Political: The Mexican general election is due to be held on 01 July 2018. Voters will participate in the selection of the President, as well as thousands of state, regional, and local officials to fill roles in all levels of the Mexican government. Gang violence has flared in the leadup to the election, with a significant number of candidates killed or intimidated as cartels and affiliated groups have sought to ensure a permissive political environment for their operations. These incidents, however, have predominantly targeted candidates and activists at the local level, with those running for governorships or federal government not overtly impacted.
The presidential election will be decided by a single ballot, with victory going to whichever of the six candidates wins most votes. This system therefore typically elects a president with a relatively weak mandate, with sub-40 per cent of the vote being normal for the victor.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (often referred to as AMLO) is showing a consistent lead in all current presidential polls, with an eight to 25 per cent lead over the second placed candidates, with some polls showing “no preference” as the second most significant option (the discrepancy depends upon whether each poll permitted an “undecided” option, or forced the subject to select a standing candidate). AMLO, representing a coalition known as Juntos Haremos Historia, consisting of the Morena, Labor (PT), and Social Encounter (PES) parties, is typically described as a leftist-populist and founded the Morena party following the previous elections due to dissatisfaction with national politics.
Richard Anaya Cortes and Jose Antonio Meade are the second and third placed candidates respectively. Anaya represents the Forward for Mexico (El Frente) coalition, a combination of the centre-right National Action Party, the centre-left Citizen’s Movement, and also the Party of the Democratic Revolution, AMLO’s former party prior to the formation of Morena. Meade represents the currently ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), the New Alliance Party (PANAL), and the some-what misnamed Ecologist Green Party (PVEM).
As the above summaries highlight, a key element of the Mexican elections is the disparate nature of the electoral coalitions, which clearly defy definition on the typical left/right political spectrum. In such an environment, the attitude and perception painted by individual candidates appears to dominate efforts to drive voting rather than reliance on a defined and coherent political platform. This state of affairs was likely driven by Mexico’s varied geography and demographics, which generated a highly fractured political environment. In such a situation, an individual party has no meaningful chance of winning both the presidency and a sufficient number of legislators at all levels to implement a policy platform.
AMLO’s Juntos Haremos Historia coalition highlights these factors most overtly. AMLO himself is widely seen as a left-leaning political outcast with a variety of inspirations, ranging from Cuban and Venezuelan-inspired Latin American socialism, to a more European social democratic concept, as is Morena, the party he founded. The PT’s membership of the coalition appears rational, it originated from Maoist community organisations groups in the early 1990’s and has since somewhat moderated itself into a more traditional leftist group. The inclusion of PES, a right-wing evangelical group with strong moral convictions, appears to be less rational. Aside from a raft of conventional, conservative policies, it opposes the recognition of same-sex relationships, abortion rights, and adult entertainment; positions rarely seen associated with left-leaning coalitions elsewhere in the world.
Considering these apparent contradictions, it is often easier to see the appeal of these coalitions from the perspective of the similarities of their worldview rather than their stances on policy. In this case, AMLO’s coalition appears more unified by dissatisfaction with the current government, than by a unified solution to these issues. Considering that approximately 80 per cent of the Mexican population believe that the economic situation, security, and future potential of the country has decreased over the past presidential term, this populist position has provided the coalition with a ready supply of support. The other two major coalitions, headed by Anaya and Meade, are similarly held together by their perceptions of Mexico’s situation, rather than a shared and coherent series of solutions. This absence of a clear policy platform for any candidate has played into the general global trend of benefiting more radical candidates as establishment parties offering “more of the same” lack the ability to excite widespread interest.
Even allowing for tactical voting from the supporters of less popular candidates causing the final vote to differ from the polling, an AMLO victory is the most likely outcome in the presidential and federal legislative elections. The odds of the second-placed Anaya gaining enough support to overturn AMLO’s double-digit lead are somewhere around ten per cent. In this case, travellers should not expect any immediate change in Mexico’s circumstances, nor any significant impact on their operations. In the longer term, through the end of 2018 and into 2019, travel conditions near Mexico’s northern border may become more complex. AMLO has stated an intent to renegotiate elements of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with US President Trump. A key element he seeks to secure is the use of Trump’s proposed wall funding to improve living conditions in Mexico, thus seeking to limit migration at the source, rather than simply fuelling an arms race between migrants and increasingly sophisticated border security. However, the wall remains a key pillar of support between Trump and his base, making it highly unlikely that AMLO will enjoy any success in this endeavour and makes a worsening of relations a realistic probability. The most likely outcome of such a failure would be increased costs and frictions to businesses seeking to operate across the US-Mexican border.
Within Mexico itself, the impact is less certain. AMLO’s coalition redefines the concept of a broad-church political party, however this is likely to lead to the development of tensions when placed under the strains of government. There are main options for how this may develop. First, Morena and AMLO’s legislative and popular base will increasingly fragment based on individual policies, potentially leading to government becoming immobilised by internal competition. Alternatively, the coalition may further entrench itself behind AMLO’s personal brand. Whilst this may allow for more effective decision making, it may undercut democratic accountability as members of each constituent party would be obliged to support some measures diametrically opposed to their core ethos or appeal.
Additionally, AMLO has placed significant emphasis on returning to the economic self sufficiency Mexico enjoyed through the 1960s and 70s, a theme similar to those expressed by populists throughout the world. Considering the changed global environment, and the fact that Mexico’s population has more than doubled since that period makes it questionable whether this would even be achievable, let alone desirable. Whether this stance will have any meaningful impact is debatable, the aforementioned fragmented nature of AMLO’s base is likely to at least partly curtail any efforts in this direction, however some effort to redistribute wealth and economic benefits to favour Mexican companies or employees is likely.
Travellers are advised to expect localised disruption in major urban areas; especially state capitals, and regional administrative centres. Protests and rallies may occur in the lead up to, and immediate aftermath of the election, travellers should monitor local media and remain aware of their surroundings in order to avoid any such events. Protests may rapidly escalate to violence, regardless of apparently peaceful intent.
The lead up to the election has been marred by significant violence directed against candidates. Travellers are highly unlikely to be directly targeted, however, should a journey require close contact with a political candidate or campaign, additional personal security measures may be necessary.
Solace Global would advise clients travelling beyond tourist areas to employ enhanced security measures when visiting Mexico – airport meet and greet and a security driver for the length of a visit should be minimum security precaution. Travellers may also wish to employ executive protection if engaged in high-profile or high-risk operations. All travel should be undertaken with the support of travel-tracking and intelligence software in order to maintain traveller situational awareness and permit employers to conduct effective duty of care.