MEXICO CITY (AP) – President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party and its allies appeared ready to hold their majority in the Mexican lower chamber of Congress on Monday, but missed a two-thirds majority as some voters added to the fighting opposition, the first said Election results.
López Obrador’s Morena party will have to rely on the votes of its allies in the Labor Party and the Green Party, but together they should capture between 265 and 292 seats in the lower house with 500 seats. According to the preliminary vote count, Morena alone should win 190 to 203 seats.
That would mean a significant decline for the presidential party. In the current Congress, Morena has a simple majority and alone holds 253 seats. It would also deprive the president of the two-thirds qualified majority required to approve constitutional reforms.
López Obrador seemed to recognize this new reality on Monday. He praised the election as “free, clean” and said Mexicans had shown a level of political maturity “never seen”.
“You voted for two different and opposing plans, especially in the general election,” he said. “Those of the transformation plan will have a majority in the House of Representatives and that means guaranteeing enough budget for those most in need.”
The results give the president sufficient budgetary control to continue his plans for building trains and refineries, as well as the money-spending programs. But they could withhold him from Congress to escalate his ongoing squabbles with the courts and regulators that have blocked some of his tougher proposals to strengthen state-owned industries and promote fossil fuels.
Opponents said López Obrador was trying to dismantle the controls and balances created during Mexico’s decades of transition to full democracy.
“Voters gave a mandate that I would not write a blank check for any movement in Mexico,” said Luis Miguel Pérez Juárez, a political science expert at Monterrey Technological University.
The opposition alliance made up of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, National Action Party and Party of the Democratic Revolution received an estimated 181 to 213 seats. That would be a win for those parties who, given the popularity of López Obrador, often appeared rudderless and are still faced with the challenge of creating a platform based on something other than just opposition to the president.
Even without López Obrador on the ballot, the mid-term elections were seen by many as a referendum on his government and his ability to continue what he called the “Fourth Transformation” of Mexico. The turnout was high in the mid-term elections, exceeding 51% of the electorate.
López Obrador’s party did better than expected in the state governor races and appeared to be heading for victories in at least ten of the 15 states to be won. One of these victories was for the daughter of a Morena candidate who was accused of rape; she replaced her father on the ballot after he left for failing to report campaign expenses.
“It is a tremendous achievement by the President and his party’s coalition to have ratified their absolute majority and won the elections, despite the fact that the Mexican economy has been in decline as it has for the past three years … and the pandemic,” said Carlos Heredia of the Mexican Center for economic research and training.
At the same time, the vote means that López Obrador needs to listen more to the opposition, which he has traditionally dismissed as conservatives defending past self-interest and corruption.
But the president’s party was struck in Mexico City, long considered his stronghold and where he was once mayor. The capital suffered more than many other areas from the coronavirus pandemic.
While voting was only interrupted at a few polling stations on Sunday, violence shaped the election campaign and the days before the vote.
On Saturday, an unauthorized public prosecutor in Chiapas said five people who carried voting material to the polling stations were attacked and killed on a country road. And on Sunday, the prosecutor said in another remote mountain town in Chiapas another four people were shot in an apparently politically motivated attack.
Nationwide, three dozen candidates were killed during the campaigns; Almost all of the victims ran for one of the 20,000 local offices, including mayors and councilors, available in 30 states. In the most violent Mexican state of Guanajuato, a woman who ran for mayoral after her mother was murdered won an overwhelming victory in the city of Moroleón.
López Obrador praised the largely peaceful vote on election day and even sent a message of appreciation to the drug cartels, which are fueling much of the violence in the country.
“Organized crime people have behaved very well, in general there has been little violence by these groups,” said the president. “I think the white collar criminals behaved worse.”
López Obrador has raised minimum wages and strengthened state aid programs such as additional payments for the elderly, students and training programs for young people. He also created a quasi-military National Guard and gave the army a huge role in building his favorite projects, which include trains, an oil refinery, and airports.
But he has not followed a traditional left-wing line and has advocated austerity measures in government spending. He has on friendly, sometimes tense, relations with the United States and has willingly helped prevent tens of thousands of Central American migrants from reaching the US border, Harris.
Opponents describe López Obrador as intolerant of criticism and obsessed with a nostalgic vision of Mexico in the 1960s, when oil was king and state-owned companies dominated many sectors of the economy. Socially conservative and avowed Christian “in the broadest sense”, he angered feminists with his politics, but pleased many Mexicans with a strict life.
The elections mark the first mass public events in the country since the coronavirus pandemic over a year ago, despite the number of cases falling and Mexico vaccinating about a quarter of adults. The estimated 350,000 fatalities in the pandemic – around 230,000 of them test-confirmed – do not seem to have played a major role in the campaigns, but weighed on voters.
Associate press writer Manuel de la Cruz contributed to this report.