By Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico holds national elections on Sunday that are expected to bolster President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ahead of the race to succeed him, with his party set to capture the last major stronghold of the country’s former rulers.
The president’s leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) is expected to add the governorship of Mexico State to the 21 regional governments he already controls, two-thirds of the total.
The most populous region of the country, the State of Mexico surrounds a large part of the capital, and has been a major economic and electoral bulwark of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has governed there since 1929.
Lopez Obrador routed the PRI to win the presidency in 2018, and MORENA has since absorbed most of the once-dominant party’s strongholds, as well as many of its politicians.
Decades of one-party rule have made the PRI synonymous with corruption among many Mexicans, and it has struggled to compete with MORENA’s message that it represents a vote for change.
A poll published this week by the Reforma newspaper showed that the gubernatorial race has narrowed, but still gave MORENA candidate Delfina Gomez a 10-point lead over Alejandra del Moral, a PRI politician. facing an opposition alliance.
“People are leaning towards Delfina because she looks like a fresh start, like Lopez Obrador,” said Jose Hernandez, a 64-year-old trader in Los Reyes Acaquilpan, a town in the east of the state of 17 million. ‘residents.
“Because, in short, the whole of the (PRI) has been corrupted.”
Gomez pledges to give the state a fresh start and improve security, given the widespread concern over the violence. Del Moral says the PRI has learned from its mistakes and that its coalition will be a broader alternative to MORENA.
The vote comes a year before the next presidential election, with polls indicating that MORENA will also be very hard to beat.
In a separate election on Sunday, the PRI is expected to hold onto the northern border state of Coahuila, where divisions within MORENA have produced rival candidates on the left. MORENA this week sought to shore up support for Coahuila by pressuring one of its domestic allies to drop the renegade candidate.
Lopez Obrador has dominated political life since taking office in December 2018, and his popularity, which remains around 60%, has helped make MORENA a formidable electoral machine. Under Mexican law, presidents can serve only one six-year term.
Nonetheless, his abrasive style and uncompromising agenda, which pitted the state against private enterprise and fueled conflicts with such checks and balances as the judiciary, also polarized voters.
Lopez Obrador has frequently criticized certain sectors of middle-class voters, and Mexico City and the State of Mexico in 2021 have dealt MORENA unexpected setbacks in local elections.
Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum had a slight edge in most polls for the race to be MORENA’s presidential candidate, pressed hard by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.
Sheinbaum, like Gomez, MORENA’s candidate for the State of Mexico, is closely identified with Lopez Obrador and his agenda.
Failure to capture the state of Mexico, some analysts say, could help make the case for a presidential candidate with more moderate credentials like Ebrard.
Because a MORENA victory has been taken for granted for months, an upset would provide a powerful boost to the opposition, said Roy Campos, head of polling firm Consulta Mitofsky.
“For MORENA to lose this state,” he said, “would essentially mean a very bad start to the contest in 2024.”
(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Aurora Ellis)