Morena candidate Delfina Gómez speaks at the podium. (AP)

Morena candidate Delfina Gómez speaks at the podium. (AP)


AS/COA Insider: Carin Zissis on the Election Results of Mexico’s Most Populous State

"Morena's win is going to be seen as an important sign ahead of next year's presidential vote," says the AS/COA Online editor-in-chief.

On June 4, Mexico witnessed the end of nearly a century of single-party rule in its most populous state after its citizens elected the gubernatorial candidate from Morena, the party of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The contest in the State of Mexico, known as Edomex, was closely watched as it is considered a precursor for next year’s presidential election. 

Returns from nearly all polling cites indicate that Delfina Gómez led Morena’s coalition to a victory with 53 percent of the ballots compared with 44 percent for of Alejandra del Moral, a member of the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) who represented the Va Por México opposition coalition. 

"The question for Morena is going to be, ‘Well, we're looking pretty strong a year out from this presidential election, but what happens when this president, who is vocal in terms of backing different candidates and propelling them to victory, recedes from the centerstage?’' says Carin Zissis, editor-in-chief of AS/COA Online and a Mexico expert. She spoke about what the June 4 election results in Edomex and Coahuila demonstrate about party alliances and what to watch for next ahead of the 2024 presidential vote.

AS/COA Online: What happened in the June 4 State of Mexico elections and why does it matter? 

Carin Zissis
Carin Zissis

Carin Zissis: The State of Mexico election is a key vote because while we're only talking about one out of 32 states, it is the most populous state in Mexico. One in eight Mexicans live in Edomex, which borders Mexico City and is the second-biggest contributor to national GDP after the capital. This election also comes exactly a year before the presidential and general elections, so it's seen as a contest that people look to for a signal of what's to come. 

What happened is that in a state has been controlled by and viewed as an important base for the PRI for 94 years, Morena’s Delfina Gómez won by a large margin of about nine points. So, this was a resounding Morena victory. 

Not only that but the PRI candidate was running in the Va Por México alliance, representing the PAN, PRI, PRD, and another smaller party. Observers are going to look at this election and they're going to say that, even when with the different opposition parties together, Morena still won this election, hands down. As such, Morena’s win is going to be seen as an important sign of strength ahead of next year's presidential vote.

AS/COA Online: Were there any surprises in the June 4 vote? 

Zissis: One of the things that was interesting about the electoral outcome is that some of the things that seemed like surprises weren't actually surprises. For example, it may seem surprising that Morena won by such a substantial amount in a state considered a PRI bastion, but the polls actually predicted a larger margin. Still, we have to remember that the PRI has held power in this state for so many years and that means it still had some strength on the ground. The main surprise here may be that the margin wasn’t even narrower. 

But another takeaway is that the abstention rate was rather high. Turnout was only around 48 or 49 percent compared with 53 percent last time around in 2017. It was a sign that perhaps these candidates didn't motivate voters to show up. 

That’s notable because this is a state that represents a lot of Mexico's biggest problems. Violence was the runaway top concern for voters, along with poverty and covering basic costs. Edomex is a state where citizens report a high rate of feeling insecure and where there are high levels of informality in the job sector. You’d hope that citizens would want to get the opportunity to share their frustrations and have a voice through voting. The low turnout suggests these candidates couldn’t necessarily inspire voters to show up and cast their ballots. 

But I’d argue that the bigger surprise happened in Coahuila, the other state that held a gubernatorial election on June 4. In that state, infighting within the leftist coalition led to the Morena and the Worker’s Party backing different candidates. The PRI’s Manolo Jiménez, who ran as a Va Por México alliance candidate, beat his top rival in Morena by about 35 points—well above what polls suggested. Given that Edomex has 12.6 million voters and Coahuila has 2.3 million, the Edomex results get a lot more attention. But the fact that Coahuila is located on the U.S. border means it’s a key state from a trade and security standpoint, nonetheless. 

AS/COA Online: What do the results mean for Morena and its allies and the opposition alliance? 

Zissis: I think that Morena is going to look at the results of this election and celebrate the outcome as a sign of how it has politically transformed the country. Morena is less than 10 years old and yet it has become a formidable political force in the country, controlling 23 out of 32 gubernatorial seats, which is extraordinary if you think about how it didn't even exist a decade ago. 

For the opposition, it's really a warning. 

Across Mexico, this result is seen by many as another nail in the coffin for the PRI, the party that controlled the country's politics and government for decades. Now, it will only be left governing two states.

Having said that, I think we're going to see the opposition come out of this and point to the results in Coahuila, where the alliance exceeded expectations. That’s going to be the big takeaway of these elections: the importance of competing in alliance.

But another point is the pivotal role of the president. Given the lackluster turnout in Edomex, we know that one big reason Gómez was able to win was that this very popular president supported her.

The question for Morena is going to be: "Well, we're looking pretty strong a year out from this election, but what happens when this president, who is vocal in terms of backing different candidates and propelling them to victory, recedes from the centerstage? What does that mean for the future of Morena?" Because it's a real warning that, when you have infighting in the party, as was the case with Coahuila, a candidacy can crumble.

Still, at least for next year, the Edomex results indicate Va Por México has a steep hill to climb.

AS/COA Online: What should we be watching for next in terms of Mexico’s political competition? 

Zissis: In the next couple weeks, look for both sides to start getting their chess pieces in order for the 2024 presidential election. It's expected that, within the next few days, Morena is going to bring together the top candidates, or pre-candidates, to chart out what the next steps will be to select the candidate internally. 

Morena is expected to hold a poll and Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum is considered the frontrunner. Marcelo Ebrard, the foreign minister and who pollsters generally place second among Morena’s pre-candidates, has suggested that all of the top candidates should now step down from their roles and have a robust competition for the candidacy of Morena and its allies. So, we will see what happens with some of these candidates and how long they stay in their roles. 

On the other side, we're going to also see the PAN and the PRI in the Va Por Mexico alliance try to figure out how can it possibly make itself competitive a year out from this election. What's going to be the process to pick the candidate? It's generally thought that the candidate is going to come from the PAN—the National Action Party—which is now the second-biggest political force in Mexico. But exactly how that process is going to work is to be defined, and we'll want to be watching how smoothly that goes, whether there’s infighting, and what it means if that happens. 

So keep an eye out, with the end of the June 4 elections, we will see the 2024 competition ramp up.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.