AMLO’s Nationalist Agenda Loses Steam After Defeat in Congress

AMLO, as the 68-year-old leader is known, is approaching the final part of his single six-year term, when Mexican presidents typically enter a lame duck period

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador President of Mexico walks prior a State of The Union Report on the 40 months of the current administration at Palacio Nacional on April 12, 2022.
By Max de Haldevang
April 19, 2022 | 09:33 AM

Bloomberg — Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is facing diminishing prospects for his ambitious nationalist agenda after suffering one of his biggest political defeats since taking office in late 2018.

Sunday night’s vote by the opposition in congress to torpedo a constitutional reform that sought to restore state control of the electricity sector means the president can no longer be confident of advancing his agenda, which includes key changes to the electoral system and the Defense Ministry, in his remaining two and a half years in office.

The rejection of the bill was “a turning point” in Lopez Obrador’s term, and he will now be obliged to negotiate with a reinvigorated opposition to pass legislation, said Sebastian de Lara, Mexico and Central America director for policy and communications firm Speyside.

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“This shows Lopez Obrador that he doesn’t have absolute power,” he said by phone.

Grafitti supporting Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico's president, on a street ahead of the presidential recall referendum in the Xochimilco neighborhood of Mexico City.dfd

AMLO, as the 68-year-old leader is known, is approaching the final part of his single six-year term, when Mexican presidents typically enter a lame duck period. The president remains popular, with approval ratings of around 60%, and voters overwhelmingly backed him to finish his term in a recall referendum this month, albeit amid a small turnout.

However, his coalition lost its two-thirds super-majority in the lower house last June. That means he’ll need opposition support to pass two additional constitutional reforms he set out last year -- changing the country’s electoral system and giving the Defense Ministry control of the national guard, a force he created early in his term.

While the approval of the latter is possible, many analysts doubt he’ll be able to deliver the electoral reform, which in its current form would harm the very parties whose votes he’d need.

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Taste of Victory

Sunday’s result also gave the opposition a taste of victory that may lead them to take a harder line in negotiations, said Gabriela de la Paz, a political science professor at the Tecnologico de Monterrey university.

“From here to 2024 it’s war without quarter,” she said.

On Monday, AMLO said he won’t try to pass any new nationalist energy bills, effectively accepting that much of the sector will remain in private hands. He did get some consolation later in the day when the lower house approved his government’s mining bill to confirm state control over lithium extraction.

Despite his reduced power in congress, Lopez Obrador still has a lot of cards he can play. He has proved himself skilled at wielding power by other means, channeling billions into projects he favors, and using his daily morning press conferences to attack his enemies.

“Lopez Obrador will likely revert to the original plan of using regulatory tools to hinder private investment,” Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a research note, ruling out new attempts by the president to change the sector’s rules through legislative power.