Strange Bedfellows

March 2, 2018 By 0 Comments

So you’ve done all the hard work to differentiate the major parties contending for the Mexican presidency – the PRI, PAN and MORENA. Now comes the next step: figuring out who these parties are in coalition with. Coalitions are as Mexican as the tortilla, and there are some very practical reasons for this. Mexico provides public financing for political parties, together with what are (in theory, as in practice these are serially violated) strict campaign spending limits. Going into coalition, therefore, allows a party access to more public financing, as well as coveted airtime for party broadcasts on radio and television. Running a small party, then, can be a lucrative proposition, even if you have no chance of winning an election on your own, and in fact, many of these small parties are essentially family franchises. They are also useful as chess pieces to attempt to divide the vote of the opposition, and to get favored candidates sure seats in Congress through Mexico’s partial proportional-representation system. So let’s take a look at who’s in coalition with who this year:

  • The PRI has joined up with Green Party (Partido Verde Ecologista de México or PVEM) and the Nueva Alianza to form the “All for Mexico” coalition, or Todos por México. To start, there is absolutely nothing “green” about the Green Party – except, perhaps, the green of the dollar. As the niño verde, Jorge Emilio González (son of the party’s founder) once said. “The environment is what matter least to me. I represent interests.” After going into coalition with Vicente Fox in 2000, the “Greens” have mostly supported the PRI in recent years. For its part, the Nueva Alianza is an outgrowth of the national teachers’ union (the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE). True to the union’s roots as part of the worker’s sector of the PRI, it is part of the ecosystem of smaller parties that align with the once-hegemonic party.
  • The PAN has joined in coalition with the Partido de la Revolución Democrática, or PRD, and the Citizens’ Movement Party (Movimiento Ciudadano or MC), to form the coalition Por México, al Frente (“At the Forefront for Mexico”, more or less). This, at first glance, seems bizarre: what is Mexico’s quintessential right-wing party, the PAN, doing in coalition with the nominally progressive PRD, founded by Cuautémoc Cárdenas after the electoral fraud of 1988? Well, it’s hardly the first time they’ve done it. The PAN and PRD have been going into coalition at the state level for the better part of a decade in states where they felt they could not defeat the PRI’s powerful apparatus alone. Critics both within and outside of the PRD warned that this focus on short-term electoral strategy would harm the party’s electoral brand over the long term, diluting its progressive credentials and, in the worst-case scenario, finishing it off as a party – which effectively has happened, as López Obrador’s MORENA has taken over its place on the left-wing side of the equation, leaving the PRD a shell of its former self. As for the MC, it is a (nominally) social-democratic party with a mostly regional presence in the country.
  • As for López Obrador and MORENA, they are far from exempt from the penchant for ideology-busting coalitions. MORENA has gone into coalition this year with the Worker’s Party (Partido de Trabajadores or PT) and the Social Encounter Party (Partido de Encuentro Social or PES) to form the impressive-sounding coalition “Together We’ll Make History” or Juntos Haremos Historia. The alliance with the former is logical; with the latter, it is not. The PES is a right-wing, religious-inspired party, opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Why, then, would the progressive López Obrador want to go into coalition with them? First of all, for the practical reasons – financing and airtime, etc. – outlined above. But there is something more. There is a something of a religious streak in AMLO, as he displayed in 2012 presidential campaign with his short-lived rhetoric about forming a “Republic of Love.” This year, he has talked about drafting a “moral constitution”, a set of moral guidelines to serve as a sort of beacon for a nation immersed in corruption and violence. And it is noteworthy that the major gains in social legislation in Mexico City (same-sex marriage and abortion rights) came not in his administration, but that of his successor, Marcelo Ebrard.

Confused? You’re not alone. In coalitions, as in many cases in Mexican politics, pragmatics trumps ideology. This will require us to take a nuanced view as the campaigns move ahead, rather than simply settle for the shallow and unsatisfactory summary of “PAN-conservative, PRI-center, and MORENA-liberal”. Stay tuned.