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May 4, 2018
Mexico Decision 2018: The Scramble to Stop López Obrador
Mexico Decision 2018: The Scramble to Stop López
Special to The Digie Zone Network
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a campaign rally.
EL PASO, TEXAS - As Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel
López Obrador (AMLO) continues to dominate the polls, contrary political forces
are pulling out the stops to prevent the left nationalist reformer from
sweeping the July 1 elections.
And at this juncture, the scramble for second
place in the polls is shaping up as a strategic bend in the campaign curve. That's
the assessment of Rice University's Dr. Tony Payan, director of the Mexico
Center at the Houston university and a longtime analyst of Mexican politics.
Speaking at a recent event sponsored by the El
Paso Social Justice Education Project, Payan dissected the current balance of
the presidential contest, the campaign strategies of the three main electoral
coalitions, the political ramifications of the election on U.S.-Mexico
relations, and other defining elements of the upcoming July 1 elections.
With some polls now showing frontrunner López
Obrador increasing his support to well over 40 percent in the five-way contest,
talk is in the air of one or more candidates dropping out and backing the
strongest contender against the leader of the National Movement for the
Regeneration of Mexico (Morena) party and standard bearer of the Together We
Will Make History coalition, who is viewed as a dangerous, radical populist by
his hardcore opponents.
Though López Obrador easily beats his rivals
individually in the polls, the surveys still show a combined if diminishing
majority of respondents either backing other candidates or not disclosing who
they will vote for on July 1, perhaps waiting to see who will be the strongest
possible contender against the frontrunner.
In this scenario, the candidate who ranks second
in the polls, currently Ricardo Anaya of the conservative National Action Party
(PAN), could reap the uncommitted, anti- AMLO vote if it breaks "en
masse" for the runner up, Payan told a well-attended gathering at the El
Paso Public Library."Whoever is in
second place will harvest the strategic vote," he said.
A youthful politician, Anaya was regarded by some
analysts as the winner of the first televised presidential debate held last
month. According to the official National Electoral Institute (INE), the debate
was the most watched one in Mexican history, with 11.4 million viewers older than
18 years of age tuning in on television and more than 6.6 million others taking
in the event via Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
The television audience alone surpassed a similar
debate in the 2012 presidential campaign by ten times, the INE reported.
But given the political fragmentation, deep
rivalries and personal antagonisms driving Mexican politics in 2018, forging a
big anti-AMLO coalition less than two months before election day might be an
impossible task- or simply too late in the game.
In a flurry of comments played up in the Mexican
media in recent days, Anaya as well as spokespersons for two of the other
candidates, Jose Antonio Meade of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party
(PRI) led coalition and independent Margarita Zavala, were quoted as rejecting
political deals in favor of a unitary candidate against AMLO. Meade spokesman
Javier Lozano, a former PAN politician who resigned from the party and assumed
an important role in the PRI's campaign, lashed out against Anaya.
"We do not foresee an alliance, mostly
because of the hypocrisy, double standards and double talk of Ricardo
Anaya," Lozano was quoted. "There can't be a useful (pragmatic) vote
for someone who is useless."
Yet in a glaring recognition that Meade's
campaign was in serious trouble, the national president of the PRI, Enrique
Ochoa, stepped down May 2 amid a shake-up of the presidential candidate's campaign
staff. Ochoa was replaced by party stalwart René Juárez Cisneros, who had
served as a Meade campaign coordinator. Though not a formal member of the PRI, Meade
told the Mexican press that it was his decision to change the top command of
President Peña Nieto's party.
Occurring less than two months before election day,
the timing of the leadership switch was characterized as unprecedented by
Mexico's Reforma news agency.A seasoned
PRI politician, Juárez won the governorship of Guerrero state in a highly disputed
1999 election that was punctuated with allegations of fraud.
As for his third place ranking in the polls,
Meade was stoic. "The only poll that counts is the one on July 1," he
was quoted in Proceso magazine’s news
For his part, López Obrador confidently dismissed
the viability of two or more political forces closing ranks against him.
Political analyst Jenaro Villamil of Proceso challenged the notion that the
presidential campaign was turning into a referendum on AMLO, contending the
election was polarized well before the beginning of the campaign.
