Mexico’s AMLO is no chavista

Mexico's presidential frontrunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) greets supporters in Oaxaca, Mexico June 16, 2018 [Jorge Luis Plata/Reuters]
Mexico’s presidential frontrunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) greets supporters in Oaxaca, Mexico June 16, 2018 [Jorge Luis Plata/Reuters]

On 1 July, the Mexican people will vote in possibly the most important presidential election in their country’s recent history.

The crisis of credibility suffered by the current administration and traditional political parties in the past few years has led to increased popular support for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), a 65-year-old politician from the state of Tabasco who served as mayor of Mexico City between 2000 and 2005 and unsuccessfully ran for president in the 2006 and 2012 elections .

AMLO is supported by a coalition named “Together We Will Make History”, consisting of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) – the party that AMLO founded following his loss in the 2012 election – and two other minor parties: the left-wing Worker’s Party and the right-wing Social Encounter Party, which has been linked to the evangelical movement.

At the moment, the most reliable polls agree that AMLO will win by a landslide. In fact, voter turnout is expected to reach 65 percent, significantly increasing the likelihood of an AMLO victory, as high voter participation limits the ability of local “vote lords” to alter electoral results in favour of the traditional parties.

An AMLO victory would shake the foundations of the Mexican political system as we know it. From 1929 to 2000, Mexico was governed by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

The new millennium ushered in a brief period of bipolar politics, with the PRI and the National Action Party (PAN) alternating periods in power. Now Morena, a relatively young political party with little structure compared to the bloated PRI, threatens to defeat and replace not only the traditional political parties, but also the consolidated power groups behind them.

The biggest concern regarding a possible AMLO victory is his populist discourse. In fact, many fear that AMLO will turn out to be a Mexican Hugo Chavez . This implies that AMLO is, if not Marxist, at least a radical leftist, which is not the case.

AMLO is not a socialist

AMLO is definitely a populist, but he is not a left-wing radical. His catchy political narrative is based on creating opposition between honest citizens and dishonest politicians (which he calls the “power mafia“), but his discourse does not reference labour issues, class struggle, US imperialism, or financial capitalism at all.

Even considering that socialism and Marxism in Latin America have evolved into a number of un-orthodox offshoots and variants, AMLO’s political narrative hardly matches any of his Latin American left-wing peers. In fact, AMLO cooperated fruitfully with the local private sector during his tenure as mayor of Mexico City, achieving significant and long-lasting results, including the rehabilitation of Mexico City’s historic centre.

So why do people believe that AMLO is a socialist in spite of both the evidence and his own political discourse?

In order to understand the origin of this misunderstanding, one must look back to 2006, when AMLO ran against Felipe Calderon in the Mexican presidential elections. At the time, the Calderon campaign portrayed AMLO as a populist, an enemy of the private sector and of the wealthy.

This narrative helped Calderon win the presidency that year, but it eventually became AMLO’s strongest strategic advantage and the very reason why the lower classes now overwhelmingly support him.

If AMLO is elected president, what kind of policies will he implement? The biggest fear of the Mexican private sector is that AMLO will embark on a Venezuela-style nationalisation spree, but that is actually quite unlikely.

First of all, nationalisation is neither a part of Morena’s platform – which explicitly mentions incentives to increase competition in several sectors – nor a part of AMLO’s political narrative. And second, nationalisations in Mexico are highly impractical and represent a huge political risk, as they would most likely devolve into corruption scandals.

Moreover, AMLO’s candidacy is supported by neoliberal economists that have…

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