What a blowout. To the surprise of many, AMLO and his coalition swept the country in what is sure to be the biggest and most historical election Mexico has had in the last century. Not since its revolution will the country undergo such a far reaching change in the political apparatus. While the election of Vicente Fox saw the beginning of the end of PRI’s absolute hegemony, it is this election that serves to fracture that hegemony entirely, and what is up for grabs is the country itself.
While AMLO and his constituents have certainly come to deal an impressive blow against the business-as-usual conduction of the political apparatus, much remains to be seen. Certainly, the breadth of AMLO’s victory was unforeseen – even to us.
But beyond the scope of the victory, the fundamental points of our previous analyses remain true: 1) There are powers within and beyond the elected government that stand to threaten AMLO’s (rather vague) project; 2) there are structural economic forces that undermine much of what AMLO wishes to accomplish, 3) organized civil society still has much to say, and 4) narcos remain a decisive point.
Over the coming weeks we will analyze the potential conflicts and problems that might rise from these four points. This article will examine the first point and look more closely at the power of the bureaucratic apparatus and the uneven relations of force within the coalition that brought AMLO to power.
Of Bureaucrats and Other Demons
Typically, when one imagines the state and the order of operations of the state, one imagines an apparatus wherein a parliament debates and writes laws that are then executed by the presidency to then be enacted by the bureaucracy and the administrations under which the law falls into their purview.
This apparatus then entails a series of actors that form a closed system of chain reactions. One action gives way to another action in a chain that concludes with the fulfillment of the legislature’s wish.
However, what has become discernible in the recent, global historical sequence that has seen the rise of local and national political upheaval is the impressive power of bureaucrats and functionaries.
That is, given that this chain of actions is one premised on a chain of cooperation, there stands the possibility to refuse cooperation.
In her analysis of bureaucracy as “government by no one,” eminent political theorist Hannah Arendt notes that power “corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert” and that it is in play so long as “the group stays together.” She goes on to observe that “to remain in authority requires respect for the person or the office. The great enemy of authority, therefore, is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter.”
Whether it’s Syriza in Greece (to a greater degree), Barcelona en Comú in Barcelona (to a moderate degree), or Trump in the United States (to a lesser degree), the arrival of these elected governments have been met with coordinated refusals by the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. That is bureaucrats, too, are humans, and humans can deny to enact things they do not agree with. And in all the processes above, the resistance of functionaries and bureaucrats have been noted, even in minor ways, like not delivering briefings on time, “losing” paperwork, causing slow-downs or conducting work-to-rule strike strategies, all as a means to disrupt the ability of the government to function according to procedure.
And what we must keep in mind is that much of the bureaucratic machinery and its logics were established by the PRI. As such, the machinery may not be interested in executing that which is against its interests. One way to prevent this would be to try to buy out the machinery by expanding pensions and wages to government officials – but that would mean getting organized business on board to be taxed more (something we’ll examine in our next article).
A Tense Coalition?
This point speaks more directly to the relations of force specific within the now dominant ruling bloc of the Mexican political apparatus. Because AMLO did not come to power on his own. Recalling Arendt’s words about power depending on the ability to stay together, AMLO came into power through the coalition formed with – most importantly – the Social Encounter Party (PES).
According to figures published by Bloomberg, the coalition between MORENA (AMLO’s own party), PT (a more traditionally socialist workers’ party), and the PES captured a total of 68 seats in the Senate and 307 in the Chamber of Deputies.
However, according to the Bloomberrg figures we cited earlier, the absolute majority that the coalition shares in the Senate without the support of the Social Encounter Party is effectively eliminated, while the absolute majority of the Chambers of Deputy would hang by a thread. Such a relation of force effectively tips in the favor the conservative Social Encounter Party.
This wouldn’t be too concerning for AMLO if not for the fact that this party is quite radically religious. And while the party stands for increased spending to education and pensions, it is conservative in all other regards.
This should cast reasonable speculation against the ability of AMLO to run any economic agenda that is too far to the left or breaks with the classical boundaries of fiscal austerity – including breaking up NAFTA. The party’s emphasis on family values will cast further limits on the handling of narcos.
In the end, the only thing they have in common is not wanting PRI and PAN, and that doesn’t make for a very powerful coalition. For this reason, much of what is possible is severely tempered by the PES.
In next week’s feature, we will go over the economic limitations that define the possibilities of AMLO’s presidency.