Mexico: Can Lopez Obrador Lose?
Ricardo Anaya is Mexico's only hope to save Mexico from authoritarianism and populism.
By Victor H. Becerra
Almost 30 days before the presidential elections in Mexico, Ricardo Anaya’s window of opportunity to catch leftist front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has elapsed. It is now or never.
As of today, Anaya remains in second place in the polls, (with José Antonio Meade and the PRI in an increasingly irrelevant third place), but the margin that separates him from AMLO is between 10 and 20 points, according to which poll you look at.
It’s such a wide margin that it seems extremely difficult to surmount, although not impossible, especially considering that there is an average of 30% of undecided voters, as well as a very high number of likely voters who refuse to respond to the pollsters.
If Anaya and his coalition Por México al Frente (PAN, PRD and MC) do not adjust their strategy and act with much greater political courage, the underlying theme of these elections will amount to a long string of errors and cowardice on the part of López Obrador’s rivals.
With regard to Ricardo Anaya, suffice it to say that he implemented a counterproductive strategy of greater populism to respond to the populism of López Obrador, fighting fire with fire so to speak, with proposals as interchangeable as establishing a Universal Basic Income, increasing the minimum wage by decree, and lowering the price of gasoline.
Aside from attacks on him by the federal government orchestrated to affect its image and derail its campaign, the current electoral strategy of Anaya has achieved the same results as before: it has been error pron, negligent, slow, and incapable of self-criticism.
Ricardo Anaya should return, during what remains of the campaign, to the issues that highlight the freedom, responsibility, and ability of the citizenry to make their own economic decisions, guaranteeing respect for their own choices in earning and spending their own money, protecting their assets, avoiding unfair taxes, and ensuring that politicians do not intervene in their lives.
Anaya’s proposals should also challenge the real “mafia of power”: political parties; public sector unions; oligopolies protected by entry barriers, tariffs, and regulations; officials, inspectors, tax collectors and corrupt police officers, and organized crime sponsored and protected by politicians.
Along with the inability of Anaya and his coalition to establish a credible strategy to offer a contrast with López Obrador, the legacy of these elections will also be that of the collapse of the PRI and the massive transfer of its patronage system and votes to López Obrador. An examination of the polling data over the course of the past year, whether in a poll aggregator like Oraculus, or in the Bloomberg electoral barometer, demonstrates the symmetry between PRI and MORENA: As PRI collapsed in the polls, this share of the electorate was gravitating towards López Obrador and Morena. For all those who for so long have promoted the concept of “strategic voting”, it is now yielding disastrous consequences.
But not all can be attributable to errors on the part of his rivals: there have also been undoubted successes by López Obrador. Thus, we can speak of a consistent discourse of protectionism, greater management of the economy by the state, subsidies to specific special interest groups, and privileged access to domestic markets, very much in tune with the pro-Trump and post-Brexit currents that have been on the rise of late, and with which he has managed (unfairly) to appropriate for himself the mantle of an anti-establishment agenda.
He also been able to create the false perception that his political movement is the only one that has not been put to the test in office, and that therefore, after the bloody chaos of the current lame duck PRI administration, (and before that in PAN), he deserves a chance to offer Mexico a fresh start. In reality, López Obrador has already governed and done enormous damage to the country, and he continues to do so, capitalizing on the repudiation of violence and corruption advocated by the Peña Nieto government.
All this is boosted by networks (surely very expensive) of activists, trolls, and bots of the so-called “Loving Republic”, always at the ready to express vehement intolerance of anyone who dares to question of denounce López Obrador and his most prominent collaborators .
But the considerable margin between Anaya and López Obrador would not be so serious, were it not for the prospects of his political movement triumphing in Congress and several state governments. Like any Socialism of the 21st Century government, AMLO is not content with merely a simple majority: he wants unanimity and unquestioned obedience.
Thus, the coalition backing López Obrador could obtain a relative majority in both chambers of Congress, thereby guaranteeing the approval of their budgets, passage of important legislation, and ease with annual spending reviews of his possible government, although apparently without a sufficient majority as to drive the constitutional changes you need to complete your regressive economic agenda.
That would not be an obstacle for the nascent absolutist backers of AMLO’s political movement: In such a scenario, I think it is possible they could implement a strategy like the one promoted by Lula Da Silva during his first term in Brazil. Given the difficulties of an insufficient majority, Lula oversaw Operation Mensãlao, which sought to buy key legislators wholesale, and thus achieve Congressional approval of their most important projects.
I would undoubtedly suggest that many new legislators from the PRI and the PRD would be willing to compromise with the new administration, given their ideological affinity, personal ties with Morena and López Obrador, and the temptation of massive appropriations of public funds in question.
We would be, then, in the twinkle of an eye, returned to the Mexico of the 1970s: one of corruption and impunity, with ironclad power vested in the presidency, who is able to aptly “manage” the legislative branch with clandestine convenience.
A Mexico of corruption without consequences, ruled by many “isms” known perfectly well to many generations of Mexicans: presidentialism and populism, authoritarianism and corporatism, clientelism and patrimonialism.
So the next thirty days will be vital for Anaya and his coalition. And above all for Mexico and its citizens, current and future. But as in everything in this life, nothing will be achieved without self-criticism, courage, and bravery; precisely what has been lacking until now.