Candidates: What For?

Luis Rubio

In the official version, the only thing left to define the next six years is the name of the Morena candidate (corcholata) awarded the requisite finger tap (dedazo) by the president. If that were so simple, why such intrigue, so many legislative changes, such a barrage of disqualifications and so great an onslaught of verbosity? Were such certainty to figure in the horizon, the rhetoric would be very distinct, above all because many of the myriad cautionary yellow traffic lights along the way are not under presidential control, beginning with the relationship with the United States in all its ambits: the economy (key for Mexico’s exports), the border, security and migration. The official version is logical, but XXI-century Mexico is not that of fifty years ago when the president and his party commandeered nearly complete control of the decisive variables. In this context, is a unitary and competitive opposition candidature possible and viable?

The 2024 election should be understood where the three contrasting realities intersect. One is the universe which the President has been bent on recreating, imitating the old PRI system with its omnipresent presidency and mechanisms of control over and for all. The second reality is the environment where the country is located: an integrated world in which there is a proliferation of information (and disinformation) to which everyone has access and in which commercial, financial and personal exchanges are crucial and permanent for the performance of the economy. And then there is the citizenry, which has for decades demanded access, participation and opportunities and that, despite this, continues to be characterized by an obvious separation between those assuming themselves to be citizens and those living from the government and expecting that their well-being will derive from it.

Each element of the context in which the election takes place entertains its own importance and will impact its evolution, but perhaps the most relevant of these at this moment is the historical one due to that many of the decisions made decades ago created the complex maze in which Mexicans currently find themselves, as well as because the President has his sights firmly trained on the rearview mirror.

Today’s political structure embodies two origins: one is that of the old PRI system erected nearly a century ago, and the other is what resulted from the 1996 Electoral Reform. The former has undergone affectations, the most consequential being the disappearance of the binomial PRI-presidency with the defeat of the PRI in 2000, which dismantled the hyper presidency of yesteryear, but which did not alter the enormous sources of the power of the presidency, those that the President has reconstituted and taken advantage of with tremendous dexterity.

The 1996 Electoral Reform engendered equitable conditions of competition and a structure that guarantees cleanness, neutral and flawless organization of the elections. But the other side of that electoral reform was that it preserved the old system, extending the privileges that one party had enjoyed (then the PRI) to the three most electorally successful parties. It also generated conditions to impede to the maximal extent the creation of new political parties. That is to say, it expanded the monopoly that was formerly exclusive to the PRI but this did not modify the fact that it was still in essence a monopoly. In other words, it changed the way power was acceded to, but the management of power remained without substantive changes.

Those elements of the context are key for the election in the offing in Mexico in that they explain many of the difficulties facing the opposition in terms of assembling alliances, attracting workable candidates and staging an operation likely to triumph in the 2024 presidential election. Party leaderships enjoy the benefits of the monopoly, do not encounter any competition, manipulate the candidacies at will and have a sure source of income that underwrites full impunity for them. No one should be surprised that “citizen” candidacies arise in the sense that they are not assume themselves to be partisan.

The constitution of a solid opposition candidacy ends up rowing against the current and being up against innumerable impediments, which to date have benefitted the party of the government. The requisite question is whether this closes off all possibilities.

The answer is obvious: doors close or open depending on the capacity of procuring alternatives. Mexico is not the first country with authoritarian elements and a government determined to conduct the succession in its own way and without the least heedfulness in matters of (in)compliance with the respective laws. Additionally, there are three novel factors: the opposition won in 2021; now the party of the establishment is Morena (the voters have cast their ballots against incumbents in the government in nearly all elections since 1997); and, more importantly, however much he wishes to avoid it, the President is losing control by the minute. The pertinent question in the end is the following: how an alternative candidacy can be organized and what is necessary for this to be possible.

Although there are the means for building a candidacy, the obvious ones are not always conducive to success: the dedazo entails huge costs and within the opposition no one is there to confer it, and primaries in Mexico tend to subtract more than they add. The opposition must find some mechanism that allows the presentation of aspirants so that, in natural fashion, a candidacy can emerge that will, in the last analysis, attracts the majority of voters, thus becoming unstoppable.