"...These elections are a referendum on the
governments of the PAN (Fox and Calderon) and the PRI (Peña Nieto),"
López Obrador’s odds for victory are now even
deemed inevitable by an unlikely source:Antonio Solá, a Spanish political consultant and architect of the highly
negative campaign against AMLO in 2006. Predicting
that the Morena plus coalition leader will triumph with more than 45 percent of
the vote, Solá was quoted in Proceso
as saying that barring the extraordinary, "López Obrador will be the
president of Mexico."
Conditions Favoring López Obrador
In his El Paso talk, Payan outlined the
strategies pursued by the three major electoral coalitions. For Anaya and the
PAN, winning means joining with the onetime ideologically opposed Party of the
Democratic Revolution and the centrist Citizen Movement to edge out López
For the PRI and two smaller allied parties, the
Mexican Green Party and National Alliance Party, victory implies somehow overcoming
deep popular discontent, the unpopularity of President Peña Nieto, the PRI's
loss of power in the states, and the party's corrupt image by fielding a
relatively "clean" candidate, Meade, who has served both PAN and PRI
administrations and is not a member of any political party. Yet Meade's
consistent third place ranking in the polls indicates the public isn't buying
Anaya's problem, Payan continued, is he's viewed
as straddling the axis of "continuity and change" at a time when the
body politic is searching for something different and someone new. In this
sense, both internal and external factors are boosting López Obrador’s campaign,
which in Payan’s analysis revolves around a formula of nationalism, populism
Economic discontent, for example, is rooted in
Mexico's average annual growth rate of 2 percent over the last 35 years, a
number that is simply not "enough" and underscores a situation of
"growth without development," illustrated by the modernity of Mexico
City and the poverty visible just outside the capital city, Payan said.
Even Juárez, Chihuahua, considered one of the
more developed cities of the country, probably has an effective poverty rate of
60-65 percent, he said. Compounding an unfavorable economic picture is a
decline in wages during recent years, Payan added.
At a time when most working Mexicans struggle to
get by every day and retirees subsist on measly pensions, AMLO's bag of
"juicy tidbits" finds ready approval from voters, including his
proposals to end generous pensions to former Mexican presidents, sell off the
super luxurious presidential jet and turn Los Pinos, the Mexican White House,
into a museum, according to Payan.
Payan recalled telling a Mexican media outlet a
couple years ago that if Donald Trump were elected U.S. president, the
Republican winner of the White House would pave the way to power for
nationalist López Obrador in Mexico.
"Mr. López Obrador will be handed (the
nationalist) card and he will play that card," he said, stressing that
"(Trump) has enabled the strategy of Mr. López Obrador to play out."
Payan said he didn't expect a relationship between Trump and AMLO to go well.
On a broader note, many Mexicans perceive the
violence engulfing their country as an "American manufacture," in Payan’s
words, due to U.S. drug consumption in addition to the flow of weapons from
this country to organized crime organizations south of the border.
A story in La
Jornada newspaper this week once again spotlighted the ‘American Connection.’
According to the Mexican daily, a new report from the Office of the Federal
Attorney General (PGR) found that of the 188,000 firearms confiscated by the
PGR between 2006-2018, 87,000 were traced to the United States during a
six-year period, based on a United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives data base. The guns originated from the U.S. states of Arizona,
Kentucky, California, Texas, Connecticut, North Carolina, Indiana, Massachusetts,
Minnesota, and Nevada.
Legal U.S. arms transfers have now become a
campaign issue for López Obrador as well. Lately he's made opposition to a
pending $1.2 billion sale to Mexico of eight armored MH-60R Seahawk helicopters
part of his standard campaign speech.
"We don't want armament," AMLO said
April 29 while on the campaign trail in Chiapas state. "What we want is
peace, and that the money is used for the development and health of
According to Defense
News, the potential sale was cleared last month by the U.S. Department of
State. Among other deadly items, the package would include 10 AGM-114 Hellfire
missiles, 38 Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) 11 rockets and 30
Mk-54 Lightweight Hybrid Torpedoes, Defense
The State Department approved a separate arms
request by Mexico to the tune of $100 million earlier this year, according to
the trade industry journal.
