A Fragmented Political Landscape

Andrew SeleeBy Andrew Selee

It’s too early to know the full impact of yesterday’s elections in Mexico, but there is no question that these were far more momentous than midterm elections usually are, with profound short-term and long-term consequences for the future of Mexico’s political system.  Here are four quick takeaways on the implications of the results:

* The political landscape in Mexico is now more fragmented than ever before with no single party towering over the others.  Mexico has long been a political system based on three strong parties and a few smaller ones.  Now there are at least five, if not more, that appear to have a significant base of support.  The victory of an independent candidate in Nuevo Leon, Mexico’s most economically important state, sets a very important precedent that will decentralize the political system even more in the future and allow citizens to organize outside the traditional parties.

* It was a mixed night for President Enrique Pena Nieto and the PRI.  Although the PRI appears to have won the largest number of votes for Congress and state governors, the party won less than 30 percent of the vote, appears to have lost a few crucial governors’ races that it had expected to win (Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, and Michoacan), and will have to piece together a working majority in the Congress with the Green Party, the New Alliance Party, and perhaps a few others on key votes.  Of course, it’s not unusual for the incumbent party to lose ground in the midterm elections (this is the fourth straight time it’s happened), but the PRI seemed to be in a particularly strong position going into this election and expected to do much better.  This election is hardly a repudiation of Pena Nieto’s government — which will likely be able to move forward with its reform agenda in Congress — but it’s certainly not a ringing endorsement either.

* The PAN came in as the second strongest party, though it received only a fifth of the votes, and the left divided like never before among various parties.  Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party, Morena, made a very respectable showing against the PRD, probably winning five of Mexico City’s delegations (municipalities) and presenting a strong challenge to the PRD in the bastion of the left.

* The elections were actually carried out in relative peace, despite attempts to disrupt them in three states in the south.  However, an unusually high number of voters (roughly five percent) appear to have left their ballots blank in protest against all of the political parties.

In the next few hours, we will know more about how the main parties ended up and who will govern each state, but clearly this is an election that has shaken the foundations of Mexico’s political system like few others.

Andrew Selee is the Executive Vice President of the Wilson Center and Senior Advisor to the Mexico Institute.

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