The Mexican president’s discourse of the past three years has modified the vectors of Mexican politics. Many elements that were taken for granted have been exposed as puny or insubstantial, while attempts have proliferated to explain the phenomenon that the president represents, as well as what will remain after his six-year term, beginning with the 2024 electoral feast.
Of course, nobody knows how this government will end or what will happen in the coming presidential election, but the factors that will determine both results are clear. Exploring them, or at least putting them on the table, is a necessary exercise to ponder what awaits Mexican society.
A first discussion refers to the depth of the change that President López Obrador has spearheaded or, in other words, how much of the previous political reality will prove to have been a constant and how much of it will have been radically changed. Many scholars close to the government have spoken of an alleged regime change and not a mere shift of nuance and priorities.
Not much clairvoyance is required to observe that the president has followed all the practices, criteria and strategies of the old PRI: the control of power as an objective and the development of mechanisms to ensure his permanence beyond the formal electoral processes. That is, the constant is power and its instruments. What has undoubtedly changed is the facade that had been built for thirty years to create the appearance of an increasingly institutionalized society, with counterweight mechanisms to limit presidential excesses. The facade has come down, but the goal of controlling everything is as alive as it ever was in the old political system. No regime change has taken place. The old one has only been stripped.
A second element is that of the president’s power base. The revocation of the mandate showed that the hard-core base that supports him is approximately half of those who voted for him in 2018. A good part of it follows him uncritically, as if it were the flock running after its preacher. Time will tell how permanent it really proves to be, but what is not insignificant is that there is another part of the population that rejects the president, in an increasingly visceral way. Jan-Werner Müller, a student of democracy, says that one cannot ignore a counter phenomenon that manifests itself in populist moments of our era: that just as there are believers who follow the leader, there is also a silenced majority through the rhetorical mechanisms of defamation, polarization and delegitimization.
Müller* affirms that this type of strong but exclusive leadership has the characteristic of pretending to have a monopoly on the representation of citizens when, in reality, it is a dispute between leaderships and political parties. The weakness of many, perhaps most, of the institutions that existed has been the crucial factor that gave the president the enormous capacity to manipulate daily life and neutralize so many spaces in society, while at the same time intimidating vast sectors of the population. All of which does not imply that he has achieved control of society, but rather its appeasement, which raises the obvious question of how permanent this taming will be.
A third element of the current moment is precisely that of control. No one has the slightest doubt that the president has managed to concentrate and centralize power in the country, but he has done so at the cost of economic growth, the alienation of vast sectors of society, and the accumulation of an ever-increasing number of victims and enemies who will inevitably wait for the moment to reverse their circumstances and, perhaps, take revenge. The paradox of control is that it is not lasting: it follows a cycle that begins and ends with the six-year term and weakens along the way. Thus, another key question is how serious the damage will have been inflicted on the economy, society and those victims. The answer will determine the potential for a benign conclusion, or in crisis, of the current government.
Finally, the fourth element is that of the opposition. Democracy is not a matter of consensus, but of conflict management through institutional channels. The claim that it is possible to return to the era of the single, monopolistic party, as the president’s recent electoral reform bill would suggest, seems absurd, but that has been the presidential logic, although, paradoxically, it is organized crime that has advanced in the direction of recreating it. Therefore, one more question is who will ally with whom for the 2024 election. Perhaps today there is no more important question than this.
At the end of the day, the problem with the current government is that it has not solved any of the problems that it outlined in its campaign proposal. The country is worse off in all conventional indices. Looking ahead, the key question is not who will lead the next government, but what strategy will it adopt to deal with the problems facing the country -those that already existed and those that the current government needlessly created- all of this while addressing the grievances that led to the present moment.
*Democracy Rules, Farrar