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Left, right, left, right

15 December 2017

It’s probably dangerous to slap labels… especially those labels coming from European and other global northerners… on the political movements here. Still, for simplicity (and for foreign media consumption), the formula has been PRD = “leftist”; PRI = “centerist”; and PAN = “conservative”. The other seven national parties are usually forgotten, or mentioned only as an afterthought, but this year, with one of the “others” possibly crushing the big three, and ideologically incongruent coalitions between parties in the race for the Presidency, the simplistic formulas beloved by the media are going by the wayside.

PRD claims to be a Democratic Socialist party, so calling it a “leftist” party makes sense. Until one realizes that PRI… which follows a neo-liberal economic policy, as well as the PRD, are both member parties of Socialist International.

But, I suppose a lot of “Socialist” parties have more or less acquiesced to neo-liberalism and the “Washington consensus” over the last 25 years or so. And, Mexico having always been seen as further “left” than the United States, I suppose a party Socialist in theory, but not much in practice, is “centerist”.

And PAN? Although its roots were in both Fascism and in conservative Catholic movements, the Partido Acción Nacional” considers itself neutral on economic policies. In reality, it is a neo-liberal party, a bit further to the right (especially in cultural and social policy) than PRI. So, I suppose it is the right party to call the “right”.


Several new parties, with different ideological positions have sprung up in the last three years, complicating the neat divisions between the parties, and no doubt ruining the simplified political shorthand of “left, center, right”.

Morena (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional), led by With Andres Manuel López Obrador –“AMLO”, the PRD’s presidential candidate in 2006 and 2012 — knocked his old political home from its position as the third largest party. Unable to hold its own against the two larger parties (between them, PRI and PAN can count on about 60 to 65% of all voters in any election) and having driven López Obrador out of the party (and, consequently, a good portion of PRD voters defecting to Morena), it has been desperately trying to maintain its relevance by providing an alternative to PRI.

However, an alternative has always existed (or at least a viable one since the 1990s) in PAN. So… the socialist PRD started running in coalition with the neo-liberal PAN for state offices a few years back… and, finding that it was usually left out of power… seems to be of the theory that if it hasn’t worked out yet, maybe it will if we do it again. In short, they’ve formed a coalition, with one of the new parties, Citizen’s Movement (which, outside the State of Jalisco, has almost no presence) to form a anti-PRI, anti-López Obrador coalition.

For the ideologically pure PRD members, this leaves Morena or Citizen’s Movement. The latter was a re-boot of the mortibund “Convergence” Party, which was briefly López Obrador’s political home after leaving the PRD. At the time, its appeal was mostly to middle-class leftists, barely holding on to its registration (which requires winning at least two percent of the national vote). López Obrador brought new blood into the party, “frenimies” like Marcelo Ebrard –his sucessor as “mayor” of Mexico City, and a rival for leadership of the Mexican left. Although López Obrador, with his support mostly from the working class, has moved on to the new Morena Party, as a home for the “liberal” left (with their commitment more to social reforms than economic ones), the Citizens’ Movement has established itself in a few places, notably in the State of Jalisco. There, where PAN was identified with the more reactionary elements in the Catholic hierachy, and PRI’s unsavory reputation for corruption was always a factor, and PRD infighting was tearing the leftist alternative apart, the Citizens’ Movement made substantial gains, even capturing Guadalajara’s municipal government its first time out.

Perhaps sensibly, the Citizens’ Movement … at least hoping to preserve its position in Jalisco, joined the PAN-PRD coalition, moderately demanding the two major parties support its own candidates in that state, in return for their support for the PAN selected Presidential candidate. Meaning, socialists supporting a neo-liberal nationally, in return for neo-liberals supporting socialists locally.

