Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mexico's next president?

It's been asked before. Now it's being asked again.

Mexico’s populist would-be president
WHEN Andrés Manuel López Obrador winds up a stump speech in the main square of Jilotepec, a small town in the eastern state of Veracruz, the crowd surges forward. It takes him 15 minutes to pass through the commotion of backslapping, selfies and jabbing microphones to reach the car parked outside the tent where he spoke. The point of the rally is to promote Mr López Obrador’s party, Morena, in municipal elections to be held in Veracruz in June. But his main goal is much bigger: to win Mexico’s presidency on his third attempt, in 2018.

López Obrador
That is a prospect that thrills some Mexicans and terrifies others. A figure of national consequence for more than 20 years, AMLO, as he is often called, has fulminated against privilege, corruption and the political establishment. Sweep away all that, he tells poor Mexicans, and their lives will improve…

Mexico, like some richer countries, may now want more drastic politics. Voters are enraged by corruption, crime, which is rising again after a drop, and feeble economic growth…

AMLO proposes to answer graft with his own incorruptibility, and Donald Trump’s nationalism with a fiery nationalism of his own…

Mr López Obrador is the early front-runner for next year’s election… In a one-round election, he could win with as little as 30% of the vote. If that happens, Mexico will embark on a perilous political experiment.

He began his political career in the southern state of Tabasco as an operative of the PRI… As an official of the National Indigenous Institute he spent five years living with the Chontal, an Indian community. Hence his preoccupation with the poorest Mexicans…

His talent for political showmanship helped make him mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005. He ran twice for the presidency, in 2006 and 2012, losing to Mr Peña in the second contest. In 2014 he split from the PRD over its support for Mr Peña’s economic reforms and founded Morena, the Movement of National Regeneration…

As Mexico City’s mayor, Mr López Obrador caused less mayhem than his image suggested he might. He built roads and introduced a small universal pension… He left office with an approval rating of 84%…

For now, Mr López Obrador has the political field to himself. Morena is basically a one-man party, which means its quota of party-propaganda broadcasts can focus on promoting him. Other parties have to divide their resources among various politicians…

The PRI’s nominee for president, whoever it is, will be tainted by association with the current government. The likeliest PAN candidate, Margarita Zavala, is popular, but she is the wife of a former president, Felipe Calderón, who is widely blamed for an upsurge of violence provoked by his inept crackdown on crime. The PRD has little support…

His victory is no sure thing. His momentum would be slowed if Morena does badly in the governor’s election in the State of Mexico in June. Anybody-but-AMLO voters could unite behind one candidate; nearly half of voters have a negative view of him, a much higher share than for any other potential candidate. He has a talent for self-destruction. In 2006 his 16-point lead vanished after he refused to participate in the first televised debate and called the president, Vicente Fox, chachalaca, a bird noted for its loud cackle.

Much of Mexico’s elite prays that such buffoonery will again prove his undoing. But he has become smoother and more disciplined. The danger is that, even if he is shrewder about obtaining power, he may be no wiser about how to exercise it.

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