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By JESSICA GUERRERO

MORELIA, Michoacán — The democratic political life of Mexico, as in many other Latin American nations, is relatively young. In the last decade, a new chapter began in the construction of Mexican politics after the sudden arrival to the presidency of a newly created party.

Breaking through and eventually displacing the parties that historically held political hegemony in the country, such as the centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the conservative National Action Party (PAN), the young National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party managed to climb to the top of popularity among voters in less than 10 years since its foundation.

But, how could such a new party get so far in such a short time?

If anything characterizes the current Mexican democratic model, it is the versatility of its electoral system, which allows and promotes the creation of political parties once the requirements stipulated by the National Electoral Institute (INE) are fulfilled. For this, the INE contemplates a generous financing scheme with resources from the public purse for all the parties that are legitimately formed and registered.

However, it hasn’t always been like this.

For decades, the electoral system in Mexico was handled and controlled in its entirety by the federal government itself, through the Secretariat of the Interior (SeGob). Therefore, regarding the creation of new political parties, the ruling elite in turn had the last word, as in all other matters related to Mexico’s internal politics.

Such circumstances, represented an evident conflict of interests, which distorted the democratic processes and generated distrust among the electorate.

For more than seven decades uninterruptedly, the PRI governed the country, positioning itself as the first great political force in Mexico for many years. It was also the cradle of the country’s current political classes.

The PRI’s first direct descendant was the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), founded in 1989 by disgruntled figures from the old PRI, including Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano and Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, among others, becoming the first leftist party in modern Mexico.

The political stronghold of the PRD was also nurtured by other former PRI politicians, such as Marcelo Ebrard and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the latter being one of the most prominent militants of the PRD when, in 2000, he became Mexico City’s mayor and subsequently, ran for the presidency twice in 2006 and 2012, both times without success.

In 2006, after the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) announced the results of the election, positioning the then-PAN candidate Felipe Calderón Hinojosa as the winner of the presidential elections by obtaining 35.89 per cent of the total votes in contrast to López Obrador who obtained 35.31 per cent of them, the PRD candidate claimed to had been a victim of electoral fraud and demanded a recounting of the votes. However, his request was dismissed by the IFE and the PAN candidate became Mexico’s president.

Although it was never possible for López Obrador to prove any electoral fraud committed against him in the 2006’s presidential elections, it was believed that during the political campaigns of that time a dirty media war was openly waged against him by his opponents. Various media spots paid for by the conservative PAN were intended to instill voters with fear, warning that López Obrador was a hazard to Mexico, comparing him to other former leftist Latin American presidents such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

AMLO’s first defeat helped him gain recognition and popularity among voters and other leftist parties that placed their trust in his political agenda. This could be seen in the following elections in 2012, when he returned to contend in the presidential race, losing again, this time against the then PRI-candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, who obtained 38.20 percent of the votes, in contrast to López Obrado’s 32.61 percent.

But even after losing the presidential election for a second time in a row, López Obrador did not give up in his ambitions for the presidential seat. However, the PRD leadership that had supported him for 12 years in a row in his political aspirations decided to withdraw their support. This caused a split within the López Obrador fraction of the PRD.

Thus began the story of Morena, which in a couple of years would officially become a political party, receiving registration by the INE on July 9, 2014.

López Obrador’s popularity among the Mexican population, among whom he had already prevailed in the southern states of Mexico, spread to other parts of the country. The support he received from the Labor Party (PT) — which left behind its historic alliance with the PRD to join Morena’s project — also contributed to this phenomenon. The two parties formed a coalition named Together We Will Make History in 2018.

The surging popularity of López Obrador made him an icon among his supporters, and he began to chart his path to the 2018 presidential elections by touring each Mexican state, proclaiming his favorite slogan “the poor first,” and verbally reaching out to the most forgotten communities in rural Mexico.

His campaign management was carried out strategically with the intention of building a social movement robust enough to catapult the Morena founder to the Mexican presidency, leaving the other candidates far behind in the popularity polls.

Then-PAN candidate Ricardo Anaya did not hesitate to resort to making allegations  against López Obrador, saying he was a socialist who intended to turn Mexico into anotyher Venezuela. However, Morena won the presidential election with 53.19 percent of the total votes, making López Obrador the candidate with the most votes in the history of Mexico.

Morena reached the presidency of Mexico in just four years of its founding.

Snice that time, Morena has been on the spotlight for its recruitment choices, taking in politicians with controversial political careers, a concept that is not only contrary to the party’s alleged principles, but that also demonstrate a severe lack of congruence of the party’s ideology.

One glaring example of this is in the casse of politician Manuel Bartlett Díaz, one of the most important figures of the old PRI, accused of participating in the alleged electoral fraud in 1988 in his role as secretary of the interior.

Bartlett Díaz was also allegedly linked to the kidnapping and murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985.

Nevertheless, Bartlett Díaz is now a key player in López Obrador’s cabinet as the director of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). And there are other Morena politicians extracted from the old PRI with allegedly shady pasts, such as Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, Alfonso Durazo, Manuel Camacho Solís and Ricardo Monreal.

In addition to this, corruption and sexual crime scandals have also haunted Morena’s politicians. One example of this is the most recent scandal known as Los Moches de Texcoco, where Delfina Gómez, the then-mayor of the municipality of Texcoco, located in the State of Mexico, was found guilty of illegally withholding resources from the municipality’s workers paychecks during 2015 to finance her own candidacy for federal deputy, allegedly accumulating a total of more than 13 million pesos.

Due to the ensuing scandal, the INE decided to fine Morena 4.5 million pesos while the facts continues to be investigated as an alleged electoral crime by the Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes. Gómez is currently the head of the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP).

Also very notorious was the scandal involving the head official of the Secretariat of Public Administration (SFP), Irma Eréndira Sandoval, who , according to investigations by the Superior Audit of the Federation (ASF), allegedly increased her personal assets by 60 million pesos in just nine years, which did not match with her reported income as a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Sandoval was removed from office by López Obrador in June.

Despite of all these scandals, Morena’s success seems unstoppable and this was again reflected in the results of the recent elections held in June 2021, in which the party won 11 governorships, in addition to the six it already held, although it lost heavily in local municipal elections in urban areas like Mexico City.

Morena currently has the support of approximately 59 million Mexicans in the states of Chiapas, Mexico City, Morelos, Puebla, Tabasco, Veracruz, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Campeche, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Sonora, Zacatecas and Tlaxcala. Likewise, in the Chamber of Deputies, Morena itself has 198 seats, which represents 35 percent of the total seats.

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