By RICARDO CASTILLO
The frictional mood at Mexico’s majority political party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), became evident on Monday, Aug. 19, as current Senate leader Martí Batres Guadarrama lost his bid for reelection to Mónica Fernández Balboa by 33 to 29 votes. Should all go well, Fernández Balboa will be confirmed next week and begin her position as Senate president starting Sept. 1, when the new period of sessions kicks off.
The internal Morena electoral process, however, bared naked the rift between the party’s two most influential leaders, Morena party president Yeidckol Polevnski and Senate Majority Whip Ricardo Monreal. It was clear during the fray previous to the election that Polevnski backed Batres and Monreal backed Fernández. At the end of the electoral count, Monreal was able to bring to Mónica Fernández’s side 25 of the 29 senators who voted for Batres to claim a “unanimous” victory for the winner.
Immediately after being beaten, Polevski and Batres launched a furious Twitter campaign against Monreal, claiming he had rigged the election. Their largest complaint was that Monreal had banned the Labor Party senators from voting while allowing the Social Encounter Party (an unregistered party) to do so.
There was a lot more than meets the eye in this election. There were “factions” within Morena that are neither new nor invisible. In a more recent internal power struggle, the winner was Polevnski and the loser Monreal. That was earlier this year during the Puebla state election for governor, in which Polvenski managed to have Miguel Barbosa win the candidacy and the governor’s seat.
Now the tortilla has been flipped and Monreal has pushed the movement to have Fernández come out Senate president.
But wait, if you think this is the end of it, which it would be under normal circumstances, there is a third round coming up next November, when Morena, as a party, will hold elections for a new president. The only known fact about it is that Polevnski wants to be reelected. And of course, Monreal is opposed to reelection. In short, Morena is a divided party.
And here comes the true gist of it all: Will the party’s founder and maximum chief, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) slam his hand on the table as a call to order and have everyone freeze and do what he says? It would not be that strange since in the old days of “presidencialismo” at the now nearly-defunct Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) it was done that way.
All indications point out to the fact that AMLO will not intervene in the internal affairs of the very party that took him to the presidency. He has repeated nearly on a daily basis that he is different in terms of governance and, on Tuesday, Aug. 20, he hinted that “there is a new way of doing politics” and losers must abide by the results.
AMLO insisted he will not interfere with the party and will stay aloof in the upcoming elections for president. He threw out any option of meeting with the warring leaders to bring order. Regarding the election, he said:
“At best I will send a letter when the Morena National Congress comes up to express my point of view and my feelings and wish Morena the best.”
Most political pundits believe that Polevnski and Monreal will be summoned to where the president will impose order and perhaps even appoint the next party leader. But what most don’t see or agree with is that AMLO is no longer the leader of the party, but the president of Mexico (los Estados Unidos Mexicanos – the nation’s official name), and that as such, he just can’t mingle in partisan insider politicking.
Two events point in that direction. One has to do with Monreal and Polevnski, while the other with former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Back in August 2017, when AMLO and the Morena party were ready to compete in the 2018 presidential elections, Monreal, then mayor of the Cuauhtémoc precinct townhall in Mexico City, wanted to run for mayor. Instead, AMLO decided it would be Claudia Sheinbaum.
Monreal threw a temper tantrum and threatened to run for another party in opposition. AMLO negotiated with him and promised him a seat in the Senate, as well as the position of party leader. AMLO kept his word and that’s where Monreal is currently. But so is Sheinbaum, who is on the side of Polevnski.
This time there will apparently be no AMLO to intervene and whatever happens in Morena from now on it will be the result of the obvious party leadership, now in the hands of Monreal and Polevnski, who will have to fence it out between themselves.
The second reason why AMLO is opting to stay out of partisan politics is the memory of what happened to Peña Nieto. Back in 2013, then-PRI president César Camacho made a move at the national party convention to “appoint” Peña Nieto as the real PRI president.
Peña Nieto readily accepted the proposal, perhaps yearning for the old PRI days of the “perfect dictatorship” in which the president not only ruled the nation with an iron fist, but also imposed the PRI candidate for next presidents. Those were days, however, when the PRI ran the electoral process and a party victory was assured.
Peña Nieto learned the hard way that times have changed and the nation is in an irreversible path to democracy. He appointed José Antonio Meade Kuribreña as the candidate, a gross error on his part since Meade was not a registered member of the PRI, plus he’d never campaigned and we know now – from the size of his defeat – that he was a poor public speaker and candidate. Peña Nieto and the PRI are now paying the price for trying to return to the old times of dictatorial glory.
The point being, AMLO is staying away from Morena insider party politics and devoting his full time to the people who elected him by a landslide majority, a move that Mexican voters seem to appreciate.
This said, surely the feud between Monreal and Polevski will continue as the Senate incident was but round two of a fight between the two visible heads of Morena.
Take your pick between Monreal’s political experience as a former Zacatecas governor, Cuauhtémoc townhall president and eight months as Senate Morena party whip, plus having learned the lesson of political patience, and Polevnski, who is now seeking “reelection,” currently a dirty word in Mexican politics.
The one thing favoring both politicos is that Morena, founded in 2014, is a young and fresh organization striving for survival, if feuding leaders let it.