With the Morena-Social Encounter Party Alliance in Mexico the 2018 elections took on a new twist. Whether due to conviction or strategic decision, merging an ostensibly leftist party with one that is clearly conservative unleashed great controversy: Is this a marriage of convenience or an association of two ideologically similar entities? Whichever the case may be, there is no doubt about religion playing a role in this election.
In recent years, one electoral process after another -from Brexit to Trump and including various governorships in Mexico- has evidenced a disconnect between politics and development. Some attribute this phenomenon to an emotional element, others to the lack of results on the part of traditional politicians, but the relevant fact is that Mexicans are now living in uncharted times: the vectors that served in the past to understand the voters’ way of acting have ceased being valid, as illustrated by failed surveys in nearly all recent instances worldwide. Voters are no longer predictable or, at least, the instruments that would forecast the results are not as useful as they once were.
Of course, all politicians engage in all types of efforts to exploit the emotions of the electorate, because that is the time-honored way to inject the voter with enthusiasm and generate followers of the person or the project that promotes a determined candidate. Religion, at least in a political sense, is no more than another emotion and, from this perspective, it would not be strange for it to become a novel factor in the national spectrum. However, a follower, however faithful, is not the same as a believer: the former supposes a conscious decision, the latter a conviction that is the product of a belief; both are respectable but bring about very different political consequences.
A documentary on César Chávez, leader of Mexican farmworkers in the U.S., whom I had the opportunity of observing a little while ago, prompted me to reflect on the religious component. Chávez began his movement against the current not only because it was about foreign workers, but also because there was not a sole recognized rural farmworkers’ union in that country. It was not simple to mobilize workers who felt vulnerable in the face of being deported from the U.S. and against the opposition of the employers. However, Chávez not only achieved recognition, but this also took place in a peculiar manner: one Good Friday he was offered the possibility of an interview in the Nation’s capital and confirmation of the recognition was issued on Easter Sunday. For union members, these two factors were providential signs.
Chávez was not a religious leader in any sense, nor is Andrés López Obrador. Whatever the religious convictions of either are or had been, both are innate politicians who pursue an objective and employ all means possible to attain it. Viewed in this way, the entire conception of the Morena Party and its association with the Social Encounter Party respond to an attempt to inspire a religious feeling and fervor that exceeds any other argumentation in the decision of whom to vote for. That is, the quest is for believers, not citizens.
In a strictly pragmatic sense, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with plying the use of religious symbols for accomplishing a political aim; at the end of the day, in these times, few facets of political competition so flagrantly disregard any ethical considerations whatsoever with respect to means and ends: we have come to the point that anything goes as long as the objective is met; there is one winner and all the rest lose. Some do this with religion, others with gifts and some with the outright buying of votes.
What’s crucial with an election –at any time, in any country- is that a government be chosen so that it should govern: it is not a beauty contest but instead a political decision entailing consequences for the voters themselves. When the electoral mechanics are geared to removing citizens’ capacities in order to to generate disciples and believers -thus, mobilizing by factors distinct from those of a rational decision – the resulting government ends up having attributions and powers that are contrary to the essence of a democracy because it lacks checks and balances, hence becoming a potential source of impunity, which is the natural breeding ground for an authoritarian government capable of imposing its preferences without any counterweight. Not very different from the past, albeit more extreme.
Each candidate uses symbols -religious or ideological (such as nationalism)- as a strategy to advance their cause; the old political system achieved an ideological hegemony for decades. The novelty, which is worrying, of Andrés Manuel López Obrador´s thrust is his search for believers to follow him to the gallows if that is what the leader demands. This is what explains his reluctance to explain his project or to answer absolutely legitimate and logical inquiries.
The key question ends up being whether the citizens have the capacity and disposition to defend their rights and achievements with the candidate of their preference without opening the door to full impunity, implicit in the believer that accepts anything without a fight.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author.
About the Author
Mexico Institute Advisory Board Member & President; Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales (COMEXI); Chairman, Center for Research for Development (CIDAC), Mexico
The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more