Voters will go to the polls in only six of 32 states this June 2, but those state and municipal contests will offer the first test of a nationally incumbent Morena’s ability to extend its hold on elected office and build a much broader voter base with which to expand the political power needed to achieve what it has called the fourth major transformation of Mexico in the past two centuries. In short, it will tell us a lot about President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s chances of reassembling the trifecta of factors the PRI used to control the country for seventy years: an all-powerful presidency, a hegemonic party, and populist social policies.
Morena, which only became a legal party ahead of the 2015 elections, currently has only five governorships nationally, but it appears well positioned to add the two in play this year, both of which are among the shrinking number of PAN-held governors’ mansions. That is especially true of the far northwestern border state of Baja Caifornia, where 30 years in office and a spate of major corruption scandals in recent years have taken a mighty toll on that party.
López Obrador is riding a historical wave of popularity, and he already demonstrated long political coattails last year as his supporters were swept to victory in congressional, state and municipal contests even in regions where the parties that backed him have historically had only a marginal presence. One partial exception was Puebla, where AMLO supporters dominated most contests last July, except in the governor’s race, where the PAN’s Erika Alonso eked out a hard fought victory with the support of the powerful political machine her husband built in the state. Their deaths last Christmas Eve in a helicopter crash led to the decision to hold this special election to fill the post.
The state legislative contests in Quintana Roo, Tamaulipas and Baja California races this year will also be crucial for AMLO’s long-term political project, by potentially raising the number of state legislatures in its column to 22, and keeping in check the remaining PAN governors by controlling the budgetary purse strings both nationally and locally.
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