Dean Martin said it often: “You’re nobody till somebody loves you.” And right about now, Mexico’s political Left is feeling the pinch after its alpha leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), exited the strongest of the left-of-center parties, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD), after Mexico’s electoral tribunal declared Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) president-elect.
Many, including Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard (PRD) saw the writing on the wall, but not the millions who watched AMLO become PRD party president, Mexico City mayor under the PRD and twice PRD’s candidate for president. At a public event at the nation’s zócalo (central plaza) on September 9, AMLO made two major announcements. First, that he would not recognize Peña Nieto as Mexico’s legitimate president; and second, that he was leaving the PRD with hopes of transforming his social movement, the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (National Regeneration Movement—MORENA) to a new, left-of-center party.
In 2005, MORENA became AMLO’s grassroots arm with local committees all over Mexico. It developed coalitions with civil society organizations and other local groups in an effort to promote AMLO in the run-up to the 2006 presidential race. On paper, MORENA served as a civil society organization. In reality, and interestingly, MORENA had no formal statutes or rules for its members, except to follow the dictates of its grand leader AMLO. Fast forward to 2012 where AMLO plans to use this base of social soldiers to develop what he hopes will become the party “that will save Mexico.”
Many question whether MORENA will find its way. First, analysts note that AMLO is no strategist—and that he loathes counsel. Second, tearing the Left at a time when the Left needs unity in the upper and lower chambers of congress will only paint AMLO as inconsiderate and selfish, and portray its newly elected deputies and senators as incompetent and disorganized.
Last, and more importantly, many wonder how AMLO plans to finance MORENA. AMLO relied on the PRD and the Mexico City government for political and financial support throughout his political life. With those relationships behind him, AMLO will need to approach the business community—the group he holds the most contempt for—and the unions for backing.
These are serious hurdles for AMLO, a político set in his ways. He remains unenthusiastic about negotiation, is easily blinded by slights and has historically been unable to retool political strategy and policy to meet the modern needs of Mexico.
For 20 years, the PRD has been Mexico’s premier left-of-center party. The PRD, along with its smaller cousins, the Partido del Trabajo (Labor Party—PT) and Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizen Movement—MC), will lose membership as MORENA lures talent and resources from the day of its founding.
Mexico’s federal law stipulates political parties at the national level need a minimum of 2 percent of the vote during federal elections to maintain status as a registered party. Of the three major parties on the Left, PT and MC run the risk of losing their registration in the 2015 race for the Chamber of Deputies.
Ironically, an electoral alliance between the PRD, PT and MC gave AMLO close to 16 million votes—behind Peña Nieto’s 19 million—for president in July. It is difficult to tabulate exactly how many reliable voters AMLO has, but it is safe to assume that AMLO has a solid base of 5 to 6 million votes, coming mostly from rural parts and the capital city.
With this, registration for MORENA is only then contingent on AMLO´s successful handling of the founding and the enlistment of attractive candidates for public office in 2015. Registration will usher in federal financing, and in theory more members. AMLO, and only AMLO, will manage this complicated venture. If done correctly, however, he will no doubt return as somebody the entire Left may have to love to continue as a viable option for Mexicans for years to come.
Juan Manuel Henao is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is a consultant based in Mexico City and former Mexico Country Director for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington DC-based not-for-profit democracy promotion organization.