Mexico is changing course after a historic election day, which led to celebrations in the streets. The conservative parties that have been in power in recent decades suffered a heavy defeat in the presidential elections on Sunday. For the first time, the center-left will form the government, led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known by his initials as “AMLO.”
“Third time’s the charm,” as Obrador said many times during the election campaign: after losing in 2006 and 2012, he has now won with the largest number of votes in the history of the country. There was no shortage of problems during the vote: armed groups stole or destroyed ballots in some states, and there have been five murders linked to politically motivated criminal violence. During the campaign for the elections and in the period immediately before it, as many as 140 politicians or candidates were assassinated.
The polls showed Obrador/AMLO 20 points ahead of his main opponents, Ricardo Anaya of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), José Antonio Meade of the centrist Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and independent candidate Jaime Rodríguez. However, the preliminary results exceeded all expectations, and the president of the National Electoral Institute officially announced that, on a turnout of 64 percent, Obrador received 54 percent of the vote, Anaya 22 percent, Meade 15 percent and Rodríguez 5.
The victory of Obrador’s Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (MORENA – “Movement for National Regeneration”) was also confirmed in the capital, with Claudia Sheinbaum elected as the first woman governor of the city, and in the elections for the governments of Chiapas, Morelos, Tabasco and Veracruz. The PAN won in Yucatan and Guanajuato, and was head-to-head with MORENA in Puebla. The PRI lost everywhere. The Movimiento Ciudadano, a small center-left party allied with the PAN, won in Jalisco.
The losers, together with the sitting president Enrique Peña Nieto, were quick to recognize the result, wishing “for the good of all of Mexico” that the next president will be successful, and guaranteeing that they will offer a “responsible and democratic” opposition. AMLO, aged 64 and having spent his life almost exclusively in politics, is a leader with experience.
After his beginnings as a member of the PRI, winning a number of offices in his home state, Tabasco, he came onto the national scene as a leader of the left, which coalesced around the Partido Revolución Democrática (PRD)—and won the office of mayor of Mexico City, an office he held from 2000 to 2005.
After losing the presidency in 2006 and 2012 as the candidate of the PRD, and after the subsequent rightward turn of the party—today an ally of Anaya’s PAN—Obrador founded his own movement against the neoliberal policies of Peña, building a progressive political formation, which, however, remains hierarchical and leader-centered. AMLO has also moderated his political positions, and has sought out people close to the business world, in order not to frighten the middle classes and the international financial establishment, given that for many years his opponents had been using the specter of Venezuela and Hugo Chávez against him.
Furthermore, MORENA also formed a controversial coalition (Juntos Haremos Historia, “Together we will make history”) with the Partido Encuentro Social (PES), traditionalist and linked to the evangelical churches. The alliance has now won a large majority in Parliament, but its left wing may have to face the blackmail of PES on issues such as abortion and civil liberties.
“Obrador has triumphed, despite some uncertainties about the government to come, because his diagnosis is correct: Mexico was plundered by the elite and by corrupt corporations, and now the pendulum swings to the left; after years of the concentration of wealth, there must be redistribution,” says political scientist Denise Dresser. The new president said in his victory speech that “the fourth transformation of Mexico is beginning, the revolution of consciences has won, this victory belongs to all, men and women,” as he stood before tens of thousands of supporters who filled the enormous Zócalo, the central square of Mexico City, shouting “You are not alone,” “We did it” and “Peña out!”
In his speech, Obrador spoke about the need for national reconciliation in the general interest, with a nod towards entrepreneurs and private investors, to whom he promised “respect” and the maintenance of the autonomy of the Central Bank. He announced a review of the contracts that resulted from the liberalization of the energy sector, as well as the abolition of the educational reform, similar to Renzi’s “Buona scuola.” His discourse railing against corruption and “the mafia of power,” i.e. the inner circles of the business and political Mexican elite, was successful because it offered an outlet for the people’s indignation about the many scandals and great waste during the past years.
“For the good of all, first of all the poor,” Obrador emphasized, confirming that social justice, jobs and the fight against inequality will be his priorities. Reviving the practice of state intervention, with Keynesian and redistributive policies—a reform against the neoliberalism which had prevailed so far—while respecting diversity and the political opposition is another key point in MORENA’s program. In the evening came the congratulations, including those from leaders such as Canada’s Trudeau, Russia’s Putin, Bolivia’s Morales, Spain’s Sánchez, and even from Trump, who tweeted that he was eager to work with him because “there is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico.”
“Until the inauguration on Dec. 1, I will work with the members of the new government, we will not waste time: we will immediately double pensions for the elderly, guaranteeing their universality, and all poor people with disabilities will receive a subsidy,” AMLO announced in the meantime. “We will ensure the right to education and employment for young people, and we will be launching development projects from the south to the north, in order to keep Mexicans in their own land,” he said.
The crowd included a parade of the rainbow flags of the LGBTQ movement, who chanted celebratory slogans. But the crowd also chanted a count from one to 43, demanding justice for the 43 who disappeared in Ayotzinapa and for the 36,000 others throughout Mexico, thus emphasizing that the movements will continue to pursue their demands. “The vote for AMLO is not a blank check,” the activists on the streets were underlining. Indigenous peoples, LGBTQ communities and human rights activists were absent from the campaign fight between the four candidates, but will make themselves heard as a constant grassroots voice, regardless of who is in government.