On 1 December 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be inaugurated the next Mexican president. AMLO, a leftist, previously served as mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2006, and his election indicates two things about voters: that they want to change the dynamic between Mexico and the U.S., and that they want to see social change at home.
His landslide election to the office earlier this week — which propelled his new party, Morena, to nearly 40 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 45 percent of the seats in the Senate — wasn’t his first bid for the office. In 2006, his failed candidacy resulted in a months-long takeover of Mexico City’s main plaza after allegations of electoral fraud, and in 2012, he received nearly 32 percent of the popular vote, losing to current (unpopular) incumbent Enrique Peña Nieto.
AMLO’s populist bent has led some to call him “Mexico’s Trump.” AMLO’s leftism has engendered comparisons to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and to the United Kingdom’s Jeremy Corbyn. Unlike Trump, AMLO has a coherent ideology and achievable goals; unlike Chavez, AMLO’s pragmatic style of governance has a track record of success; and unlike Corbyn, AMLO has actually won an election.
AMLO’s signature political style is evident in his first move as president: he has chosen to reject bodyguards, saying that the Mexican people will protect him. During the campaign, AMLO promised to cut his own salary, sell the presidential plane, and live in a small home rather than the presidential palace. The new president believes in universal access to public colleges, espouses amnesty for low-level drug war criminals, favors pensions for citizens, is wary of reintroducing large oil companies to the country, and has so far equivocated about whether he would like to renegotiate of preserve NAFTA.
Although his agenda is ambitious — and may frighten business interests — AMLO has succeeded in leaving all stakeholders happy before. As mayor of Mexico City, he left office with an 84 percent approval rating, after making infrastructure improvements, extending pension plans, and encouraging development. In order to placate big business, he has already pledged not to expropriate private property — a worry for those who watched AMLO bill himself as the most left-wing Mexican leader since President Lázaro Cárdenas came to power in 1934, a president who famously redistributed land to peasants and nationalized the oil industry.
AMLO may be able to dent inequality and renegotiate a fairer NAFTA for his country, but the perennial problems of violent crime and corruption will be tougher still to eradicate, especially given that his neighbor to the north may force migration and border security to be a top political priority. Though AMLO has not been one to pick a fight with Trump, he certainly won’t back down from confrontation — a tricky dynamic given Trump’s penchant to pick international fights to distract from domestic woes.