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Mexico to Elect a Left-wing Trump?

Mexico to Elect a Left-wing Trump?
Presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks at the final event of the 2018 Presidential Campaign at Azteca Stadium on June 27, 2018, in Mexico City, Mexico. (Pedro Mera/Getty Images)

By Friday, 29 June 2018 01:13 PM Current | Bio | Archive

After a brief respite to celebrate El Tri's earth-shaking start to the World Cup, attention has again drifted back to Mexico's presidential election.

For most of 2018, the likely, and now almost certain, election of AMLO has been the primary topic of discussion in Latin America's second-largest economy.

As the world comes to grips with the recent rise of far-right politics, Mexico is about to lurch to the left. The country is poised to finally elect the socialist and controversial veteran Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO. Conversations in the Mexican capital do not entertain whether or not Obrador will win, but rather what will happen when he does.

AMLO ran for president in 2006 and 2012 offering a much feistier and firebrand style of politics than he has this time around. He was narrowly defeated in the former campaign, losing out to the rightwing Felipe Calderon by half a percentage point.

The closeness of that result, combined with pre-election poll leads for Obrador and the eventually successful charges of campaign meddling against his rivals led to mass levels of unacceptance. Obrador declared himself the "Legitimate President," organized mass demonstrations and challenged the election in the courts. As much as his supporters rallied behind him, AMLO was criticized home and abroad as having a “messiah complex” who was "endanger[ing] civil peace in Mexico." The potentially ill-conceived protest did Obrador no favors as he eventually lost the following election in 2012 by a heftier margin to the current president, Peña Nieto.

This all paints a picture of the man.

Hugely popular amongst his own followers, Obrador is reviled by his opponents and their supporters. Ricardo Anaya, of Calerdon´s rightwing PAN, is polling a distant but clear second. His campaign has is now openly appealing to rival and undecided voters to switch to him in a last ditch attempt to defeat Obrador. Some of the country’s largest employers are leaning on their staff to avoid AMLO, putting up posters linking him to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. This is a common theme amongst those in the anti-AMLO camp: Look at what an extreme-left president did there, do you want that here?

Rather than fearful glances towards one of Mexico's southern neighbors, a look north might help better understand AMLO. Just like Donald Trump, Mexico's likely president is polarizing in the extreme.

The two men share a common distain for NAFTA and oddly agree that low wages for U.S. companies in Mexico serve neither workforce. Obrador has long wanted Mexico to become a self-sufficient nation, producing all it consumes. This mirrors Trump's America First outlook. Both appeal to voters in poorer rural areas and the urban working classes who feel left behind by previous governments.

Despite these similarities the reaction to the men has been entirely contrasting.

Trump's neoliberal deregulation and low tax are in stark contrast to AMLO's stance. The man from the poor, southern state of Tabasco intends to introduce minimum prices for farmers to tackle the country´s rampant poverty. He talks in vague terms about paying your dues, generally seen as a precursor to increasing taxes for Mexico's richest. As the mayor of Mexico City he introduced social programs for the elderly, single parents, and the disabled. These interventionist and welfare policies look more like European socialism than North American liberalism and would surely cause Trump some sleepless nights.

Speaking to first time voters in the capital city's bustling suburb of Coyoacan, some of the 9 million new members of the country's electorate, the first thing that becomes clear is their optimism.

“He cares about us,” they say. “We can trust him.”

Their opinions on his policies are a little less clear however, most likely because the man himself has remained largely vague. With a president plus two-house system similar to that in the U.S., Obrador will be hindered in enacting his more radical policies without a majority in at least one house. Such a majority seemed utterly unlikely until recently for AMLO's MORENA party (the National Regeneration Movement), which only formed in 2014. Now people are starting to wonder if he might win that too.

Some of his campaign promises will be straightforward to implement, unlikely to meet resistance from rival parties: farming assistance, increased spending on education, and VAT reductions have been key points of Obrador's campaign.

These may very well produce short term economic benefits, boosting the economy in the same way austerity harmed Europe's peripheral nations after 2008. The real challenge is how Obrador will approach the more divisive and problematic issues facing Mexico. Number one on that list is a desire to re-nationalize the country's vast oil and gas reserves.

Historically underutilized and only recently privatized under Peña Nieto, this national asset is firmly in AMLO's sights.

Similar hurdles await in terms of winning over big business, NAFTA, ballooning personal debt, and narco-inspired lawlessness in the provinces. One thing we know for sure, Andrea Manuel Lopez Obrador will need more than just optimism to tackle these.

Liam P. Browne is an economist by education and a financial consultant by trade. He is a specialist in derivatives contracts, currently working in London and splitting his time between there and Mexico City. Liam studied in Newport, Rhode Island, as well as in Ireland and Belgium. He graduated cum laude from The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in 2011 as a Master of Business Economics. He is a self-professed expert on all matters EU; especially how its workings impact financial markets and economies. Any questions or requests can be sent to @EUderiv on Twitter for an (unaffiliated) answer or discussion. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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For most of 2018, the likely, and now almost certain, election of AMLO has been the primary topic of discussion in Latin America's second-largest economy.
mexico, amlo, presidential election, trump
Friday, 29 June 2018 01:13 PM
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