Checks and Balances for Mexico in 2021 Midterm Elections
On June 6, 2021, Mexico had its largest election to date with over 21,000 seats up for election in the midterms, from the federal to local levels. More than 47 million ballots were cast for candidates in all of Mexico’s lower house of Congress, 15 governorships, 30 state legislatures, and 1,900 municipalities.
The results were varied, with success for multiple parties but no resounding victor able to claim a popular mandate. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO)’s ruling Morena (National Regeneration Movement) leftist coalition retained its congressional majority and won most of the governorships up for grabs. The opposition—made up of an unlikely alliance between the conservative PAN (National Action Party), historically dominant PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), and left-wing PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party) parties—also had reason to celebrate. They increased their overall share in Congress, suggesting Mexican voters want a divided government with checks and balances on the Morena coalition, which was denied the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution and push through the most sweeping aspects of AMLO’s agenda.
Morena and its allies will still be the dominant force in the 500-seat Congress, but the Morena party lost its absolute majority, going from 256 to 197 legislators. PRI went from 48 to 69 legislators, PAN from 77 to 111, and a handful of minor parties also won more seats.
While Morena lost seats in Congress, they won 11 Of the 15 governorships, which is an important development in its own right, but doubly significant as Mexico’s governors have historically had an important role in mobilizing votes for Presidential elections. Up-and-coming parties Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizen’s Movement Party) and Partido Verde Ecologista (Green Ecological Party) won governorships along with PAN and PRD. Without a unified agenda, PAN / PRD / PRI alliances may continue to struggle at the state level if they focus their messaging on opposition to Morena without providing a compelling alternative platform.
Mexico City which was ruled by Morena, lost half of its territory to PRI and PAN in local elections, signaling unhappiness among the urban middle class. This will make Mexico City’s Head of Government Claudia Sheinbaum’s job more difficult, as she will be forced to negotiate to advance Morena’s initiatives. Additionally, it also casts doubt on her ability to win the presidency, which she is a top contender for in 2024. Movimiento Ciudadano also had major wins in the governorships and mayoral races of economic powerhouses Nuevo Leon and Jalisco and their respective capitals of Monterrey and Guadalajara.
Despite Morena’s losses, AMLO said the elections showed his populist “Fourth Transformation” movement to eradicate corruption and strive for social justice and equality won. It remains to be seen whether AMLO will attempt to further his agenda through negotiations with other parties and coalitions or through stretching his Presidential powers and Mexico’s institutions, as his critics fear.
The elections also proved to be an institutional success, which is a testament to the strength of Mexican democracy and the work of the more than 1 million Mexicans who ran the polls. This, despite the election occurring in the midst of a pandemic and being prefaced by some of the highest levels of campaign violence, with assassinations of 36 candidates or aspiring political candidates prior to the election. Election observers, and even a politically curtailed AMLO, heralded the strength of the election for being free, fair, and transparent. The participation rate of more than 51 percent of registered voters was one of the highest in Mexico’s history.