Jul 4, 2018

Analysis: Lopez Obrador's Landslide Transforms Mexico's Political Map


Analysis

Lopez Obrador's Landslide Transforms Mexico's Political Map 

Kent Paterson/The Digie Zone

AMLO greets supporters in Mexico. [Courtesy photo]
At the end of the day, all the campaign artillery shells fired at Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador AMLO) proved to be duds. Charges by his opponents that AMLO was a Russian dupe, a Venezuelan fifth columnist, a secret tycoon with corrupt dealings, a throwback to a bygone nationalist era, and a reckless dunce incapable of steering the globalized Mexican economy evaporated into thin electoral air.

Barrages of anti-AMLO robocalls, television spots, obscure website postings, Facebook fantasies, and attempted October surprises in May and June likewise wildly missed the target.  

Late on the evening of election day July 1, Mexico eagerly awaited official news from National Electoral Institute (INE) chief Lorenzo Cordova, who finally appeared on television praising the nation for a heavy voter turnout (an estimated 63 percent) and informing Mexicans that early results showed Lopez Obrador was leading the four-way presidential contest with more than 50 percent of the vote. 

Even before Cordova's televised appearance, AMLO's three opponents had gracefully bowed out, rendering conciliatory concession speeches based on exist polls that were showing a landslide for the leader of the Morena party. 

Immediately after Cordova addressed the country, Lopez Obrador, accompanied by his wife Beatriz Gutierrez, delivered a long-awaited victory speech.  

Framing his comments to the center, the 65-year-old, early bird president elect pledged to respect private property, maintain financial stability, meet with his security cabinet at 6 a.m. every morning, and pursue friendly relations with the United States. Eliminating corruption and eradicating impunity were at the top of his agenda, Lopez Obrador said of ills that were not a "cultural phenomenon," but rather the "result of a political regime in decay."

Morena's leader also reiterated the left side of his planned government: greater public investment, no more gasoline price hikes, and bolstering the internal market so Mexico is a country that tries "to produce what it consumes."

The former Mexico City mayor vowed that "the state will stop being a committee at the service of a minority and represent poor and rich alike; inhabitants of the city and country; migrants; believers and non-believers; human beings of all manner of thought and of all sexual preferences." 

Reviving a central plank from his first campaign in 2006, Lopez Obrador pledged that his administration would maintain an open-door policy to all but have a preference for the "most poor and humble, especially the indigenous people of Mexico."

Though late in the evening, street celebrations reminiscent of Barack Obama's 2008 victory in the United States broke out in Mexico City and other places across the country. Mexicans wanted real change, and they voted for it en masse. 

As preliminary vote totals trailed in after the election, the results showed Lopez Obrador with a smashing 53 percent followed by rival Ricardo Anaya of the center-right-left PAN-PRD-MC coalition with a heartbreaking 22.6 percent, Jose Antonio Meade of the governing PRI-PVEM-PANAL coalition with a politically fatal 16 percent and independent Jaime "El Bronco" Rodriguez with a tad more than 5 percent. 

Elections in Aguascalientes

Situated almost in the center of the Mexican republic, the small state and city of Aguascalientes (estimated 1,363,645 statewide population in 2018, mostly in the capital city) are unique in their own right but representative of national trends as well. 

Offering welcome relief from days of rain, sun greeted the state capital the morning of July 2.  Polls were due to open at 8 am, but turnout appeared light during the mid-morning hours at four downtown voting centers while Spain battled Russia in the World Cup. Entertained by a marimba band, diners filed into a popular restaurant where the match was being televised. A woman in high heels strolled in wearing a black t-shirt with a message in English that read "Don't be afraid of change." 

Coinciding with a payday weekend, an upbeat and happy mood was evident on election day. Stores served Sunday shoppers, shoeshine men plied their shiny trade, bicycle cops prowled about, and a lanky young fellow sporting sun-glass belted out love songs on the main plaza.

Deep choruses of "Hallelujah" bounced off the high ceilings of one of Aguascalientes' myriad Catholic churches. Leaflets plastered throughout downtown and signed by the Mexican Communist Youth proclaimed, "It doesn't matter for whom you vote, organize and struggle ... murders, disappearances, femicides, natural resources..."

