López Obrador’s resounding triumph in Mexico

07/18/2018

Against all odds, Andrés Manuel López Obrador—or AMLO, as he is called—was overwhelmingly elected President of Mexico on July 1. November polls had him leading by one digit, and by March he was ahead by around 10 points. Then, on the eve of the election, the most optimistic surveys gave him a margin of 17 to 22, but there were doubts about the arithmetic. With a high participation rate of 63.5 percent and despite doubts and chicanery, the final count was 53.17 percent for AMLO, of the National Regeneration Movement, or Morena; 22.27 percent—a difference of more than 30 points—for Ricardo Anaya of the coalition led by the National Action Party, or PAN; and 16.43 percent for Jose Antonio Meade of the coalition led by the governmental Institutional Revolutionary Party, the worst defeat for the PRI in history.

In a country accustomed to cynicism, where cheating, corruption, fraud and doubt about anything positive for the country and its people are all too predictable, skepticism is just common sense. Maybe that’s why hope springs eternal and there now is enormous hope for AMLO. Few citizens took their triumph for granted, despite polls and a mountain of evidence. There was talk of poll manipulation, intervention by the state at the hands of the PRI, widespread million-peso vote-buying, and general institutional weakness in oversight of an accurate and legal electoral process. Some believed the United States would not allow a leftist government in Mexico, as has been true in the past all over the subcontinent.

So the result surprised everyone. After the uncertainty and anguish of that Sunday morning, by the afternoon it was obvious that AMLO was sweeping the country and his Morena party and its candidates would triumph in the federal and state congresses. Morena candidates took five of the eight state governorships in dispute and many other positions. That night, with only exit polls and few votes counted, Meade, the PRI candidate, with a civility unheard of in a country of unbelievers, conceded defeat and recognized AMLO’s seemingly irreversible momentum. Anaya and President Peña Nieto soon followed.

Expressions of joy flowed throughout the country. At midnight in Mexico City, AMLO was on his way to the zócalo and people surrounded his car to greet him and take selfies. There, in the historical and political nerve center of the country, before a spontaneously gathered crowd, he gave a speech of change in favor of the people, respect for institutions and reconciliation. Together with concessions by the losing candidates, it calmed any expectation of disorder, fear, violence and monetary devaluation and the doubts of big business, the stock market and corporations.

López Obrador received congratulations from leaders around the world, including Trump, and since then he has been acting as though he were already president, even though it’s still five months until his inauguration on Dec. 1. He has met with the forces of power, including President Peña Nieto, appointed his cabinet and announced changes in public policies and reforms that his administration will attempt to put in place. He has said he will reduce the salaries of senior officials and control public contracts to prevent corruption and abuse. He will increase assistance to senior citizens and make changes in the educational system, including offering scholarships for 2.5 million young people to be trained by big business. Mexico will become self-sufficient in the production of gasoline in new oil refineries, he said, with much of this paid for by the savings resulting from ending corruption. Other changes will seek to combat injustice and inequality, impunity and inefficiency in the judicial system and, most importantly, the resulting daily rise in violence.

The expectations that his victory has raised are enormous, and are proportional to his support from more than half of the electorate. This support is greater than that for any president in the young Mexican electoral democracy since 2000. Many fear it will not only pose a huge challenge, but lead to yet more disappointment. Others worry the Morena majority in the state and federal congresses—enough to change the constitution—will encourage abuses and authoritarian attitudes by lacking the counterweights of a modern democracy. 

For now, Mexicans are living the strange dream of a virtual victory in which something incredible has been achieved, though nothing has yet changed, with five months to go until the start of the term of a president who is different from all the previous ones, a president who speaks to the impoverished majorities, the voiceless, the ignored, the migrants. Who speaks to those who have both suffered or benefited from corruption and injustice, inequality, discrimination, racism and manipulation. Even some who were critical of him and wanted him to fail now see things a bit optimistically. We will have to see just how they react if and when they lose their privileges.

 

Victor Reyes is a longtime contributor to the Light who lives in Cotati. The Spanish translation of this column is available at ptreyeslight.com.