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Midterms: surprised?

8 June 2021

It’s a given in the US, that “midterm elections” (those for state and local offices falling between presidential elections)… espeically when the sitting president’s election had also swept in his (or her) party (the so-called “coattail effect”) will show some loss in support for the ruling party… how much of a loss said to reflect political trends, and acting as a sort of referendum on the presidency.

Although this makes some sense in a two party system, whether it proves anything here (with 11 national parties on various ballots, not counting a few state and regional parties) is debatable, but given that in THIS midterm, the pundits and politicos broadly defined only two camps… the Lopezobradista coaliton (Morena, Workers Party [Partido Trabadora, or PT) and its lesser ally, the Greens (PVEM, for its full initials in Spanish), faced off against a “Centerist-Right” coalition (the “traditional” main parties, PRI, PAN, and PRD). Or… as the Economist and Wall Street Journal (and much of the propaganda from those opposition party’s would have it) of Leftism vs. “Democracy”. And, with Morena — as expected — losing some seats, one expects the “friends of neoliberalism” will see this as a victory of some kind.

Maybe in the federal legislature, but maybe not. The leftist coalition will have fewer members (with a system of 300 first past the post seats, and 200 by proportional representation, and votes still to be counted, not to mention the always popular demands for a recount, or complaints by close losers that there was electoral chincanery, the exact numbers won’t be know for quite some time) … BUT will still have a majority. Just not the plurality (2/3rd, or 334 seats) that was always an unrealistic goal. And, if anything, the majority coalition will be further to the left. Morena loses seats, but the further left (originally Maoist) PT will have a much larger presence in the coalition. This will be tempered somewhat by the surprisingly strong showing of the PVEM (Greens) which is not particularly ideological, and pehaps support from the Citizens’ Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano, MC). The latter did extremely well in local and state elections (even winning the governorship in Chihuahua,

MC had been around for several years, under different names (Convergence for Democracy, then just plain Convergence) hard to pin down ideologically, athough claiming to be a “social democratic” party and much of its growth coming at the expense of the old PRD, which was the main leftist party in the country until it pulled itself apart in inter-party squabbles over how left it could really be… and never able to expand its base outside of Mexico City, and a few southern states. MC could side with the leftist coalition majority more than the opposition, and … if it has any seats at all, PES which was a odd appendage to Lopez Obrador’s presidential coalition, might provide a vote or two for the left — on occasion. PES is a “Christian” party, meant to appeal to the Evangelical Protestant and Mormon vote although it has provided a platform for candidates who can’t get on the ballot any other way, In Morelos, Cuauhtémoc Blanco who is primarily known as a legendary soccer star, ran successfully for the governorship under the PES label, despite not being particularly known for any Christian piety. In this round, Jorge Hank Rhon, not only a professed agnostic, but best known as a casino magnate and race track owner (and for eccentricities like keeping pet tigers, and drinking their pee as an alleged aphodisic) ran for the governorship (and lost) in Baja California as the PES candidate.

As said, none of this seems all that surprising when it comes to the national legislature. What has been a surprise, and what shows MORENA is more than just AMLO, has been in state races. Morena and Morena coalition candidates swept the open governor’s elections… capturing 11 of the 15 states where there were elections. And, in one, San Luis Potosí, the loss was to a Green-PT (“red-green”) running separately from MORENA rather than in a broad left coalition. With northern states like Sonora, Sinaloa, and Baja California also electing governors running under the MORENA coalition, it’s impossible to claim that the party is a Mexico City/southern party.

If anything, the rather poor showing of Morena candidates for “alcaldes” in Mexico City (roughly equivalent to presidente municpal in other states, or borough president in large US cities like New York), might indicate it’s just seen as just another major party in some places… although in Mexico City, the recent collapse of a metro bridge (killing 20 odd people), being largely blamed on the present administration, and the Greens not in coalition with Morena within Mexico City (giving voters an option to vote left, but not for the party) may have played some role. As it was, PAN, the only relevant opposition party on the right did very well in those elections. With a rough demarcation between west and east, which those on the west side electing PANistas, and those further east going to MORENA, wags have already made jokes about building a wall, a la Berlin in the Cold War (and, after all, some silly travel writer once claimed the city was the “New Berlin”.. so maybe a “new Berlin Wall” is too good a meme not to exploit).

Finally… and these are just first thoughts… Tamalipas was a huge surprise. That’s the state where the governor was holed up, surrounded by armed state police, avoiding arrest warrants, and where the PAN state legislature had refused to impeach the governor, despite a federal congressional vote to impeach him, and those pesky criminal indictments on a number of charges awaiting him. The state legislative elections went overwhelmingly to MORENA, meaning… as soon as they sit… the governor is toast.

Of course, Lopez Obrador has lost SOME legislative support, but that was to be expected. However, it shows that MORENA is not some flash in the pan, populist organ for its founder, but a party that has established itself as the mainstream ruling party… and that new opposition, like PT and MC on the left and “liberal center” is shifting the “Overton window” away from the neoliberal opposition, which hasn’t faded away, not yet. Foreign observers in media like The Economist and the Wall Street Journal, may have tried to paid the midterms as a battle for democracy, but they defined democracy as support for the economic theories of their home countries. In reality, Democracy was the winner.

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