The Big Race

Luis Rubio

Electoral contests are a little like military campaigns: an objective is disputed, arms and instruments of combat are deployed, and the defeat of the enemy is sought, in this case the contender. In his biography on Napoleon, Andrew Roberts states that it was “a measure of Napoleon’s resilience and resourcefulness –and of the confidence that he continued to have in himself– that, having returned from Russia with only 10,000 effectives from his central invading force, he was able within 4 months to align an army of 151,000 men for the Elbe campaign and many more to come.” As in bellicose campaigns, both parties believe themselves to be destined to win, but in electoral matters it is the votes that count and either one can surprise.

The surveys suggest that Claudia Sheinbaum will win the presidential election in Mexico, but in electoral matters and given the current government’s last year in office, particularly one as contentious as the outgoing one, anything can happen. Her campaign, beginning with its (real) head (i.e. AMLO), does not cease to call up increasingly heavy arms (the most recent of these announced on February 5th, a series of bills including 18 constitutional amendments), showing that they are not so sure that they have already won.

There are good reasons for the latter. The government that is about to conclude its mandate dedicated itself to this presidential succession from its inaugural day (in fact from the very election itself back in 2018), ignoring its responsibility to deal with the most basic of matters for the citizenry, such as security and economic development. Devoted to building and nourishing an electoral base, it now finds itself before the tessiture of whether what was done was sufficient to guarantee the voting result desired. Perhaps it will achieve just that, but at a very high price. The population recognizes this government for its important benefits re the improvement of families’ real income, an achievement not in the least a lesser one, but one lacking the certainty of being preserved. Stretching the elastic band has its benefits, but also its risks…

A triumph of Claudia Sheinbaum, the Morena candidate, would deliver to the government a person who has shown great executive capacity and who is able to count on a much more competent and organized team than that of her predecessor. It is impossible to know how good a president she would make, due to that her campaign has focused on reproducing the platitudes and dogmas of the present government. Sheinbaum’s biography hints at a much more pronounced proclivity to act and transform, but deriving conclusions from that is not feasible. Something about which there is no doubt is that her success would wholly depend on her capacity to build toward the future, that is, to forsake the project from whence she comes. This would not amount to anything unusual in matters of politics, but it is not evident that she is aware of it as of today.

For her part, Xóchitl Gálvez is much more transparent and direct in her positioning due to her personality and because she does not navigate in the shadow of such a dominant president. Her instincts lie clearly in the freeing up of the population’s capacities; instead of aspiring to control everything, she could seek to break with the obstacles that impede and hinder the citizenry’s development. Her history as an entrepreneur and a functionary reflects a disposition for undertaking projects and for carrying them through, while her origin and biography would auger a clear willingness to confront the factors that maintain inequality in the country. Her principal challenge would lie in commanding dissimilar parties of her coalition that share few features in common.

The most dangerous scenario for the country would be one in which either of the two candidates were to procure an overwhelming majority in the two legislative chambers, even a qualified majority. This backdrop, hypothetically more probable were Morena to win, would be especially pernicious for Claudia Sheinbaum, who not only confronts old and new conflicts within the web of the counterpoised interests characterizing her party, but also because that would imply that the most extreme factions of her entourage would impose themselves for the sake of advancing their agenda, hampering her from governing. This paradox is not a meager one, as illustrated by the recent nomination of the candidate for Mexico City (CDMX) and to the Supreme Court.

There are still many months to go until this election-at-hand is over, a period during which there could appear innumerable factors that alter what for many is already a sure thing. Some of those factors will stem from the President in his eagerness to skew the result, while many others will be merely the product of the inevitable highs and lows of a process of succession that, in Mexico, always entails not only a changing of the guard, but also the termination of the power of the outgoing president.

Along the way, as the Chilean diplomat Gabriel Gaspar suggests, this will reveal a plenitude of uncertainty and a lack of confidence, “two traits that model the sense of wide majorities of our societies… Uncertainty for a good part of the population is more concrete, in that every day it is more difficult to survive, to fill the pot while, at the same time, going out every day into the street is more dangerous.” And he ends with what should be obvious for the contenders: “To replace uncertainty requires certainties.”

In the meanwhile, as Sowell says, “The fact that so many successful politicians are such shameless liars is not only a reflection on them, but also on us. When the people want the impossible, only liars can satisfy.”