This will be the decisive year for Mexico. It will be the last opportunity for the government and the last opportunity for the opposition. The clash of those two forces will determine whether Mexico will continue adrift or whether it will find its way in the face of the worst performance of both in the last two years, but, especially, because of the warped preconceptions and ahistorical prejudices that urge on the Mexican president.
The factors that will determine this year’s fate are very clear. What is not evident is what shape they will take, above all in that much will depend on the manner in which the president reacts on confronting the circumstances and how much (more) these become complicated.
Above all else, the great imponderable will be the social consequences of the pandemic and of the politicized rationale of the vaccination process. To date, the President has appeared to be decidedly unruffled, assuming that the combination of the transfer of patronage to his favorite clienteles and cautious management of the public finances would be sufficient to avoid a major crisis. However, none of this attends to the monumental problem of unemployment and the bankrupt companies that the pandemic generated. It is evident that the government is not to blame for the pandemic, but there is not the least doubt that paying the damages for it will lie in its hands, partly because of what it did not do at the beginning and partly because of the disdain with which it dealt with the virus and the population. The dogged reality is about to set in.
In second place, the Morena party coalition has been an exceedingly unstable entity from its origin, engaging the agendas of different groups and the natural interests of those who aspire to the presidency in 2024. The coalition brought together different groups, forces, persons and interests of the most diverse etiologies, ideologies and objectives, a necessary condition to win the presidency two years previously. Nonetheless, the internal divergences, the conflicts embroiled therein and the total absence of institutionalization imply that the administration of this complex entity is nearly impossible, which will affect this year’s election but, more than anything else, the political dynamic and that of the government in the upcoming three years. While all the internal forces share the common objective of reigning victorious in the legislative election in June, the internal divergences will inexorably, albeit little by little, gain in strength. It is to be expected that the opposed agendas, many of them radical, of the Morena tribes will consume a good part of the president’s time in the foreseeable future, with potentially dire consequences.
Third, corruption was perhaps the nodal factor that conferred triumphant legitimacy to the president in 2018, but the government’s performance has done nothing to diminish the former, as illustrated by innumerable examples of corruption within the government itself and in Morena. While the governing party changed, traditional practices remained as usual. In addition to the latter, the onslaught against the ex-presidents will more probably lead to a day of reckoning when this six-year term ends than to a successful judicial persecution, which, increasingly, will resonate in the spirits of Morena leaderships, beginning with the president himself. In the absence of a strategy to eradicate corruption from its wellsprings, the government will be as exposed in the future as its predecessors, if not more so.
Fourth, the president’s popularity continues to be high, which could translate into a less damaging electoral result than the voters’ experience has been from when the votes have been well counted, that is, at least since 1997. At each mid-term election from that time on, the party in the government lost ground, in some cases dramatically. Yet, it is virtually impossible to repeat the 2018 task owing to the characteristic attrition that governments undergo, such as the economic conditions at which Mexico will probably arrive next June. Beyond the popularity, it is not possible to ignore that the sum of the votes for the legislative branch of all the parties that postulated today´s president resulted very much below the 50% mark in 2018. Even a small erosion in preferences changes the political panorama in radical fashion.
Finally, even though all of those in Morena are after power and will attempt to preserve internal peace for the sake of winning the Congress, the in-house contradictions are so great that the factor of cohesion and contention, President López Obrador, will find himself pressured from all sides. At a moment of economic and social emergency such as this, instead of peace and quiet, the country will endure more polarization, conflict, and poor decisions. None of that will help the government and the country even less so.
If one were to extrapolate from the past, everything indicates that the most probable scenario for the government will not be a benign one next June. Needless to say, much will depend on what the government and the opposition do. The government has the upper hand and, on altering its biases and taking a sensible turn in its economic strategy and concerning polarization, the outlook would be less negative, although time is running out. On their part, if the opposition parties nominate candidates likely to win with a credible and hopeful narrative (and, of course, if they do not cannibalize each other as they did in Puebla in 2019), the upshot would throw open the door to opportunities for a better future after 2024.