I’m a bit late to this (the Brazilian Studies Association conference last week and then playing catch-up with classes this week have taken me away from blogging a bit), but leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who lost the Mexican presidential election to PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in July, has announced that he is leaving the PRD, for whom he ran in 2006 and this year, and will form his own party to oppose the new government.
This could be a means for López Obrador to inject new vitality into partisan politics in Mexico even while allowing the PRD to look to a new generation of politicians to lead it; alternatively, it could be part of López Obrador’s slide into political irrelevancy, a voice people pay attention to but without much actual real influence in Mexican politics. I think the determining factor in which of these two outcomes results will depend on whether López Obrador is interested in creating a real party alternative, with all of the infrastructure, grassroots mobilization, and organization that requires, or if he’s really just using a new party to try to stoke his ego and remain relevant in the vein of Ralph Nader. Though I hope I’m wrong, I fear it’s more likely the latter. It’s not like López Obrador has maintained his promises in the past – the “shadow government” he pledged in the wake of his controversial loss in 2006 never materialized – and this seems to be the last whimper from a politician whose time has passed. Yann and I were discussing the campaign and elections last week, and I expressed some confusion over López Obrador’s re-nomination after 2006. I can see how people thought perhaps 2012 would be enough to push him over after the extremely close elections in 2006 when he was nominated, but throughout the campaign, it was increasingly apparent that 2006 was most likely the pinnacle of his presidential aspirations; that the Mexican media lined up behind Peña Nieto only seemed to reaffirm this [and an underwhelming performance during the debates certainly didn’t help López Obrador, though to be fair, all of the candidates really underperformed and were underwhelming].
If this betrays a decreasing relevance for López Obrador [which again, I think is the case, though I may be wrong], I think the real winner in this political split is the PRD. After two failed attempts with López Obrador, the party can move beyond the figurehead of the party for the past two election cycles and can focus on pushing forward and trying to attain the presidency. Indeed, their willingness to acknowledge the Peña Nieto presidency and move on with a new heir-apparent in Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City, suggests that they’ve acknowledged that López Obrador is a part of their electoral past, not their present or future.