Asked if she had voted, retail shop employee Laura Bazan flashed a thumb still smeared with the indelible ink voters were given as a measure to prevent double, triple or quadruple voting. Deriding candidates from the PRI and PAN parties as "worse than usual," Bazan said she cast her vote for AMLO. 

Mexicans, Bazan added, want change "because we're living in a state of violence and insecurity that can't be tolerated anymore. Hopefully, there will be a change for the better in Mexico." An 18-year-old co-worker of Bazan's said she hoped to vote later in the day for the first time, agreeing that security was a big issue for her.

Mexico is a country of people in movement, and as elsewhere in the nation the INE set up special voting centers, or precincts, for people in transit. Two of Aguascalientes' ten special precincts were located at the main bus station, where hundreds of would-be voters formed long lines that snaked throughout the echo chambered building by noon. The expectant crowd included a smattering of nuns, a husky man with a biker jacket, a woman towing a big Bassett Hound and many youthful faces.  

"We all vote freely here, there is no pressure," said Leticia Lopez, a resident of Leon, Guanajuato. "We have the will to vote and the obligation to do so as citizens."  

Silvia Villalobos, who hails from strawberry exporting Ciudad Guzman in the neighboring state of Jalisco unabashedly said she was going for Lopez Obrador. The housewife said AMLO's small business and other proposals appeal to her.

"I think he's going to win because of his proposals and trajectory. He continues being a social fighter," Villalobos said. "My vote matters as much as that of a big businessman." 

Several other women told this reporter they had waited about two hours to vote, with possibly another hour or two to go before reaching the booths, based on their calculations. Nadia Delgado of Cuernavaca said the long delay was worth it.

"It's my right to vote," she firmly remarked, adding that better security and more jobs were foremost on her agenda.

Reportedly, Aguascalientes’ special voting centers ran out of ballots later in the day while hundreds still waited to vote, a problem that was reported in other Mexican cities on July 1.  

Mexican law limits each special precinct to 750 ballots, and though the issue of sufficient ballots for special voting centers in Aguascalientes and elsewhere is not new, the legal ballot limit remains the same as in years past.       

By Sunday evening, vibes of victory pervaded local Morena party headquarters. Dozens of women and women darted in and out of the two story building while party leaders conferred; reporters were forced reporters to wait for hours for a press conference, after the INE's Lorenzo Cordova and AMLO made their respective speeches.  

To pass the time, journalists and Morena militants alike ate sandwiches, checked their phones for election results and political messages, and chatted. Inside the political war room a newspaper "mural" festooned with press clippings, cartoons and pro-AMLO etchings decorated one wall, while a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. with a few of his words translated into Spanish adorned a door. 

Finally, a few minutes before midnight, Aguascalientes Morena president Aldo Ruiz spoke, flanked by candidates for congressional offices that were also up for grabs on July 1.

"We are entering a historic period not only for this country but this state and internationally as well," Ruiz maintained. "For the first time in Aguascalientes, the (political) left has positioned itself as a real force."

A smiling Morena Senate candidate Lupe Martinez later told this reporter that she wasn't surprised at the reported good turnout of voters, considering the grassroots buzz. “We knew it,” Martinez beamed.

Carlos Tristan, Martinez's campaign coordinator, added that AMLO's national victory was but the beginning of a story that must be repeated at the state level during the coming years. 

Tristan said July 1 ended the historic, bi-partisan domination of Aguascalientes politics by the PRI and PAN parties, elevating the "moderate left" status of Morena in the eyes of voters. "The perception of the citizenry is going to be that the PAN and the PRI aren't the only options," he projected. 

Preliminary election results reported Lopez Obrador winning Aguascalientes with nearly 39 percent of the vote, far lower than the national figure, but a milestone nevertheless for both the winning candidate and Morena in the traditionally conservative polity.

Still, the AMLO tidal wave that crested elsewhere in Mexico was much lower in Aguascalientes, where the PAN-PRD-MC coalition retained control of the state legislature while Morena gained four seats. Moreover, the PAN Plus coalition won the congressional races, evidencing the work still left to do on the ground for Morena.    

Paulo Martinez, PAN state president, thanked the citizens in a statement, vowing to serve them "with commitment, conviction, honesty and efficiency." 

A Changed Political Map

Winning 31 of Mexico's 32 states in a 1972 Nixon-like landslide, Lopez Obrador's knockout victory swept into other races, including Congress, where Morena and its two electoral coalition partners, the PT and PES, obtained a majority.

