Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo: presidencia.gob.mx

By EARL ANTHONY WAYNE, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico

Mexico’s voters delivered both victories and setbacks to the country’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), on Sunday, June 6, but he has signaled his desire to press ahead with reforms.

The midterm election showed that Mexicans remain divided and did not give the president the overwhelming victory he sought to vigorously carry forward the major reforms that he describes as the “Fourth Transformation” (4T) of Mexico.

On the one hand, AMLO’s political party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), along with its allies, won a majority in the lower house of Congress and scored victories in most of the races for governor and state congresses that took place. These are strong results, especially for off-year elections, and show the spread of Morena’s influence across Mexico.

But on the other hand, Morena and its parties did not win the two-thirds majority needed to pass constitutional changes in Mexico’s lower house of Congress, which the president and his supporters would like to have achieved in order to pursue his reform agenda more aggressively.

Morena’s 35 to 36 percent of the national vote reminds all that AMLO’s party remains a minority party in Mexico. Even though the opposition continues to be relatively divided and without a popular leader, its electoral alliances produced victories in a number of single-member congressional districts, which denied Morena a bigger victory in Mexico’s complicated electoral system.

Both main opposition parties made big gains in the congressional vote. (The conservative National Action Party, or PAN, looks poised to gain 37 congressional seats and the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, won 28 seats.)

Morena’s estimated 194 seats in the lower house of Congress also leaves the president dependent on two smaller allied parties to reach a majority in the 500-member chamber.

One of those parties, the Green Party (PVEM), added about 25 congressional seats and is anything but “green” on the environment.  It also has a reputation of being part of the corrupt “mafia of power” that AMLO has consistently opposed.

It is not clear what PVEM leaders might seek in return for their support of Morena and what AMLO will be willing to provide.

AMLO’s Morena also lost significant ground in Mexico City, which was once his stronghold, signaling unhappiness among the urban middle class.

Despite the setbacks, AMLO maintained the political clout he needs to press ahead with many of his desired reforms. The weeks ahead will signal how he intends to do that: through negotiations with other parties or through stretching his presidential powers and Mexico’s institutions, as his critics fear.

Some observers will be focused on how aggressive AMLO will be in pressing ahead with reforms via legislation and executive orders.  Others will be watching to see how much he seeks to rely on winning favorable decisions in the Mexican Supreme Court, whose chief justice’s stint was officially extended on June 6 for two additional years with AMLO’s strong support, despite earlier criticism that the move was not consistent with Mexico’s constitution.

The impact of the election results on U.S.-Mexico relations will depend upon which approaches to reform AMLO chooses to pursue, how much he stretches democratic norms in the process, and whether he seeks to mobilize nationalist, anti-American sentiment to achieve his goals.

The Tuesday, June 8, U.S.-Mexico bilateral cooperation agreement, signed during Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to Mexico City, however, sets out a broad and forward-looking substantive agenda for joint work on key issues.

EARL ANTHONY WAYNE served as U.S. ambassador to both Mexico and Argentina and is currently a diplomat-in-residence at American University’s School of International Service. He is also an advisory board co-chair for the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute. He was a U.S. diplomat for 40 years.

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