At stake in upcoming elections is the type of country Mexicans wish to have -- populism/autocracy or democracy.
BY JUAN FRANCISCO
TORRES LANDA R.
Mexico is at the doorstep of major change. On June 2nd, 2024, the country will have its most important election in recent history. Besides the presidential election, Mexico will have elections in nine states, for the entire Federal Congress, as well as for multiple State Congresses and municipalities. All in all, more than 24,000 elected positions will be determined by the country’s electorate.
What is at stake is none other than the definition of the type of country that Mexicans wish to have: Populism/autocracy or democracy. But to emerge successful, we must understand the current risks and opportunities, as well as the importance of engaging the electorate as the election approaches.
The current administration, led by Andres Manuel López Obrador, has been very popular given its introduction of new social programs. Yet it has a very low grade when it comes to obtaining actual results. The status of key indicators could not be worse. Safety, health, education, the environment, and many other areas are nothing but terrible. Key controls and checks and balances have been eliminated or watered down. Instead, the primary plan seems to have been to eliminate obstacles to presidential power.
The fiscal deficit was kept balanced, but in 2024 the federal budget is 9 trillion pesos, and out of those 2 trillion pesos of net debt. The administration has made a clear bet to spend big during the run up to the election – even if that means adding to a tax deficit that will prompt the need for a deep fiscal reform in 2025, no matter who wins in June.
The armed forces’ presence in hundreds of activities once subject to civil rule is also troublesome, while Morena’s known links with organized crime is already a matter of huge concern, as there is clear evidence of how electoral results in 2021 and 2022 were tampered with by criminal activities.
One positive in today’s political environment is that civil society is awake. Through public pressure and intense negotiations, it was possible to establish a unified front for a candidate from leadership ranks different than the direct preferences of political parties. This coalition is now in the process of consolidating efforts to gain momentum so that key electoral positions are also occupied by persons with traction and recognition in local communities.
The electoral process will not be easy, but insofar as the majority of Congress is not controlled by the prevailing party, the country will make strides in transparency and checks and balances. While winning the presidency will be difficult, gaining control over Congress would make a real difference. With a fragmented Congress, democratic dialogue will prevent arbitrary, one-sided decisions.
Mexico stands to gain significantly if we can pass the political test in front of us.
Nearshoring, for instance, is a historic opportunity that may provide the basis for economic growth not seen since the end of World War II. Yet we need to stay focused on “SEI” factors to capitalize on it.
The “S” in “SEI” stands for security and safety. Mexico needs to stop violence surges to strengthen the rule of law, increase the predictability of regulations, and improve mechanisms for judicial review. “E” stands for energy, in particular the use of renewable resources and maintaining reliable supply. Mexico can no longer keep using fossil fuels or prevent private investment in modern energy supply plants. “I” stands for infrastructure. Mexico must have modern airports, ports, border crossing sites, etc., and cannot operate with old facilities.
Unfortunately, the current government is apparently opposed to making progress on these “SEI” factors. Hence, we are experiencing poor economic results at a time when Mexico should be flooded with investments.
Mexico will continue to be a strategic partner in North America, but the way in which Mexico interacts with the U.S. and Canada will be affected by the 2024 election. Moreover, the U.S. also has elections, and the tilt toward populism there may further isolate our two nations and create unnecessary tensions.
In the long run, one can hope that common sense prevails. But in the near term, we need an engaged electorate. One crucial sign as to whether we are headed in the right direction is whether more than 60% of the Mexican electorate turns out to vote. This is the most important factor in moving our country toward a brighter future: all work should be aimed at increasing voter participation.
Populists get into power in a democratic manner, but they leave only with forceful determination by the electorate. A growing fear is that without a complete and overwhelming defeat, López Obrador and his team will not go quietly. By way of example, massive participation explains the recent change in Argentina, where the incumbent party was ousted by popular vote. The importance of strengthening democracy in Mexico and the region more broadly cannot be overstated.
Mexico will become an economic powerhouse by the year 2050 – perhaps among the eight wealthiest nations in the world. But how quickly and smoothly we get there will be determined in large part by what happens in the upcoming elections. Given the importance of voter turnout, political campaigns should focus on incentivizing participation, with a clear-eyed understanding that the threat of an anti-democratic regime is real and visible.
Juan Francisco Torres–Landa is a partner at Hogan Lovells in Mexico City, where he focuses his practice on corporate law, deal making and M&A projects. He wrote this article for Latinvex.
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