President’s Party seeks to clean up state races in Mexico | world news
By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s ruling Morena party appears poised to win at least four of six state gubernatorial races on Sunday on the back of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, its folksy and charismatic leader, and the lack of a credible opposition, analysts say.
Ironically, at its point of greatest power, Morena may also be about to enter its phase of greatest vulnerability: the fledgling party must gain control of an inextricably cartel-dominated border state like Tamaulipas, and launch a divisive internal contest to see who will replace López Obrador when he leaves office in 2024.
With Morena’s dominance a seemingly inescapable conclusion – the opposition will likely end up with only half a dozen of Mexico’s 32 states – there has been a rush of politicians of all persuasions to join or ally themselves with the party for the political survival, a scramble that threatens to erode its already weak internal cohesion and ideology.
Analysts say Morena could be on track to become a pervasive ‘governmental party’, like the old Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, which dominated Mexican politics for 70 years from 1929 to 2000 – but without the old PRI’s reputation for iron-clad internal discipline.
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Basically, Morena is now a large tent made up of anyone López Obrador — a political pragmatist who sometimes woos opposition politicians with ambassadors — allows entry.
It marks a new stage in Mexican politics.
“The fight is not going to be with the opposition, it’s going to be within Morena,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, associate professor at George Mason University. “The movement is going to be jammed by people who have little to do with the (political) project.”
These contradictions are visible in Tamaulipas, which borders Texas, where most of the former governors of the past 20 years have gone to prison for corruption or association with the drug cartels that dominate the state.
Morena’s candidate for governor of Tamaulipas is a mild-mannered cardiologist, Américo Villarreal, who is a former PRI member and the son of a highly regarded former PRI governor who was also a friend of López Obrador. The young Villarreal has offered few new policies to tackle gangs like the Northeast Cartel, which became so bold that it attacked the US consulate in the border town of Nuevo Laredo earlier this year.
While López Obrador disappointed the US government by avoiding confrontation with drug cartels or trying to arrest their leaders, he cooperated closely with the Americans by detaining migrants seeking to reach the US border.
Correa-Cabrera expects Villarreal to continue these trends, in what she says could be seen as a ‘narco peace’ policy. Still, she noted that drug-related violence tended to increase after local elections, in part because deals with incumbent politicians ended and new terms had to be negotiated.
“It’s going to get a bit out of control for him,” Correa-Cabrera said. “The violence is going to get worse, it’s going to be a rough start for him, how much I don’t know.”
Ivonne Acuña Murillo, professor of political science at Universidad Iberoamericana de Mexico, says López Obrador’s policies — like doubling the minimum wage in border areas like Tamaulipas and constantly visiting provincial towns — rather than the stature of local candidates , are key to understanding Morena’s potential gubernatorial coup.
“His job of constantly being there, not ignoring any place, constantly visiting those places every weekend to be close to people, that’s what feeds him and empowers him,” Acuña Murillo said.
“It is a movement built by him and following him, and what we know as López Obrador does not necessarily coincide with what Morena is, his base of support and his structure, and therefore it is a big challenge,” she noted. “I think it’s a party that, without this great leader, might be a bit fragile.”
Morena was founded by López Obrador in 2012 and when he retires the party will likely become a free-for-all political division. By law, López Obrador is limited to one term.
Several figures in his administration have already started a heated argument to win Morena’s presidential nomination in the 2024 race.
Morena also appears to be on track to win elections in Quintana Roo, home to resorts like Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. While the state’s main tourist industry has recovered relatively quickly from the coronavirus pandemic, it faces enormous challenges from drug-related violence and the arrival of foul-smelling sargassum seaweed on his beaches.
López Obrador has spent big in Quintana Roo building his Maya Train tourism project, which will link colonial towns, resorts and Mayan archaeological sites, though it has drawn the ire of environmentalists as workers scramble a path through the jungle without an environmental impact statement.
“I think Morena will definitely win, and I hope that means we get more support from the federal government for tourism as a national priority and solve the problems we face,” said Sergio Leon, the former head of the state employers’ federation.
Rafael Barajas, a civic activist in Tulum, countered that “Obviously Morena is going to win, because the political group of (Tulum Mayor) Marciano Dzul has reached an agreement to allow the federal government to do what they want. , so that the Maya train can go without protests.
Opposition parties still exist, but they have been forced into uncomfortable anti-López Obrador alliances.
In the two states where Morena trails – Aguascalientes and Durango – candidates run jointly for the PRI and the conservative National Action Party.
Morena is also likely to take the states of Oaxaca and Hidalgo, whose current PRI governors have been uncannily close to López Obrador. Once again, the challenge to Morena comes less from outside than from inside.
“In some states like Hidalgo, there are governors who, although they are members of the PRI, are more on the side of Morena,” said Acuña Murillo. “It seems that this political culture of a strong president is alive, and the logic of the PRI is to be on the winning side,”
“If Morena falls, it will be for internal reasons,” she said, “because there is no opposition that can compete with her.”
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