After AMLO

Luis Rubio

What is it that is left in the wake of a disruptive president whose objective -de facto- has been tearing down instead of building? That is the question that Mexicans should be scrutinizing as the present administration begins its final third.

The daily news reports do not deceive the people: inflation, unemployment, unconstitutionality, purposeful deterioration, thievery, deaths, extortion, mockery, attacks and counterattacks, and an entire series of impositions, such as those related with the new Mexico City (CDMX) airport. All signs of the deterioration that the country is undergoing. Rather than growth, opportunities, possibilities and a perspective likely to transform the country into one with a promising future, reality begins to catch up with the country and its government.

Clearly, none of that has made a dent in the popularity of the president. Also, the Morena party governs two thirds of the states, both marks of a president who holds in his grip the attention and close proximity of a great number of citizens. These same surveys show a highly unpopular government, reproved in practically all indicators. The paradox has been analyzed multiple times from many vantage points and only time, or the upcoming elections, will return a verdict.

With respect to the state governorships won by the party of the present government, the surveys reveal an opposition that confounds instead of inspiring certainty in terms of the future, and an unaltered propensity of the electorate to vote against incumbents, regardless of their stripe. That is, Morena secures benefits from being the new party on the block, implying that, on the persistence of the anti-status quo sentiment, its candidates could be spurned the next around. In a word, Mexican politics are intensely volatile and no one’s future is guaranteed.

I have no doubt that if the presidential election were to take place today, the president could name his favorite candidate and be victorious in the election, but 20 months are left until the next election and that is a world of time in politics. At this stage of the presidential term what’s left is to harvest what has been sown during the past four years, and in this respect the current government has little to offer beyond transfers to their clienteles and an enormous animosity within the Mexican society. All the same, what was not sown will have to be paid for and that will not yield advantageous outcomes. The harvest will be bleak in the best of circumstances.

The matter of cash transfers to clienteles is more transcendent than is apparent because it has implicated an extraordinary distortion in the public accounts and a tremendous incentive not to work for those who are the beneficiaries. The president has done everything imaginable to shift budgetary funds to his pet clienteles, chalking up massive deficits in the most basic public services and creating vulnerabilities regarding emergencies on draining the respective trust funds. Whoever turns up in the government in 2024 will encounter a huge financial problem and will confront severe dilemmas that will render them eminently unpopular.

Up to now, the government has enjoyed an internal and external milieu that, despite the pandemic, has been benign toward it. The population has resisted a stringent recession, interest rates had remained very low and the market for Mexico’s exports has grown much more rapidly than anticipated. All of that -in addition to the remittances, transfers and the narrative skill of the president- have allowed politics to bask in stability, endorsing the governing party. Now the complicated period begins, at the precise moment of the natural decline of the government.

The president initiated his government offering a change of course towards lower levels of poverty, an end to violence, less inequality, greater growth and less corruption. In all those fields an advance has only been notable for having taken steps backward. The pandemic can be blamed for some things, but not all of them, certainly not the transcendent ones. The population continues being besieged by criminality, corruption is in its heyday and the economy is more dependent on exports than ever before.

The balance is not commendable and two long years are in the offing in an international environment that could be exceptionally inhospitable and for which there are no longer protection barriers. The mechanisms and trust funds that existed as reserved for difficult times were extinguished. What is left is feeble and subject to a tide that might not continue being calm.

Worst of all is that the president presses along the course that he plotted from the start and from which he does not seem willing to veer off even one inch, independently of the circumstances. The robust indices of popularity spur him on to proceeding ahead without rectifying, but that is not a trustworthy mainstay. However elevated, popularity is a mercurial indicator, as history has shown myriad times in the past.

On the horizon are two years of growing uncertainty that, in the best of scenarios, will bequeath a fragile and brittle platform to the subsequent government. As the saying goes, the president has sown winds and will reap storms. What remains is to observe the price of that so very volatile end-of-the-presidential-term climate that used to shape such periods, but that appeared to have been transcended. Until now.