Mexicans save their democracy

Despite campaign violence, they voted to restrain the power ambitions of a populist president. Mexico is now a potential model for the rest of Central America.

Reuters
Electoral workers count ballots at a polling station in Mexico City June 6.

On her first trip to Central America to promote good governance, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris found a pleasant surprise in one stop. Despite a wave of campaign violence, Mexican voters turned out strong on June 6 for the country’s largest, and perhaps cleanest, elections.

They also sent a message to a populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, that he should not jeopardize the independence of the election watchdog and the courts. His Morena party lost dozens of seats in Congress, dashing hopes of a supramajority that would allow him to alter the constitution.

For a democracy that ended one-party rule only a quarter-century ago, Mexico now emerges as a potential model for a region backsliding in electoral integrity and toward strong-man rule. A whole range of civic-minded people, from a million poll workers to public intellectuals, stood up for the endurance of Mexico’s democratic institutions. They affirmed the need for a check on the executive branch and a higher level of debate and consensus.

The educated middle class in Mexico City, where the president was once a popular mayor, was especially important in giving AMLO, as the president is called, an electoral shellacking. While his party retains a majority in Congress and took most of the governorships on the ballot, he appeared humbled after the election. His ambitions to rule without the restraints of normal democracy were given a course correction by voters eager to safeguard basic institutions.

The results are notable for a country that has the ninth highest homicide rate in the world and whose economy has not grown in two years. Mexico’s recent history of both left and right governments has led many voters to worry first about their democracy’s ability to find centrist solutions. Their display of self-governance should make the Biden administration’s goal of seeing and supporting real democracy in Central America a bit easier.

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