The Mexican Green Party… often sneered at as the “Show me the green” Party… has survived as an appendage of the PRI since leaving the coalition that elected Vicente Fox, who denied the Greens control of the Secretariat for the Environment. That was back when the “Ecological Green Party of Mexico” was actually interested in ecological issues. Since then, while it pushes a “green” bill in the legislature every now and again, it’s become just the PRI for “juniors”…If anything, the best analogy is the Greens are to the PRI as the U.S. Libertarian Party is to the Republicans. In other words, a party for those who generally agree with the power elite, but consider themselves too sophisticated to consort with the rabble.

For all that, the PRI — saddled with corruption scandal after corruption scandal, and desperate to show a new face — has chosen as its candidate a PAN politician! Unable to find an acceptable candidate among the party leadership (one with a chance of winning, anyway), they changed the party rules to allow for an “external candidate”, and turned to Calderon and Peña Nieto cabinet minister, José Antonio Meade. While a rather bland figure, he doesn’t upset anyone, but doesn’t seem to excite them either. Economic issues have never played a major role in Mexican presidential elections (except for gaining or losing the tacit support of the United States) but as Secretary of the Treasury, he may be able to gain the support of important business leaders, especially those made nervous by AMLO’s leftist discourse, and worried about the future of NAFTA.

Who knows what the Alliance will do? Founded by long time teachers’ union boss Ester Elba Gordillo when she was thrown out of PRI for her cozying up with the Fox Administration, the Alliance has been a stalking horse for the two biggest parties, sometimes in coalition with PRI or PAN, and in others, fielding its own candidates for the purpose of draining off votes from other parties. Notably, in 2006, the Alliance mounted a serious campaign in Oaxaca, not to win, but to pull votes from the PRD, which would have won the presidency had there not been a (suspiciously high number of) votes for the Alliance candidate.

That PRD candidate, by the way, was Andres Manuel López Obrador, whose near capture of the Presidency, and the fallout from that election, led to the break-up of the neat divisions on the political playing field.

Morena, having grown overnight into one of the big three, is the “new” left. With PRD having turned against it’s former leader, it has to find its coalition partners where it can. That the Workers’ Party (PT), the rump of the old Communist Party, is joining with Morena, makes perfect sense. What makes no sense is the announcement that the Social Encounter is also joining in.

Social Encounter claims “Christian Humanism” as its ideology, though it appears more “Christian” in the sense that right-wing U.S. Fundamentalists are “Christian” than in the usual sense of applying the principals of Catholic social teachings and the philosophical tradition based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas to politics and ethics. Founded in Baja California, where it used the “fish logo” as its own logo (something a little too obvious to use nationally), Social Encounter’s platform… outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage prominently mentioned… have roiled Morena, which included the country’s most prominent feminists among its more loyal members, and … in unveiling its intended presidential cabinet included eight highly qualified women among the 16 prospective posts… including a woman as Secretary of Goverance, the de facto Vice-President and “Home Secretary”.

With intellectuals able to make or break a candidate (at least on the left), when people like Elena Poniatowska kick up a public fuss (she was photographed holding a sign saying “NO Social Encounter” at the same press conference where the proposed cabinet members were announced) and the actress/feminist/political organizer Jesusa Rodriguez walked out, there could be real trouble for a candidate who seemed unbeatable going into the election.

López Obrador, for all his populism, is socially conservative, so I’m not surprised he would consider taking in the small Social Encounter party. Same-sex marriage and liberalized abortion laws only came to Mexico City after his tenure as head of the government ended. Its widely acknowledged there was the political will and support to pass both measures, but during his tenure, they weren’t brought forward for fear of a backlash by conservatives that would interfere with his own presidential ambitions (and those of the then powerful PRD) as well as AMLO’s own personal reluctance to support the measures.

This is a strange election. With the left joining the right to fight the centerists (who turned to the right to find a centerist who will stay in the center) on one hand, while fending off the left on the other, and the left is courting the far right, perhaps we need to stop talking about where anyone is in the outfield, and start asking “who’s on first? And what’s on second?”

One Comment leave one →
  1. 20 December 2017 3:31 pm

    Fascinating. Everyone who is interested in Mexico should read this. Thanks!

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where US politics is beyond insane.

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