Monday, June 25, 2018
Elections, Polarization and Frustration in Mexico
By Gerardo Domínguez González (openDemocracy)
Picking from the best of a bad bunch?
In Mexico 2018, social and political polarisation transcends ideology
and presents itself in the form of status quo vs. anti-establishment.
Speaking more specifically, we find ourselves before a situation
that will entail either the continuation of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in power or the triumph of populism,
represented by the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
A survey from the newspaper
Reforma from the 2nd of May 2018 shows that people prefer to remove the PRI from government more than they wish for
López Obrador to win, due to the fact that they are fed up with endemic corruption that has plagued as much the federal
governments of the PRI as it has with the two preceding governments of the National Action Party (PAN).
Recent alliances between
political forces with distinct ideological origins have contributed towards this blurring of ideologies where pragmatism for
electoral success prevails.
The MORENA candidate knows how to take advantage of the malaise of Mexican society, which has allowed him to
popularise the term “the mafia with the power”, category within which every actor, party, entrepreneur, etc that
does not share his views fits into.
Every alliance formed to attack him, as a result, has only made him stronger. This strength
is built upon bitterness over a corruption that has been perceived as feeding social inequality and consequentially has fostered
feelings of social exclusion among the population. Currently and unlike 6 years ago, it is not López Obrador who is
considered to be a true danger to Mexico but the PRI.
The end of political ideology
Recent alliances between political forces with
distinct ideological origins such as Por Mexico al Frente, which brings together the PAN (party considered centre-right) with
parties of the left such as the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the Citizen Movement (MC), or the alliance between MORENA
and the Social Democrat Party (PES) (right-wing conservative party), have contributed towards this blurring of ideologies
where pragmatism for electoral success prevails.
It is worth noting that in local elections, the only elections in which there
is evidence of the results of a PAN-PRD alliance, important triumphs were achieved (for example in 2017, the elections for
the governor in Nayarit, the majority of local councils in Veracruz, and the 2016 election for the governor of Quintana Roo
among many others).
This ideological blurring has opened up a space where populism has flourished. Political parties are no longer
informative shortcuts towards decision making. The scenario is one in which the election has been polarised between two candidates,
but not two ideologies.
What matters is the pro-establishment and the anti-establishment vote. The battle of party ideologies has been
replaced by a battle between different factions that is redefining the political spectrum in Mexico.
We can observe that on one
hand, the middle-ground in Mexico has become a place of convergence of proposals under an outline to capture all voters. On
the other hand, and paradoxically, radical forces have become strengthened.
The electoral race is polarised between centre-left-right and a
radical left that presents many typical characteristics of an irresponsible populism that is nonetheless efficient in capturing
the votes of the discontent who are numerous in Mexico today.
In this vein, it could be considered that the electoral race is
polarised between centre-left-right and a radical left that presents many typical characteristics of an irresponsible populism
that is nonetheless efficient in capturing the votes of the discontent who are numerous in Mexico today.
As in the case of France,
there will be a standoff between two candidates who will present two different visions for the country. The nuances will disappear
and the surveys will become a type of first round, from which anti-Lopez Obrador voters will congregate around one candidate.
A country of institutions
that appears institutionless
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that representative politics is increasingly eroded
in Mexico. Bitterness has grown over the past few years among a population disappointed with a political elite that has not
been renewed in decades and it perceived as corrupt and responsible for the lack of opportunities for social mobility available
in the country.
institutional disrepute is significant: there is no credibility, people feel increasingly less represented and the government
faces its lowest approval ratings in the modern political history of Mexico (in March 2018, according to Consulta Mitofsky,
president Peña Nieto’s approval ratings dropped to 21%).
The incorporation of the armed forces in the war on drugs without
an adequate legal framework to regulate them (the approval last year of the Interior Security Law generated a huge controversy
within society due to the fear that continued presence of the armed forces on the streets could generate more violence in
the long term), has contributed to the discrediting of institutions such as the navy and the army.
