As Mexicans go to the polls this Sunday to elect their new president, it is almost certain that the leftist candidate,Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will be victorious. Polls indicate that LópezObrador, alsoknown as AMLO, has an advantage of 22 points over his competitors. ShouldLópezObrador be elected, it could be a real game changer for Mexico and for U.S.- Mexico relations.
Moreover, polls indicate that López Obrador’s party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), could achieve a large majority in both chambers of congress which will provide the support he will need to obtain his policy goals.
AMLO emerges due to a crisis of legitimacy of the political class. Mexican leaders have not been able to solve the problem of corruption, economic decline and violence that is taking more and more lives every day. The proliferation of drug cartels, the assassination of local political candidates, widespread crime, rampant corruption and the feeling of chaos have not been resolved under the governments of the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). López Obrador remains the only candidate who has not had the opportunity to govern yet.
This gives AMLO the advantage of competing against two parties that have disappointed the electorate and has allowed him to remain a candidate without a sound message or clear policies. Thus, AMLO leaves much room for speculation about what kind of government he will run.
Some observers have called him a leftist ideologue. Others consider him to be a pragmatist.
Inthe past, López Obrador identified with Hugo Chávez andwas believed to have received financial aid from the Venezuelan revolutionary leader during his presidential campaign in 2006. He was defeated twice when he ran for president. Both in2006 and 2012, he tried to delegitimize the winners by accusing them of fraud and proceeded to mobilize his followers to street protests. In an interview he gave in February 2017, López Obrador declared that Chavez had been a real democrat since under his rule there were multiple elections that were even “cleaner than the Mexican ones”. This, despite the fact that the Mexican elections were widely viewed as honest (at least since the year 2000) while the Venezuelan ones always raised the suspicion of fraud.
Moreover, López Obrador has expressed his preference for the use of plebiscites. Such a method tends to weaken the institutions of representative government. AMLO also refused to criticize Venezuelan president,Nicolás Maduro and Raúl Castro despite theirhorrendous human rights records and the misery in which their people are submerged. He alsoreaffirmed the principle of national sovereignty over human rights and freedom. According to AMLO, he would not want foreign countries to meddle in his government.
This, in itself, suggests that as president AMLO could put an end to the Mexican policy of supporting democracy and freedom in the region. That would be a huge problem for the region at a time when massive protests and government violence are sweeping Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Domestically, López Obrador appeals to the masses in a very general and abstract way. His charisma and figure seem to be the greatest attraction more than his ideas. He is reluctant to accept criticism and has had an authoritarian personal style. He has adopted a position where he views himself as an angel of morals and his opponents ascorrupt and immoral. He claims he represents the real interests of the people while his political opponents represent “the mafia in power.”
According to conservative commentator and historian, Enrique Krauze (as quoted in the New Yorker) Lopez Obrador could obstruct Mexico‘s democracy by removing its counterweights such as using his power to change the composition of the Supreme Court and dominate other institutions.
It is not clear how AMLO would fight corruption and violence. He has said he would consider amnesty for the drug cartels with the aim of “achieving peace in the country.” This may sound good to Mexicans weary of the cartels’ criminal activity but in realitycan amnesty be given to a criminal organization that has no interest in abandoning its lucrative business? The other question is whatpower does the Mexican state have to obtain concessions from drug criminals? It is reasonable to assume that such anamnesty would be tantamount to giving a green light to drug trafficking. In short, this is simply demagogic rhetoric without any clear plan.
However, there are those who maintain that López Obrador is a pragmatist as was shown by some of his accomplishmentswhen he was mayor of Mexico City. AMLO expanded social programs for the poorest and the elderly, and eased traffic congestion by expanding highways.He also maintained close relationships with businessmen such as the billionaire, Carlos Slim. Those contacts allowed him to carry out important public works in Mexico City.
But perhaps the most pragmatic step AMLO has taken is his alliance with the Social Encounter Party (PES), which is an evangelical group with conservative ideas, particularly on social and cultural issues. López Obrador seems to be ready to renounce some of his ideas in order to win evangelical Christian votes and thus expand his base of support.
The evangelical community in Mexico isgrowinglike in the rest of Latin America. Thus, AMLO has spoken about family values and a “moral revolution”. Regardless of what this really means in practical terms, this partnership, if it holds,might mitigate AMLO‘sattempts to radicalize his political platform, including his attitude towards the United States. Evangelicals in Latin America have a strong bond with evangelicals in the U.S.and these bondsconstitute a crucial political base for President Donald Trump.
We only have hints as to how López Obrador will govern. One thing he has said is that he wants to make Mexico more self-sufficient and that he might be willing to let NAFTA go. Since talks with the Trump Administration have gone on for months with no final agreement in sight, López Obrador could play a crucial role as to the outcome.
Mexico has until now been an important regional political ally of the United States, particularly during the time the left dominated a large part of the Latin American landscape. However, tensions between the U.S and its neighbor to the south raised as President Trump made statements about Mexican immigrants, requested to renegotiate the free trade agreement, the imposition of tariffs on Mexican products and demanded that Mexico pay for the border wall.
It is extremely important to prevent López Obrador from deviating from Mexico’s pro-American policy in a region that is still very unstable. Mexico could well increase trade and relations with China and also seek alliances with Russia. This is the challenge the Trump administration may face. After Sunday, it is likely that our government will be left with no choice but to approach this unpredictable man.
Published by Center for Security Policy on Friday June 29th, 2018