Mexico’s Election Marks Unprecedented Shift In Leadership

On July 1st, Mexico voted in an election which determined not only the presidency, but a total of over 3,400 seats, including the Senate and gubernatorial positions. This was a massive election, the largest in the nation’s history. The election yielded a voter turnout of 63%, and of the thousands of positions available, 128 were in the Senate and 500 were in the Chamber of Deputies. This was a pivotal election guided by key problems plaguing Mexico’s political climate.

There were three major issues that defined this election: corruption, poverty, and violence. The primary concern for many Mexican people was the entrenched corruption that persists within the national government. Mexico recently fell to 135 of 180 on the Transparency International Corruption Index. This corruption is institutionalized and promoted by the parties that have maintained control for decades.

The party which is currently under critique is the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). PRI has held power for 77 out of 89 years, and 71 of those years were consecutive. Peña Nieto, the outgoing president, was a member of the PRI who faced intense backlash from the public towards the end of his presidency. His current approval rating is 23%, showing a deep discontent from the people. This year, a poll was conducted which further highlighted this dissatisfaction, as 64% of Mexicans believed the country was not properly fighting against corruption.

Another problem tainting this election cycle is violence. The Mexican government provided statistics showing a dangerous increase in murders. 25,000 people were killed last year, and 2018 has been even worse, with the statistics rising 15% compared to the same time last year. These numbers are jarring, and the highest ever for Mexico. Official figures have determined that four people were murdered each hour in May of 2018. This has impacted the election in multiple ways. It has motivated the people to vote for change, but it has also placed candidates in danger, as approximately 130 candidates and officials were assassinated during the past election cycle.

This climate of violence was one reason the election’s results yielded such dramatic shifts in power, but poverty was also a driving factor. Of a population of over 127 million, 50 million people live beneath the poverty line. Similarly to other nations, 1% of the population has a third of the nation’s wealth. This disparity was noted by a UN economic commission, CEPAL, in 2017.

All of these instances of inequity culminated in the people rejecting the old parties and electing Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known commonly as AMLO). AMLO is an anti-establishment, populist, leftist politician who was born to poor shopkeeper parents in the state of Tabasco. He is the first candidate to win over 50% of the popular vote in decades, and his victory means extreme changes to the political landscape.

AMLO worked under the PRI when he was young, eventually breaking away to join to the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD). The PRD was founded in 1988 for those discontent with the PRI’s actions, and he served as the PRD Party President during the 1990s. He gained more widespread popularity during his service as Mayor of Mexico City. Despite his leftist leanings, AMLO was a pragmatic mayor who collaborated with businesses while also introducing legislation to provide supports to the elderly. Luckily, his mayoral term coincided with a break in the PRI’s rule, which occurred when Vicente Fox won. Fox was a member of another party, the National Action Party (PAN), a right-wing organization. This presidency allowed AMLO to distance himself from both PRI and PAN while strengthening his leftist agenda, as he consistently pointed out the failures of both of their leaderships.

AMLO ran in the past two presidential elections, losing both and facing extremely negative advertisements from opponents labelling him as a “danger to Mexico.” To many, this marked the end of his career. In the first of the elections he lost by less than 1%, pushing him to question the validity of the results. His opponents painted him as an angry radical refusing to accept and trust Mexican democracy. However, he did not stop campaigning, and while the nation was being led by PAN member Felipe Calderón, AMLO made visits to each one of Mexico’s 2,446 municipalities. This further solidified his “man of the people” status, slowly gaining him more supporters while Calderón ineffectively attempted to quell corruption and gang violence.

After losing again to outgoing PRI President Peña Nieto, AMLO formed his own party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and went on yet another tour speaking throughout Mexico. Now, in last weeks election, MORENA has won the majority of both houses of Congress, and Mexico City elected their first female mayor. Claudia Sheinbaum is a member of MORENA, and her victory is significant for gender equality in the nation.

MORENA is focused on aiding the poor while eroding political corruption. AMLO is praised by his supporters as being incredibly genuine, and his goals of destroying the “mafia of power” hit a need that other politicians did not tap into. He plans to cut the presidential salary in half, and continue to live in his regular home as opposed to relocating to the palace. In addition to these changes, he has committed to selling the presidential plane and flying solely on normal commercial flights. This landslide victory for MORENA, at all levels of government, seems to mean the slow disintegration of PRI and PAN, leaving space for new voices to emerge.

One critique that many opponents point out is his lack of concrete policy. However, AMLO has proved his pragmatism and his ability to balance change with practicality. His policies include supporting local businesses to decrease dependence on other countries, aiding peasants by providing subsidies, and helping students through scholarship and stipend programs. The last of those initiatives was summed up by his slogan, “Scholarships yes, cartel hitmen no.”

A major concern with his victory is that of U.S.-Mexico relations, which have become increasingly strenuous under President Trump’s leadership. Trump has congratulated AMLO and AMLO stated on television that, “We are not going to get into fights…We are going to extend our hand honestly in the search of a friendly and respectful cooperation.”

AMLO has suggested requesting American aid in order to support impoverished Mexican citizens better, therefore reducing immigration to the United States. Beyond issues of migration, NAFTA has also been a tense topic of negotiation between the two nations. AMLO has publicly stated he will not involve himself with NAFTA until he is inaugurated in December.

While proposing a multitude of large changes, AMLO has also made sure to maintain a cooperative and respectful outlook towards businesses, international markets, and the Central Bank of Mexico.

One of AMLO’s most repeated phrases is “I have one ambition, I want to go down in history as a good president of Mexico.” The current climate seems to support that notion, and the toppling of institutionalized powers is certainly a good sign.

Josephine Winslow