The Spring Offensives Against López Obrador
In recent days, AMLO's opponents have ramped up
their attacks against the three-time presidential contender, once again
attempting to portray the former Mexico City mayor as a Venezuelan clone,
reviving accusations that he will (hurt) the Mexican economy if elected
president and associating him with a host of purportedly corrupt and criminal
The broadsides recall similar attacks against
López Obrador during the 2006 and 2012 presidential campaigns, but this year
don't seem to be gaining the same traction as the polls, large AMLO campaign
rallies and notable political defections to the Morena party chief's camp all
Stirred into the political stew are the two
independent presidential candidates, former PAN lawmaker Margarita Zavala, who
is the wife of ex-President Felipe Calderon, and Jaime "El Bronco" Rodríguez,
governor on leave of absence from the northern state of Nuevo Leon. Both
independents are registering single-digit support in the polls.
Payancontended that the participation of
independent presidential candidates was facilitated bythe "design" of the ruling PRI as a
way of dividing the opposition vote, a gambit the former University of Texas at
El Paso (UTEP) political science professor termed a "miscalculation."
Recent developments and revelations lend credence to this thesis.
For instance, independent aspirant Armando Rios
Piter, whose candidacy was rejected by the official National Electoral
Institute (INE) because of the alleged submission of fake or irregular petition
signatures, suddenly endorsed Meade last month after legal cold water was
splashed on his own possibilities.
Although the INE allowed Zavala onto the ballot
in spite of a high number of invalid signatures turned in by her campaign, the
federal election authority gave a thumb’s down to Rodríguez, who likewise
allegedly submitted gads of bunk signatures. Undeterred, Rodríguez took the INE
to election court and won, thus gaining status as the fifth candidate on the
ballot and, importantly, participation in the presidential debate televised in
Yet questions of El Bronco's true independence
were raised after Mexico City-based Aristegui News recently dug into records of
signature gatherers for the candidates, discovering that at least 2,432 of the
individuals out stumping for Rodríguez were registered members of the PRI.
In the Days Ahead
Perhaps López Obrador’s opponents last chances to
turn the political tide will come during the next two presidential debates,
which are scheduled for May 20 in Tijuana and June 12 in Merida. The Tijuana
event is organized with a focus on trade and investment, border security and
migrant rights, while the Merida encounter will consider poverty, education, science
and technology, health, sustainable development and climate change.
Despite Mexico's high vulnerability to climate
change and ongoing ecological troubles, many of which are shared in common with
the United States, a green accent has been lacking in the presidential campaign
discourse and media cover until now. The omission was noted by Dr. Irasema
Coronado, UTEP professor of political science, who pointed to the critical
issue of transboundary water and the binational need for the indispensable
binational resource to have "quality, quantity and access."
Another unmentioned issue, Coronado told this
reporter, is the routine transshipment of toxic materials in places like the
Paso del Norte borderland."We
don't talk about the trains carrying chemicals and hazardous substances,"
Coronado is a former director of the Montreal
based-Council for Environmental Cooperation, the trinational institution tasked
under the environmental side agreement to NAFTA with investigating citizen
environmental complaints and researching outstanding green issues of concern to
Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
As complex as the Mexican presidential contest
seems, it's but one piece of a bigger political puzzle that will be reassembled
after July 1, Payan reminded his El Paso audience. A total of 3,406 political
offices are up for grabs in the country's biggest elections ever. The prizes
include the presidency, the Mexican Congress, governorships, state
legislatures, mayors' posts, city councils and, in the experimental case of
Campeche state, local judgeships.
Mirroring or even amplifying the national
picture, an array of big and small parties as well as independents are
competing for state and local offices. In the key border city of Juárez across
from El Paso and New Mexico, former newscaster and independent mayoral
incumbent Armando Cabada could win reelection.
“(Voters) may give him a second chance,” said
Payan, who also teaches part time at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez.
Payan rated Cabada’s main opponents in the race as Ramon Galindo of the PAN and
Morena’s Javier González Mocken, who resigned from the PRI after decades with
the party and jumped on López Obrador’s bandwagon. Both Galindo and Mocken have
previously served as Juarez mayors.
Payan envisaged a challenging political
chessboard south of the border after the summer voting ends, one characterized
by electoral division, multiple political forces and young office holders with
little or no experience."It will
be a very fragmented country when it comes to political parties," he
argued. "It will be a veritable test of Mexico's ability to create great
Author-journalist Kent Paterson is an expert on Mexican politics and U.S.-Mexico border issues.