In what some are calling the largest election in Mexican history—there were more than 3,400 contested races at the federal, state and local levels—voters to our south went to the polls on Sunday and chose a new president, handing him a landslide victory. His name is Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Mexicans commonly refer to him by his initials: AMLO. He is considered a populist who rode a wave of national angst and anger over political corruption and national violence into office, bolstered by what are expected to be gains in the number of seats his party will hold in the Mexican congress, according to exit polls. He is considered a leftist leader who is as nationalistic as President Trump is in the United States. His election has excited the masses in Mexico and is making the nation’s power elite nervous.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, as the nation calls him, is the 64-year-old former mayor of Mexico City who was elected president on Sunday following his third attempt at the office. Exit polling on Sunday shows he won more than half of the national vote, prompting his main rivals to concede defeat within 45 minutes of the close of the polls. His victory speech Sunday night had the aura of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural call to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country: “I call on all Mexicans to reconciliation, and to put above their personal interests, however legitimate, the greater interest, the general interest,” he said. “The state will cease to be a committee at the service of a minority and will represent all Mexicans, rich and poor, those who live in the country and in the city, migrants, believers and nonbelievers, to people of all philosophies and sexual preferences.” Although official vote-tallying continues, his party, MORENA, is expected to win a sizable number of seats in congress. Given the size of his electoral victory, he is claiming that voters have given him a national mandate to enact his policies.
Who were the other candidates?
His main rivals included José Antonio Meade of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI; Ricardo Anaya of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN; and Jaime “El Bronco” Rodriguez quickly conceded defeat. Meade is a Yale-educated politician with a dense resume who had faced almost certain defeat as his party has become a common source for ire in Mexico. Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, also a member of the PRI, has hit some of the lowest approval ratings for a Mexican president in history. Anaya is a well-polished technocrat with a PhD from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. His politics are relatively conservative, promoting loose economic restrictions and an emphasis on commerce. Rodriguez was the governor of Nuevo Leon who took a hard line against the transnational drug cartels.
Who is AMLO and what does he stand for?
López Obrador is the son of working class parents in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. López Obrador came of age politically in a period of Mexico’s political history when one party, the PRI, controlled practically every facet of Mexican governance, whether at the federal, state, or local level. The PRI collected and claimed every politician who had legitimate hopes for power. As such, López Obrador joined the PRI in 1976, casting his lot with a group of far-left socialist PRI members (once inside the PRI, most politicians had liberty to decide their individual politics).
After a decade of work with the PRI, López Obrador struck out for a more novel political future, joining up with the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, in 1989. In that party, he was elected Head of Government in Mexico City, an executive position tantamount to being mayor of that massive city. As mayor of Mexico City, AMLO accrued considerable support for his emphasis on social support, public health, and welfare programs. He resigned that seat in 2005 to make his first run for president as head of what was called Coalition for the Good of All that included three lesser political parties in Mexico, including his PRD; he lost. Following a second unsuccessful run for president in 2012, AMLO left the PRD and two years later started a new political party called the National Regeneration Movement or MORENA.
AMLO is a populist who has said he cares fervently for the plight of Mexico’s working class, particularly agricultural workers. His rhetoric towards the United States is tough although he has said he wants to maintain close relations with our country; although he supports a renegotiated North America Free Trade Agreement—as does President Trump—he has said that Mexico, now Latin America’s second largest economy, can walk away from trade talks with the United States if necessary. Early in the election, Mexico’s well-heeled business class voiced concern over stringent financial regulations, though AMLO has recently toned down his anti-capitalist slogans and promised to be respectful of private property. In essence, he’s a man of the working class who has had to negotiate a system ruled by a wealthy political elite. Even so, he doesn’t refrain from decrying that political elite as a “rapacious minority.”
What are the major issues at play in Mexican politics?
The most pressing two concerns in Mexican politics right now are corruption and violence. In 2017, Mexico experienced more homicides than any time in the last two decades. Femicides and sexual assault have become a particularly nasty issue in Mexico, where urban governments have had to institute special public buses for women. AMLO’s policies for dealing with violence are vague, and he has drawn criticism for once suggesting amnesty for Mexican gang members. AMLO’s message approaches violence through anti-corruption. López Obrador is adamant about cleaning out corruption, and for good reason; Mexican government officials (at all levels) have been known to actively participate in violence, narcotics trafficking, and fear-mongering around the country. Among other concerns are a slow economy, immigration from Central America and President Donald Trump’s anti-Mexican sentiments.
What role did social media play in the election?
As was the case in the election of Donald Trump, social media became an inescapable factor in the Mexican election, and the candidates used it to their fullest capacity. In some cases, Mexican social media-users saw false articles and news updates appear on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. American intelligence officials have even publicly announced findings which suggest Russian meddling in the Mexican election, though not nearly to the degree discovered in the 2018 U.S. Presidential elections. AMLO, who has received favorable treatment from the Russia-based interferences, has mocked and denied any accusations of association with Russia.
What is his appeal?
In a country in which half of its residents are poor, AMLO’s rhetoric against the rich has resonated. He has vowed not to live in Los Pinos, the Mexican president’s equivalent to the White House, and he has vowed not to fly on Mexico’s $218 million presidential airplane. Even the criticisms against him were met with populist appeal. The ruling PRI has compared him to Venezuela’s former socialist leader Hugo Chávez, a charge that Mexico’s working class might like. Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, told the New Yorker that the Trump administration viewed an AMLO victory as a catastrophe, although the president tweeted Sunday night: “Congratulations to Andres Manuel López Obrador on becoming the next President of Mexico. I look very much forward to working with him. There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico!”
Congratulations to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on becoming the next President of Mexico. I look very much forward to working with him. There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2018