López Obrador’s Coalition Wins a Majority in Mexico’s Lower House

López Obrador’s Coalition Wins a Majority in Mexico’s Lower House

President falls well short of a two-thirds majority needed to carry out a more ambitious agenda of economic nationalism

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party, along with two smaller allied parties, won a majority in the country’s lower house in midterm elections on Sunday but fell well short of a two-thirds majority needed to carry out a more ambitious agenda of economic nationalism.

The president’s National Regeneration Movement, or Morena, and its two allied parties won between 265 and 292 seats in the 500-seat lower house, according to a quick count by the country’s election agency. The quick count is a representative sample of votes across the country.

In failing to clinch a supermajority in the lower house, the president’s party will have a far harder time seeking to overhaul Mexico’s Constitution, political analysts said. The leftist leader has said he would seek to change the constitution to boost government control over key sectors of the economy, including the energy sector.

Both sides could claim some victory from Sunday’s outcome. The president’s party, which was created in 2014, is still Mexico’s main political force, garnering roughly 35% of the vote compared with about 19% for the conservative PAN party and roughly 18% for the former ruling PRI party.

Morena also appeared headed to victory in at least eight of the 15 governorships up for grabs on Sunday, quick-count results showed.

But Mexico’s traditional political parties could also take heart, analysts said. An alliance of two former ruling parties, the PRI and PAN, formed an election alliance to prevent Morena from winning a two-thirds majority. It strengthens congress as a possible check on the president’s growing power.

The president’s party was headed for a loss in Mexico’s second and third largest cities, Monterrey and Guadalajara, according to early results. It also lost most districts in local elections in Mexico City, the capital, which Mr. López Obrador governed from 2000 to 2005.

“The alliance to stop López Obrador worked. There was a slight backlash to Morena, and that will check some of AMLO’s ambitions for the next three years,” said Carlos Elizondo, a political-science professor at Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey, referring to the president by his common acronym.

While the president’s party is still the most popular in the country, it lost a few percentage points of vote share and was likely far short of what the president and his party hoped for, said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political analyst at CIDE University.

“This will have an impact on the heart of the president’s political movement,” he said. “It will weaken the president slightly.”

The danger, Mr. Bravo Regidor added, is that the president could radicalize. “It is still dangerous because far from coming to grips with having to work with opposition parties to push through his agenda, I see the possibility that he resorts to other means to push his agenda, by going after the judiciary, for instance.”

The results will force Mr. López Obrador to rely on the smaller Green Party to pass laws and his annual budget. The party has no clear ideology and usually links up with the ruling party at the time in exchange for patronage and political positions, political analysts say.

Mexicans have become sharply polarized under their populist leader, who says he is fighting to transform the country on behalf of the poor against a corrupt traditional political class that introduced free-market overhauls over the past three decades and enriched themselves at the expense of ordinary Mexicans.

Fernando Villanueva, a 42-year-old accountant in Mexico City, said the choice for him on Sunday was clear. “There are only two options: the project of the fourth transformation and the corruption of neoliberalism,” Mr. Villanueva said.

But not far away stood Edmundo Trigos, a 72-year-old systems consultant. Mr. Trigos said he worried about Mr. Lopez Obrador concentrating too much power.

“This election is crucial for Mexico—not just for Mexico, but also for Latin America,” he said. “I think it’s an error to have power concentrated in a single group; there need to be checks and balances.”

During his first three years in power, the 67-year-old leader has scored some clear political successes. He pursued an austerity program that cut salaries for top government bureaucrats, shut some departments and used the savings to increase social spending, in particular doubling a cash pension for the elderly. He sharply raised the minimum wage several times.

But it hasn’t been a smooth ride. Some of his early moves, such as canceling Mexico City’s partially built new airport, spooked business investment, and the economy fell into recession even before the pandemic, which has hit Mexico particularly hard.

Mexico has logged more deaths per capita than all but a handful of countries, and the economy fell 8.5% last year, partly because the president carried out by far the smallest stimulus of any emerging market. Mexico’s is 1% of gross domestic product versus 8.3% for Brazil.

Despite the weak economy and the pandemic, Mr. López Obrador’s approval ratings have remained high at about 65%, with many Mexicans saying they give him the benefit of the doubt.

“It’s not easy; there are a lot of interests against him. We have to be realistic,” said the accountant, Mr. Villanueva, citing the resilience of the Mexican peso as a positive.

The president’s critics see him as a potential autocrat. Mr. López Obrador wants to hold a recall referendum in 2022 for Mexicans to decide whether he should stay in power for the rest of his term, a tool that has been used by leaders in Latin America to secure authoritarian rule.

His party recently extended the term limit of the Supreme Court chief justice, who is close to Mr. López Obrador, a move that could set a precedent to extend the president’s own term limit. Mexican presidents are constitutionally barred from re-election after one six-year term. The president has vowed to step down after his ends.

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