López Obrador splits Mexico’s opposition with plan to boost military

The government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has received a boost ahead of state elections next year after a plan to give more power to Mexico’s military fractured an already weak opposition coalition.

A constitutional amendment authorising the defence ministry to oversee Mexico’s public security until 2028 was passed last week after the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — one of three opposition partners — dropped its opposition and backed López Obrador’s plan.

Alejandro Moreno, the PRI’s leader, was facing accusations of corruption and critics claim his volte face was aimed at protecting him from prosecution, which he denies.

“What happened was completely predictable,” said Fernando Dworak, a Mexican political analyst. “The entire traditional political class has skeletons in the closet and is especially vulnerable to any scandal.”

The PRI voted with the ruling Morena party and its allies to overcome the two-thirds threshold necessary for altering Mexico’s constitution. The lower house of congress approved the amendment Wednesday night and it now moves to the Senate.

In response, the PRI’s partners — the National Action Party (PAN) and the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) — suspended the coalition. The opposition is now in disarray ahead of state elections next year in two longtime PRI strongholds — Coahuila in northern Mexico and Mexico state, which surrounds Mexico City on three sides — and the 2024 presidential elections.

“If the bet is on tossing the alliance, they’re condemning themselves to defeat beforehand,” said Aldo Muñoz, political science professor at the Autonomous University of Mexico State. “Their level of competitiveness is not enough to win elections in Coahuila and Mexico state.”

The PAN and PRD parties issued a joint statement last week accusing the PRI of running afoul of the alliance platform.

Moreno, known as “Alito”, told reporters in congress after the vote: “The Va por México coalition is firm and solid . . . But the most important thing is putting aside any particular political position.”

Critics accuse Moreno of switching his position on militarisation to protect himself from accusations of corruption, which include misappropriating public money and owning lavish properties, levelled at him by the president’s allies. Moreno has denied any wrongdoing and says the claims are politically motivated.

Mexican immigration officials said they subjected Moreno to extra screening on his return to the country in July — an act the PRI president called “political persecution.”

Morena party lawmaker Inés Parra Juárez last week voted against the constitutional reform, calling it “militarisation in exchange for Alejandro ‘Alito’ Moreno’s impunity.”

The PRI previously voted against López Obrador’s proposal for placing the National Guard under military command, even though the constitution mandates it have civilian leadership. Moreno tweeted on September 3: “My vote is AGAINST militarisation of the #National Guard.” 

Days later Moreno presented a proposal for extending the military control over public security, which met with López Obrador’s approval.

Layda Sansores, the Morena party governor of Campeche state — where Moreno’s home had been raided by the prosecutor’s office — suddenly announced she would stop airing surreptitiously recorded conversations of Moreno allegedly threatening journalists and extorting PRI campaign suppliers. Moreno was Campeche governor between 2015 and 2019.

“It was public extortion,” said Ilán Semo, history professor at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City.

López Obrador swept into office on an anti-corruption platform. But analysts say the president has preferred to use the issue as a cudgel for opponents rather than building institutions for getting rid of graft.

“For López Obrador, corruption is an opportunity — that’s to say: it’s not a systemic struggle,” Semo said.

Semo added that the president would tolerate Moreno until after the 2024 election. In the meantime, the PRI president would continue to divide the opposition.

Va por México has produced subpar results since forming in 2020. It prevented Morena and its allies from winning a supermajority in congress in the 2021 midterm elections and won big in parts of Mexico City previously dominated by López Obrador. But Morena and its allies have claimed 16 of 21 gubernatorial races.

Some analysts suspect the unravelling of the alliance may help the PAN and PRD as the PRI, which ruled for 71-straight years until 2000 and was voted out of power again in 2018 after a series of corruption scandals, remains distrusted.

“Amlo represents change for most people,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political analyst in Mexico City. “But now he’s allied with the party that represents the utmost discredit in Mexican politics.” 

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