Homicide-laced midterm elections highlight the shortcomings of Mexico’s government

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during his conference at the National Palace. Photo: (Cuartoscuro)

In Mexico, more than 79 candidates and politicians have been killed during this year’s midterm election cycle, up at least 30 percent from the last midterms in 2015. The gruesome statistics underscore Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s failure to make good on a key promise: to overhaul the country’s security policies to reduce violence. Insecurity was the top issue worrying Mexicans in an April poll by newspaper El Financiero.

On June 6, voters will decide whether López Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party and its allies will continue to enjoy the two-thirds majority in Mexico’s lower house of congress. The supermajority has allowed the president to enact sweeping changes in the first half of his term. Polls indicate MORENA is still the most popular force in Mexican politics, and although its numbers may shrink slightly in the lower house, it is poised to pick up several governorships in local elections that will occur simultaneously.

While failing to make significant inroads on pledges related to security, poverty, and corruption since taking office in December 2018, López Obrador has invested hours each day in press conferences where he frames his tenure as a reclamation of power for the working-class everyman. Meanwhile, he’s increased state control over the economy and fought institutions that would check his power. The midterms will reveal how much Mexicans mind—and how much further López Obrador might go.

Promises and results. On security, a plan published early in López Obrador’s term outlined a shift toward harm reduction and away from militarization. Such a strategy could be effective if Mexican authorities crafted and enforced customized regional strategies for reducing violence, according to the International Crisis Group. Instead, López Obrador created a highly militarized National Guard—often deployed to block immigrants—and took an “it’s better not to talk about it” approach to cartel-related violence, Crisis Group’s Falko Ernst told the Los Angeles Times.

López Obrador emphasizes his devotion to the poor, but data compiled by political scientist Viridiana Ríos shows social spending was higher during several years of his predecessor’s administration than in his own. (A higher proportional amount of the current president’s spending has gone to the elderly.) His administration, however, did raise the minimum wage and enact new labor protections. On corruption, López Obrador’s government has pursued several high-profile probes but suggested dismantling the country’s freedom of information institute.

Communication power. Most Mexicans like what they see. In part thanks to marathon press conferences, many see the president “as kind of a heaven-sent hero who is carrying out a higher mission,” one more important than improving the economy or security, to “vindicate a victimized people who suffered at the abuse of the powerful,” said Luis Antonio Espino, a political communications analyst, in an interview with Letras Libres.

This discourse is effective in part due to unfavorable opinions of the previous Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) administration and the fact that the PRI and its newfound ally, the National Action Party, have yet to cultivate a compelling alternative for many voters. Ríos noted recently some young people who voted for López Obrador in 2018 have since been drawn to the small social-democratic Citizens’ Movement party. MORENA has especially lost support among young, educated women, according to pollster Alejandro Moreno.