Towards the Presidential Elections of 2024: Is, Mexico Transitioning Backwards?

On June 5, 2022, Mexico held gubernatorial elections in six states: Durango, Tamaulipas, Aguascalientes, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, and Quintana Roo.  These elections were characterised by its normalcy when it comes to electoral and democracy standards. All polling stations opened on time, the National Electoral Institute showed once again its ability to organise and supervise elections without any major incidents, and no major disruptions were reported on that day. The results, however, do not paint a very optimistic picture for the future of Mexican democracy and its electoral institutions. They were a test to the strength of the opposition to contain the forthright advance of MORENA in the country.

The opposition, who decided to go on coalition in this election, was able to win only 2 out of the 6 states up for grabs in this election. Most importantly PRI lost 2 of its strongholds to MORENA: Hidalgo and Oaxaca where the president’s political party beat PRI by 61.56% and 60.26% respectively. The opposition is was left extremely debilitated after these elections, diluting even furthers the chances of any alternative parties of becoming a credible, and viable option towards the 2024 presidential elections.

How can we explain the sudden rise of MORENA in such a little amount of time? Since the end of the a PRI regime in 2000, turncoating has become widely spread in Mexican politics and has become the men, to some extent. Competitors in the past elections once members of either PAN, PRI or PRD in the nt so distant past. There’s a constant migration of partisan structures from most other political parties to MORENA. This has allowed MORENA to constantly revitalise itself despite being far from becoming a n institutionalised political party.

In less than a decade, MORENA will govern over 60% of the country, 20 out of 32 states, and having the majority in the Congress. The results of the 5th June elections matter not only at state level, but also because they will mean a reconfiguration of the Mexican political party system in view of the 2024 elections.Given the speed at which MORENA has been able to amass such power, it’s necessary to question whether Mexico is approaching a new stage in which a new hegemonic party will emerge, and the opposition does not represent real competition for power. The electoral map of the country has also transformed dramatically over recent years, and some trends can be easily identifiable now: the forthcoming presidential elections in 2024 will be played between a dominant party, 2 medium-sized parties and a bunch of small parties with different levels of competitiveness locally.

Mexico’s political party system, as it stands now, is slowly moving away from a competitive political party system as identified by Giovanni Sartori, and getting close to one that is no longer competitive. As the level of competitiveness of the opposition decreases, Mexico can slowly be slipping to a much more authoritarian, one party regime path. The past June results confirm the weight the popularity of the president still has on determining who wins and who loses in elections in Mexico. Not everything might br lost for Mexican democracy though, the very strength of MORENA is also its Achille’s heel: MORENA was born out of one man’s decision: AMLO, and it has remained, up to this day, a one-man party. What appeared to be a blessing at the start, could become a curse that could lead to its demise in a few years. AMLO is crucial in understanding and guaranteeing the massive support his party needs to remain in power. Without him, MORENA faces the risk of fragmentation and eventual disintegration. MORENA has been able to, so far, accommodate dissident voices within the party as the euphoria for attaining power remains among its members, however the party still behaves more like a movement rather than an institutionalised political party.

The reality is that the way elections were carried out last 5th June show a fairly healthy electoral democracy. If we were to believe AMLO who has launched a crusade against Mexican electoral institutions even before he was elected president, one would assume that Mexican democracy has not progressed an inch towards a competitive system since the 1960s and 1970s, the golden years of the old hegemonic party, PRI, and its antidemocratic practices. The battle of the president to  and dismantle the autonomy of electoral institutions will be hard to be sustained, especially considering the very same institutions he criticises, almost on a daily basis, were the ones that gave him and his party the presidency in 2018, 12 out of 15 gubernatorial seats in 2021, and 4 more in 2022.

If there should be anyone who should be blamed for engaging in anti democratic practices over the last elections it is the president and his party, not the opposition, not the electoral institutions. Throughout the electoral silence period established in the electoral legislation in Mexico, AMLO continued to campaign during his morning conferences, despite being asked repeatedly to stop. Members of his cabinet also organised rallies to garner support for MORENA candidates, and public servants were seen conditioning social programmes unless recipients voted in favour of MORENA. Does that sound familiar? Those were just some of the undemocratic practices that were key to maintaining a one-party rule in Mexico for 71 years.

The main threat to Mexican democracy does not come from our weak electoral institutions. It comes from corruption, nepotism, embezzlement of public resources, undemocratic practices and impunity. All of which have become entrenched in the ruling party. The real danger comes from AMLO and MORENA’s continuous attacks on the opposition, on those who are critical of his government, and their constant blaming of the past for present problems they simply have not been able to solve, nor do they have the desire to. The clock is ticking, and the opposition needs to reinvent itself to become a credible option in the next 2 years. Strengthening our democracy needs more than a functional electoral system, it requires tackling illegal financing, organised crime infiltration in governments and political parties, containment of undemocratic practices in all parties involved in the elections, and above all credibility in our electoral institutions, all of which cannot be achieved under the current governmental style of the president.

Mexican democracy is far from being perfect, it is far from being consolidated too, however, we do have fully functional electoral institutions that took over 30 years to reach its maturity and autonomy, as any election after 1994 can attest. Mexican democracy needs to be perfected, it does not need to be dismantled and reinvented from scratch, much less if this redefinition of what democracy means comes from those currently in power. If there is a lesson to be learnt from the sudden rise in populism and authoritarianism around the world, is that democracy does need protection to withstand the rise of illiberal governments, but we must not allow them to destroy democracy from within by using the traditional populist handbook: we are the only ones who represent the people, and who have enough legitimacy to change the system to root out the bad practices of the past. If we allow democracy to be shaped by the wishes of illiberal governments in power, we are opening the door to the gradual, subtle disintegration of democratic values in any society.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza
Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza
Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a politics and international relations tutor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East. Her research interests include: Democratisation processes, governance and theories of the state, contemporary Mexican politics, Latin American politics, political parties, international relations theories, contemporary USA-Latin America foreign policy.