost everything else has drawn growing criticism and increased levels of polarization.
Is López Obrador transforming the country?
López Obrador claims to make Mexico a more egalitarian society after decades of governments which he says have privileged the business community and the elites. He has centralized decision-making and extended executive control over all branches of government – a form of governance he sees as more efficient and less corrupt, although it has sparked accusations of authoritarianism . At the same time, to help fund priority projects, the president has diverted resources from programs he does not favor and from many government agencies.
So will these changes survive López Obrador?
Much will depend on the outcome of the midterm elections. Mexican presidents have only one mandate. López Obrador therefore wants to retain his majority in the lower house – preferably a two-thirds majority – to allow him to continue his program and choose a successor who he believes will preserve and extend his legacy. Yet even in the event that the ruling coalition won no more than half of the seats in the lower house (an unlikely outcome), causing a situation of legislative deadlock, many of the changes made by López Obrador would remain. The main one is the new form of government. Deprived of funding, many agencies have been forced to downsize and abandon the functions they previously performed.
What does López Obrador’s program mean for the United States?
The Mexican president prefers to focus on domestic issues. Still, he recognizes the importance of the relationship with the United States and has tried to maintain good relations with neighbor to northern Mexico, even when Donald Trump was president. López Obrador has acceded to many of Trump’s immigration demands – for example, helping to stop the flow of migrants from Central America. Under US President Joe Biden, bilateral relations have returned to their pre-Trump normal state with government agencies dealing with relevant cross-border issues.
Still, López Obrador’s plans to expand state control over the country’s energy industry have met with resistance in the United States, as many companies that invested in the sector when the previous one opened. Mexican administration are American. As López Obrador considers making constitutional changes to further limit private participation in the energy sector, US companies may step up pressure on the Biden administration to intervene on their behalf.
Ana Abad is partner, Latin America; Carlos petersen is Senior Analyst, Latin America; and Daniel Kerner is Managing Director, Latin America at Eurasia Group.