Kafka, according to the anecdote, should have been Mexico’s local customs and manners author. Perhaps even he would have never imagined the absurdities of Mexicans’ daily lives. In a Patricio Monero cartoon, the schoolmaster queries: “Wouldn’t it have been better to first have the new educative model and afterward the teacher evaluation? The functionary responds: “We’re not in Finland! Here we pave the streets first and then install the sewers”. Examples of this nature, in all ambits of national life, are interminable, but some entail serious consequences.
What is certain is that the presidential campaigns show dramatically different readings of the national reality. The recent debate exposed not only a contrasting conception of the way in which national issues should be addressed, but a shocking inability to recognize the very nature of the problems. Candidates who are preparing themselves to run national affairs have an extraordinary disposition to avoid discussing them. Whether it is corruption or insecurity, the issues of the recent public forum, the candidates showed more interest in reaching the presidential chair than in solving the problems that affect the country.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador insists that all Mexicans are potential criminals and that their nature would only change from having a higher income; for him, honesty is identified with his own person and the solution to national problems will result from his arrival at the National Palace. Ricardo Anaya has built a campaign reminiscent of Fox, suggesting that the evils would be solved merely by evicting the current tenants of Los Pinos, the presidential house. José Antonio Meade has not been able or willing to separate himself from the current administration and his team has been unable to understand the environment in which the presidency is disputed in 2018. Margarita Zavala cannot find her own space, nor does she recognize that coming from the outside is much tougher than when she lived at Los Pinos. Jaime Martinez, “El Bronco,” went out to have fun and be recognized as he is and, undoubtedly, came closest to achieving his goal.
Beyond the anecdotes, the debate created a new political reality. AMLO had a pathetic performance and is now clearly vulnerable: what seemed like a slam dunk is no longer true. José Antonio Meade missed the opportunity to leverage his unique circumstance as a citizen candidate and his exceptional experience and personality to present himself as the natural contender. That role now belongs to Ricardo Anaya who, although he did not manage to deliver a devastating blow, clearly changed the nature of the contest.
The question is now threefold: first, will AMLO redefine his campaign? Second, will Anaya have the capacity to transform himself into a reliable and credible candidate for the presidency? And, third, how will the PRI corner respond: by supporting AMLO or negotiating with Anaya? I do not think there are other relevant questions at this time.
The three questions are crucial because they will determine the dynamics that the electoral process acquires from now on. AMLO will likely continue his campaign as if nothing had happened, but will face questions and queries that until now he was able to easily sideline, and the contradictions inherent to any campaign will be exposed. Anaya faces the challenge of his life, which entails not only presenting himself exactly the opposite of how he is, but it also involves the construction of alliances with those he previously ostracized. For Meade comes the moment of recognition that his reading of the context was wrong and, therefore, the strategy that stemmed from it unviable. His dilemma now -and that of the PRI members, which is not the same- lies in working out the least bad scenario.
The moment also opens an exceptional opportunity for the citizenship and for the political development of the country. For many years, the political class -all political parties and politicians- has enjoyed the dubious privilege of not having to respond to the citizenship thanks to the combination of at least two circumstances: one, the structural one, that the political system has not been open to the competition from outsiders; and the other, that both the NAFTA and migration made it possible to keep the boat afloat without having to bother too much. Neither of these two “anchors” will be sustainable in the future, which will require politicians to be accountable to citizens in a way that was unthinkable before and that, for politicians, continues to be so today.
And this brings me back to the sewers. For four decades, the country has tried to solve its problems through structural reforms that have transformed the economy, while leaving a trail of problems unattended, which is precisely the source of AMLO’s candidacy. Those reforms were and are necessary, but they are not enough: to prosper (which should be the only objective), Mexico requires a fundamental institutional reform, in fact, a new system of government. That is the one front that has not been addressed and that is the origin of poverty in the south, inequality in general and the huge differences in economic performance throughout the country.
The new circumstance opens a huge opportunity. The question is whether there are politicians capable of making it theirs for the benefit of the country’s development and the citizenship.