The explicitly more radical, confrontational stance adopted by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) in recent days provides the clearest indications yet of his roadmap for the 2021 mid-term legislative and state elections: to ratchet up confrontation with opponents and polarize the electorate. In June 2021, there will be elections for the lower house of Congress alongside 15 state governorships, over a dozen state congresses, and mayoralties across 11 states. A presidential recall referendum then takes place in 2022.
On 9 June, AMLO revealed the existence of a document of dubious authenticity entitled “Let’s Rescue Mexico” supposedly put together by a group going under the moniker of the Broad Opposition Bloc (BOA). The provenance of the document is still unclear, though AMLO has said that it came to him from an anonymous “sympathizer.” According to AMLO, the BOA is made up of an alliance of opposition parties; leading private sector groups; critical media; some members of the INE electoral institute and the TEPJF electoral court; various high-profile intellectuals; and several pollsters. Among other strategies, the BOA’s plan supposedly involves pacts between different opposition parties to overturn the governing National Regeneration Movement (Morena)’s lower house majority by running single candidates on an anti-AMLO platform.
The BOA has all the hallmarks of a ham-fisted conspiracy theory. In the first instance, the “exposure” of the BOA’s not-so-nefarious plan is probably designed to distract from AMLO’s poor crisis management. The health situation remains extremely serious, while the government’s handling of the economic dimensions of the crisis continues to be deeply inadequate; not only is this year likely to see a deep economic contraction of -8% even without a second wave of Covid-19, but the bounce-back next year is set to be anemic.
The episode should also be seen in the context of other recent developments designed to provoke and polarize. There are indications that recent disturbances in Jalisco state may have been fanned by Morena agitators in a bid to discredit state Governor Enrique Alfaro, a strong AMLO critic and putative 2024 presidential candidate. The fact that AMLO has dispatched Yeidckol Polevnsky, who hails from the Morena left, to Jalisco as a local party coordinator, suggests that a strategy of confrontation with Alfaro will continue. Last weekend, AMLO called on the public to take sides, equating support for his Fourth Transformation with standing against corruption, and opposition as tantamount to supporting a system of privileges for the few.
The inclusion of the INE and TEPJF in AMLO’s list of conspirators deserves a special mention because it represents a pre-emptive attack on the electoral system; if Morena performs poorly in 2021, there is a strong chance that AMLO would blame a rigged electoral system. AMLO has a history of refusing to accept electoral defeat. The difference next year – assuming results do not go Morena’s way – is that AMLO could contest the results, not from opposition as in 2006 and 2012, but from a position of power. The danger then would be if AMLO attempts to dismantle or reshape the institutional framework governing elections. The vote is still a year away, but the longer the health crisis lasts, and the deeper the recession, the more AMLO is likely to deepen his polarization strategy.