Far-Left Populist Wins Mexican Presidency, Promises Change, but Can He Deliver?

Andrés Manuel López Obrador rallied the people of Mexico to a landslide victory, promising to take on corruption and to champion the poor. Obrador will be the first leftist president since Mexico truly became a multiparty democracy some 30 years ago. Indeed, Obrador’s political party didn’t officially establish itself until 2014, well after Mexico’s last presidential election.

Obrador has been likened to Trump in some ways. Both are populists, both tapped into anti-establishment sentiments, and both have promised wide-sweeping change. Both could be described as “incendiary,” using strong, partisan rhetoric to rally their bases, political politeness be damned. While Trump promised to drain the swamp, Obrador committed to taking on the “mafia of power” that rules Mexico.

However, the two are polar opposites on the political spectrum. While Trump rallied the right-wing and many Tea Party types during his campaign, Obrador tapped into leftist aspirations, promising to establish sweeping social programs that will benefit the poor.

Speaking on the election results, former Mexican ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan remarked that Mexican voters “are choosing someone who will kick the table instead of simply resetting the dinnerware.”

Like President Trump, however, Obrador will face plenty of headwinds. While Obrador is popular with the masses, he lacks the political infrastructure to ensure that his policies will be passed. Trump has found himself in a similar situation, facing near total opposition from Democrats and struggling to rally his own party.

Meanwhile, corruption is always difficult to eradicate. President Trump and former President Obama both promised to take on DC’s insular culture, yet the bandits remain at large inside the Beltway. Can Obrador deliver? That’s a question many are asking themselves right now. The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) claims that as much as 5 percent of Mexico’s GDP is lost annually to corruption.

Obrador’s challenges are many. Mexico is Latin America’s second-largest economy after Brazil, and many segments of Mexican society are doing very well. Yet the poor remain poor and the on-going drug war still claims thousands of lives per month. Some 60 percent of Mexicans work in the informal economy, which is characterized by low wages and no benefits.

(Credit: Facebook/Andrés Manuel López Obrador)

Obrador swept into office with 53 percent of the vote, easily beating his two challengers. Outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto, meanwhile, saw his approval rating drop to as low as 12 percent after a series of scandals rocked his administration. Even the always lambasted United States Congress is putting up better approval ratings, with 19 percent of voters approving of their job performance.

Obrador came close to winning the Presidency back in 2006 but fell short. Now he has a chance to reshape Mexican politics. Yet he won’t be the first to try. Previous governments that attempted to overhaul Mexico’s institutions largely fell short. In addition, previous presidents that declared war on the drug cartels also failed. At best, they fought the cartels to a stalemate and forced them underground, a bit.

Obrador won’t be facing just internal challenges and opposition, either. President Trump has set his sights on Mexico, alleging unbalanced trade policies. Trump has promised to renegotiate NAFTA and has already levied tariffs against Mexico. Even though Trump’s trade markets has investors on edge, he has shown no signs of softening his stance.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Brian Brinker

Brian Brinker is a political consultant and has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.

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