June 3, 2021

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MEXICO: AMLO course change unlikely even if Morena loses ground in mid-terms

BY Nicholas Watson

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Elections for the lower house of Congress take place on 6 June alongside 15 state gubernatorial elections and a host of state assembly and municipal ballots. The campaign has been marked by the ongoing pandemic and vaccination campaign; President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO)’s flouting of electoral rules and attacks against the National Electoral Institute (INE); various local-level scandals; and a notable uptick in political violence. Below we examine the outlook for the vote and post-election scenarios.

Congress

Polls indicate that the governing coalition led by the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), and which also involves the Workers’ Party (PT) and the Greens (PVEM), will probably maintain its lower house majority. That would be a notable achievement given that governing parties tend to perform poorly in Mexican mid-terms. If Morena and its allies buck this trend, it would reflect two factors: 1) AMLO’s continuing popularity, and 2) opposition parties’ difficulties. The Va por Mexico opposition coalition – which consists of the National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) – could prove to be less than the sum of its parts. However, polls also suggest that the coalition will fail to preserve the two-thirds majority required for constitutional reforms.

State elections

Morena only holds one of the 15 state governorships in contention, and it should easily win four or five, which will allow AMLO to claim victory. Opposition parties will likely win at least three states (including Nuevo Leon). The PVEM could win one. The rest could go either way. This means that Morena could feasibly come away with as many as ten states. Anything less than seven or eight would be a disappointment for the party.

Post-vote horizon

The immediate question after Sunday will be whether AMLO contests any results. Past elections demonstrate that AMLO does not accept defeat easily. The worse the results for Morena, the more likely legal challenges would be. A challenge to any results would also likely see fresh attacks against the INE as AMLO works to tip future electoral processes his and Morena’s way.

A better-than-expected result for Morena – for example if a two-thirds majority is reached – does not automatically pave the way for constitutional upheaval. The Morena coalition will still not have two-thirds in the Senate (which is not in contention on 6 June). Nor is the coalition likely to control two-thirds of state congresses after Sunday, which it would need to validate any constitutional reforms passed in the legislature. However, winning two-thirds of the lower house could embolden AMLO in his push to bring the judiciary into line. Beyond weakening opponents, the aim would be to unblock stymied electricity and hydrocarbons reforms by pressing the Supreme Court (SCJN) to dismiss multiple legal challenges filed against them.

However, even in the most likely scenario in which the Morena-led coalition loses ground in Congress, it is unlikely that AMLO would adopt more moderate positions. AMLO has already said that he intends to use his decree and veto powers to the full if Morena’s position in Congress is significantly weakened. Full constitutional reforms may be off the agenda but AMLO can continue to damage investor confidence by making piecemeal regulatory tweaks, weakening checks and balances on his power, and pressuring the courts to back him.

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