Morena and/or its coalition captured city governments in Acapulco, Ciudad Juarez (tentatively) and the capital of Mexico City, where Morena's Claudia Sheinbaum claimed the super-mayor’s job with 47 percent of the vote in a lively, sometimes charged race.  

In addition, the electoral center-left swept five state governorships and numerous local offices. As the dust settled, Morena, which was founded only a few years ago, emerged as the strongest single political force in Mexico. The three dominant parties since the 1990s-President Pena Nieto's PRI, Ricardo Anaya's conservative PAN and the sickly PRD-suffered crushing defeats, though all three organizations won or preserved power in certain regions.  

An ascendant regional force, the MC party, won the governorship of the key state of Jalisco, amid an election eve media scandal in which the MC's gubernatorial candidate, Enrique Alfaro, was alleged to have previously collaborated with a powerful drug cartel, based on a purported U.S. investigation leaked by anonymous sources.

In another historic first, Arturo Davalos, the MC mayor of Puerto Vallarta, became the first reelected mayor in the city's history. A political newcomer, Morena's Laurel Carrillo, came in a distant second in a 12-candidate race, but for the first time positioned Morena as the number two political force in the popular tourist destination.  In an upset of sorts, Morena congressional candidate Lorena Martinez defeated the MC’s Ramon “Mochilas” Guerrero, a polemical former mayor of Puerto Vallarta.

The reshuffled political map in Jalisco has the MC and Morena replacing the PRI and PAN parties as the first and second strongest political forces, respectively.

A young independent candidate from Jalisco’s El Arbolito movement, 28-year-old state lawmaker Pedro Kumamoto, failed in his bid for the Mexican Senate but racked up more than half a million votes in the process, besting the candidate from the ruling PRI party who came in fourth place, according to initial press accounts.   

Overall, Lopez Obrador, Morena and allies have an unprecedented mandate for change when they take office later in the year. The July 1 election left Pena Nieto’s PRI, the once all-powerful political party that ruled Mexico for 77 of the last 89 years, on life support. The PAN and other parties that took a bruising that historic Summer Sunday will likely undergo serious internal reckonings.

But Lopez Obrador isn’t goading over the spectacular sinking of his political adversaries. Since election day, AMLO has been a busy man, receiving congratulatory messages and conversing with world leaders the like of Trump and Trudeau.

The president elect told the Mexican media he would divide the five-month presidential transition into two parts, with the first period consisting of meetings with close collaborators aimed at drafting a new national project for Mexico.

In an unusual twist for a Mexican presidential transition, Lopez Obrador announced he would take the project draft on the road for feedback beginning around Mexican Independence Day in mid-September, to public meetings in the manner of the epic travels he embarked on more than a dozen years ago that, arguably, eventually netted his victory in 2018.       

On July 3, Lopez Obrador met with President Pena Nieto in an initial encounter paving the way to the hand over of power. Immediately prior to the session, AMLO held a private meeting with Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, son of Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940), which was significant in both form and content.

Often called the “moral leader” of the Mexican left, Cardenas failed to do what Lopez Obrador eventually did, mounting three unsuccessful presidential campaigns from 1988 to 2000, with the first election bid widely considered as ending in a fraudulent victory for former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

Cardenas and Lopez Obrador were among the founders of the PRD party, which Lopez Obrador split off from to form Morena. Cardenas also ultimately left the PRD. The two men, however, have had distant relationships in recent years.

“I give a salute to (Cardenas) because he and other social and political leaders were the predecessors of this movement and thanks to them, and many other Mexicans, this triumph for the fourth transformation of public life in Mexico was achieved. It gives me great pleasure to speak with Cardenas,” Lopez Obrador was quoted in La Jornada daily, couching the meeting in historic terms as well as the contemporary plans the president elect has for sweeping changes in Mexico.

Lopez Obrador frequently mentions Lazaro Cardenas, who instituted land reform, nationalized petroleum reserves and extended public education, as among his political role models. In his July 1 victory speech, AMLO admitted to one ambition: to be one of “the best” presidents Mexico has ever had.

Mexico and the world are anxiously waiting to see how much of this promise he will deliver.

(End)

Author-Journalist Kent Paterson is an expert on Mexican politics, and a frequent contributor to The Digie Zone.