Andrés Manuel López Obrador elected president in 2018 Mexican General Elections. He not only became president with a huge margin and %53 of the vote, but also his party won the majority both in the Senate and the Chamber of the Deputies. The reason for his success and its potential impacts to the democracy of Mexico should be examined. How much has he fulfilled his promises and what are the criticisms? Compared to previous governments, did he contribute to the cause of democracy or the situation got worse?
Prior to start of his presidential term on 1December 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) had a long career in politics. He entered political arena with Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 1976. Later on, he joined the Party of Democratic the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and he was the national leader of the PRD between 1996 and 1999. He lost the presidential elections in 2006 to Felipe Calderón from PAN. When PRD decided to support Peña Nieto in 2012 elections, AMLO started a movement called “National Regeneration Movement (MORENA)”. This movement constructed a new party and surpassed PRD by becoming the most supported left-wing party in 2016. Its commitment to social change and being more closer to civil society could be underlined as critical aspects of its success.[i]
In order to understand why AMLO gained the support of the masses, the performance of the Peña Nieto’s presidency between 2012 and 2018 must be put under the spotlight. Neoliberalist policies emerged in the early 1980s, when Mexico faced a sovereign debt crisis. It also broke the PRI’s monopolistic ownership over state. Corrupt government officials searched for new ways of wealth accumulation under “privatization of state-owned enterprises”. It went on until 2000, when PRI lost power. Right wing parties followed the path of PRI, many corruption cases were shelved under simple judicial sentences. PRI returned to power in 2012, corruption levels skyrocketed during Peña Nieto’s period of office. According to Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International[ii], Mexico regressed 33 steps between 2012 and 2018. Ackerman states in his article: “As late as 2014, Peña Nieto would publicly argue on more than one instance, that corruption was a “cultural condition” in Mexico, an effort to evade his party’s responsibility for the undeniable pervasiveness of the practice” (177).[iii] Prosecutors also filed criminal charges[iv] against Nieto under a corruption investigation in 2020.
There is a strong relation between security and economy regarding governmental rule. In Mexico, there is a strong regression concerning both of these spheres. In his 2018 presidential campaign, AMLO focused on the issue of corruption and promised to end it. Another major problem was the increased violence due to criminal activities of the drug cartels. Unlike Calderón and Peña Nieto’s – two previous presidents served between 2006 and 2018 – violent measurements against the cartels, he adopted a policy of “hugs, not bullets”. He claims it would reduce the death rates of innocents and an amnesty for drug traffickers could give them the opportunity to participate in the legal economy.[v] The most clear instance of AMLO’s approach is observed in October 2019, when he decided to release the arrested Guzmán López, son of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán. He also stood by his decision (López Obrador, 00:01:25 – 00:01:52)[vi] no matter the consequences. Setting a precedent for the absence of the rule of law, other violent incidents followed it. Not only affected the decrease in popularity of AMLO within the Mexican voters, but also increased the tension between Trump consequentially with US (8).[vii] At the end, in terms of prioritizing, the president is torn between two choices: economy and security.
Concerning AMLO’s pledge to end corruption, his main argument was to end the neoliberal understanding in Mexico’s economy. His plan for the Mexico’s ‘Fourth Transformation’ faced serious problems and criticisms along the way. Villanueva Ulfgard and Villanueva evaluated the situation detailly in their article. Some key points could be listed as:
- There is an ongoing left-wing populist attitude of AMLO, presenting his own political agenda as the common desire of the population.
- “The primacy of politics over economics” is being followed by ineffective economic measures as neoliberal understanding continues, delegitimizing public institutions that caused the resignation of several qualified state officials.
- He is creating ground for polarization with an anti-establishment attitude, especially by an anti-propaganda against the white elites in Mexico.[viii]
In conclusion, López Obrador started his presidential term with good intentions and inspiring promises for the Mexican people. However, he failed to provide the desired outcomes so far. Of course compared to close-history examples in Mexico’s governance, he is doing a better job. There are still many things that AMLO must overcome, in order to deliver his campaign promises and made them more ‘functioning mechanisms’ than a ‘theoretical approach’. There is still a hopeful path for Mexico without AMLO undermining the principles of democracy, the future will show us the outcome.
[i] Ackerman, John M. “Mexico: Ending the Neoliberal Nightmare: The “pink tide” passed by Mexico. However, the emergence of new social and political movements may represent a beacon of hope to revive the region’s Left.” NACLA Report on the Americas 48.4 (2016): 394-400.
[iii] Ackerman, Edwin F. “Neoliberalism and Corruption in Mexico: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Technocrats sold austerity and privatization in Mexico as a cudgel against corruption. Instead, elites have used neoliberalism as a cover for corporate corruption.” NACLA Report on the Americas 51.2 (2019): 174-179.
[v] Stevenson, Jonathan, editor. “Mexico under AMLO.” Strategic Comments, vol. 24, no. 6, 2018, pp. iii-iv. Crossref, doi:10.1080/13567888.2018.1506309.
[vi] “Violent Clashes Erupt between Cartel Gunmen and Police in Mexico.” YouTube, uploaded by Guardian News, 18 Oct. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wv1W0m4eOo&ab_channel=GuardianNews
[vii] Fraioli, Paul, editor. “Mexico’s Cartels and the Rule of Law.” Strategic Comments, vol. 26, no. 1, 2020, pp. vii–ix. Crossref, doi:10.1080/13567888.2020.1735096.
[viii] Villanueva Ulfgard, Rebecka, and César Villanueva. “The Power to Transform? Mexico’s ‘Fourth Transformation’ under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.” Globalizations, vol. 17, no. 6, 2020, pp. 1027–42. Crossref, doi:10.1080/14747731.2020.1718846.