President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) likes to repeat the tale that there is a battle for Mexico between a posh conservative minority (the fifís in Spanish) and a wise, liberal people supporting him. However, the recent midterm election results left López Obrador’s party MORENA and its ally, the PT, in the minority: they garnered 37.3 percent share of the vote. If it were not for MORENA’s and PT’s alliance with the opportunistic Green Party -which brings an additional 5.4 percent share- López Obrador’s coalition in the Lower House of Congress would have lacked a majority. How can López Obrador fit this fact in his good and evil narrative? The Green Party was not in his camp during the presidential election that brought him to power in 2018. The so-called greens were supporting López Obrador’s opponent. Or will the president will now tell us that the Green Party is now an example of how to moralize Mexican politics? In contrast, 39.6 percent voted for Va por México opposition parties coalition. Separately, the Movimiento Ciudadano party took 7 percent of the vote.
López Obrador said after the midterm election that he is “happy, happy, happy”. He has reasons to be. The most important: MORENA won 11 of the 15 state governorships at stake. Moreover, he must project the image that he has the majority of Mexicans on his side, even if that was not the case. Let us not forget that during the campaign, López Obrador used government resources for all kinds of political propaganda for his party, like a pre-electoral Covid-19 vaccination blitz.
López Obrador is angry with those who did not favor him at the polls. To justify his party’s defeat in several areas of Mexico City, he and mayor Claudia Sheinbaum cannot repeat often enough that voters were manipulated. It is the age-old doctrine that the masses are incapable of recognizing their true interests and that is what revolutionary leaders are for: they lead the people down the right path. In their view, The Economist magazine, the Latinus website, Reforma newspaper, and a bunch of other “liars” in the media were able to brainwash Mexico City voters. In addition, López Obrador has said that he despises Mexican middle-class voters “with an aspirational attitude” whose objective “is to succeed at all costs, to get ahead, very selfishly”. It is the same twisted logic as those that cannot comprehend that there are Mexicans capable of voting for MORENA. They are both wrong. As a democratic society, we must accept that each citizen knows and understands what his or her true interests are. Many Mexicans voted for MORENA because they feel better represented by López Obrador than by the racist and class-biased elite that ruled Mexico for so many years.
The challenge that both the ruling coalition and the opposition parties face looking at the 2024 presidential election is to attract a majority of Mexicans via inclusive concrete policy ideas. López Obrador tried last week. After a meeting with a group of leading Mexican businessmen, he said: “It was a friendly meeting, there were no disagreements, no confrontation; it was all in harmony”. However, López Obrador was soon back attacking the Mexican middle class. López Obrador’s good relationship with Mexico’s wealthiest businessmen is not enough to be able to grow inclusively. The middle classes are the driving force of progress, despite the president believing that the upwardly-mobile are morally deplorable. Without an ever-expanding middle-class, Mexico will never be a less unequal, more prosperous country.
The opposition coalition also faces challenges for 2024. If they think their victories in the midterm election were due to their proposals or because they cleaned up their corrupt image, they are wrong. They attracted those disappointed and fearful of López Obrador. They did not increase their share of the national vote compared to 2018, although their coalition did yield them more seats in the Lower House of Congress.
The opposition must build a narrative not only for that middle class, but for those who aspire to it. They must show that there is a modernizing path with room for everyone. They need to embrace the handouts given by López Obrador to the poorest Mexicans together with a credible strategy that can redirect resources to health, security, education. They must show that they are not the the fifís that the president ridicules and despises. They must prove they are genuinely concerned for a fairer and more equal Mexico and that they have proposals to achieve a more efficient and honest government. The opposition parties in the Va por México coalition (PAN, PRI and PRD) do not have an easy job. They are saddled with a bad reputation. For them, the time for reinvention is now.
* Carlos Elizondo Mayer-Serra is professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation at Tec de Monterrey, in Mexico City. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @carloselizondom