In addition, after the triumph of Vicente Fox
in 2000, result of the electoral reforms of 1990, 1993, 1994 and 1996, political parties dedicated an important effort to
reinventing the Federal Electoral Institute, (IFE), now the National Electoral Institute (INE) as of 2014, due to the danger
that a legitimate and recognised arbitrator represented for opposing interests.
López Obrador played a significant role in this process of
debunking of the IFE. The consequence, to this date, has been a series of despotisms committed by the Electoral Federal Tribunal,
such as the resolution in favour of independent candidates that did not comply with the requisites to participate in the electoral
process. This has ensured that the credibility of electoral institutions has reached a dismal level.
In this respect, a discredited
arbitrator constitutes a risk for the stability of the electoral process, the up-and-coming elections included.
The public perception is
that democracy does not work due to a long history of inefficient governments who have seen throughout their administrations
an increase in violence, poverty, unemployment, marginalisation, a worsening of the economy, etc.
Irresponsible populism on the rise
This situation has fed
into the rise of populism in Mexico. There is a lack of collective understanding that the multidimensional and complex problems
the country faces cannot be dealt with through simple solutions.
Lies become the most attractive instrument to gain ill-informed
and furious supporters. They emphasise political opportunism, with an objective to align themselves with anyone whoever they
may be, such as the National Union of Labour and Education (SNTE) one of the most important yet discredited unions of Mexico
is unlikely that those who historically supported him have changed their opinions. The rest of his support base is comprised
of Mexicans frustrated with the previous PRI and PAN governments that have failed to produce desirable results.
discourse that is lacking in any empirical basis or solid studies (like that of cancelling the education reform or the construction
of a new airport in Ciudad de Mexico) also take centre stage.
The objective is to win, regardless of the cost. On the other hand,
the other candidates have been unable to offer an alternative proposal or discourse that can counteract that of MORENA, and
they have become entwined in a battle of negative campaigns aimed at discrediting other candidates and spreading lies that
do not contribute to the strength of the electoral process or social stability.
The responsibility lies in other hands
In conclusion, the electoral
process in such a polarised scenario becomes risky business given than spaces for un-governability are opened up. If the results
of the election show a difference of less than two percentage points, and especially if they are against MORENA candidate
Lopez Obrador, the probability of social confrontation becomes high.
The other contenders are left only with the option of conforming
to the left-centre-right spectrum to capitalise on the anti-MORENA vote.
It is therefore urgent to identify and promote discourses that build
bridges and drive a process of depolarisation. However, until this date, the discourse of the presidential candidates has
taken the opposite turn.
Unfortunately, it remains clear that this type of discourse will not originate from the candidates. On one
hand, polarisation represents the main element of success for the MORENA campaign.
In the light of this situation, the other contenders
are left only with the option of conforming to the left-centre-right spectrum to capitalise on the anti-MORENA vote.
Lopez Obrador has become
a very attractive option. Additionally, he is a candidate that has been in the game for 18 years, therefore he has a profound
knowledge of such matters.
People need not learn more about his personality or his political stance as it is unlikely that those who historically
supported him have changed their opinions. The rest of his support base is comprised of Mexicans frustrated with the previous
PRI and PAN governments that have failed to produce desirable results.
For this reason, it is unlikely the levels of support for the MORENA
candidate will radically change despite the negative campaigns launched against him often comparing him to Maduro or Chavez.
Before such a scenario,
proactive discourse that encourages depolarisation will originate from the entrepreneurial classes, the media (including digital
influencers), columnists, civil society, electoral bodies and governments, state as much as federal, despite their lack of
legitimacy over the past years.
This article, "Elections, Polarization and
Frustration in Mexico," by Gerardo Domínguez González," was first published on June 20, 2018 at openDemocracy.net, under a Creative Commons license. It is part of the special “Mexico Elections 2018: Depolarization
and Disinformation,” produced in partnership with Revista Nueva Sociedad in the framework of openDemocracy's