With just three and a half weeks to go before the 6 June “mega-elections,” which involve the lower house mid-term vote, 15 state gubernatorial elections, and a host of state assembly and municipal ballots, the campaign is heating up. This week, the gubernatorial election in Nuevo Leon state has been in the limelight.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) on 11 May expressed his satisfaction with the National Prosecutor’s Office (FGR)’s move to investigate two opposition gubernatorial candidates who are leading the polls in Nuevo Leon: Samuel Garcia of Movimiento Ciudadano (MC) and Adrian de la Garza of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Garcia is being probed over possible illegal campaign financing, while the investigation against de la Garza centers on vote-buying allegations. AMLO’s intervention appears designed to boost his gubernatorial candidate in the state, Clara Luz Flores, who languishes in a distant third place.
The misuse of the FGR (or its predecessor body) by a sitting president is nothing new in the Mexican context. Nor is the use of gift cards or similar vote-buying strategies. What is striking is that AMLO has resorted to the very same tactic that he has repeatedly denounced as typical of what he calls the PRIAN (an amalgam of the PRI and the National Action Party (PAN)), or the “mafia of power.” Nor is it at all clear that intervening in the Nuevo Leon election will benefit Flores, whose links to the imprisoned US cult leader Keith Raniere have torpedoed her chances.
For AMLO to take this step therefore smacks of, if not desperation, then deep frustration. This in turn reflects several recent setbacks for AMLO. These include the damage caused by AMLO’s dogged support for Felix Salgado Macedonio as gubernatorial candidate for Guerrero state despite accusations of rape and sexual assault against him; though Salgado is now off the ballot, his daughter has substituted him, provoking anger within the party. The party’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against a Morena lower house deputy, Saul Huerta, has been similarly bungling. Most importantly, the deadly Line 12 metro accident in Mexico City has been deeply damaging since it involves two high-profile AMLO lieutenants, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, under whose mayoralty Line 12 was built.
Even before the Line 12 accident, polls suggested support for both AMLO and Morena was slipping. One recent poll indicates that AMLO’s approval ratings have dropped to their lowest level since last October (though they remain relatively high at 57%). Meanwhile, support for Morena – which tracks lower than AMLO’s approval ratings – has also dipped, with another poll suggesting the combined votes for the PRI, PAN, and Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) is now just ahead of Morena; recall that the PRI, PAN, and PRD are running in alliance in some states. State polling may be flawed but some state races do look more competitive than they appeared a few weeks ago. As for the mid-terms, a two-thirds majority for Morena looks increasingly out of reach.
The question is if AMLO’s meddling – together with his constant campaign of denigration against the National Electoral Institute (INE) – is part of a bare-knuckle, dirty election campaign or whether it opens the door to a challenge against the Nuevo Leon election and further action against the INE. Note that AMLO does not accept defeat easily.