clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

López Obrador, a Trump-bashing leftist, just won Mexico’s presidency in a landslide

He has vowed to fight Mexico’s widespread corruption problems, but it won’t be easy.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Andrés Manuel López Obrador celebrates his election win on July 1, 2018, in Mexico City.
Madeleine Ngo covers economic policy for Vox. She previously worked at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Mexico’s leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador is projected to win the country’s presidential election by a landslide. But given the massive wave of violence that continues to plague Mexico, he will face significant obstacles to deliver on his campaign promises to take on the country’s widespread corruption problems.

López Obrador, 64, is expected to win the election with around 53 percent of the vote, according to exit polls and a “quick count” of the ballots. Before the election, he had already been leading the polls ahead of his three rivals for months. And all three of his rivals have already conceded.

“I call on all Mexicans to reconciliation, and to put above their personal interests, however legitimate, the greater interest, the general interest,” López Obrador said during his acceptance speech Sunday night, according to the New York Times. “The state will cease to be a committee at the service of a minority and will represent all Mexicans, rich and poor, those who live in the country and in the city, migrants, believers and nonbelievers, to people of all philosophies and sexual preferences.”

Mexican voters also elected over 3,400 political seats at the local, state, and federal level. They voted for a new national Congress, including 128 Senate seats and 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, Mexico’s lower house.

López Obrador, who is commonly referred to by his initials AMLO, leads the newly formed Morena party; he’s promised to enact policies to address inequality and the recent spike in violence in the country. Among other things, he’s promised to increase spending on social programs to expand pensions for the elderly and grants for students.

If his party and its coalition partners win a majority in Congress, he could wield even more power.

Given his nationalist position, it’s uncertain how he’ll affect the potential renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which President Donald Trump has been critical of recently. That basically means that if Trump ceases NAFTA, López Obrador may not fight to keep the agreement.

Although he’s a nationalist and has made it clear he’ll take a hard stance against Trump, López Obrador said he wants to work with the US on certain issues.

Trump congratulated López Obrador on Twitter Sunday night, writing that he looks “very much forward to working with him.”

Mexican voters clearly want to see López Obrador fix the systemic corruption and violence that plagues the country. But once he’s inaugurated on December 1, the challenge of actually instituting policies to reduce corruption will begin.

Corruption reforms won’t be easy — and voters will be watching

If López Obrador follows up on his campaign promises, though it’ll be a major shift from the country’s rule under current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who failed to improve the country’s massive corruption problem.

In the 2012 Mexican presidential election, Peña Nieto won as PRI’s candidate. When he was elected, he was seen as a fresh face for the stained PRI party because he advocated for transparency and accountability, managing to beat out then-runner-up López Obrador.

But Peña Nieto’s term has been mired with scandals, sparking a backlash against his party. When he was elected in 2012, Peña Nieto had an approval rating of 54 percent; that dropped to 17 percent in January 2018.

Now, it seems, Mexican voters are finally ready for a change. Yet some analysts say that despite López Obrador’s campaign rhetoric, he lacks concrete plans to enact sweeping reforms throughout the country.

“He doesn’t have a very precise plan,” Pablo Piccato, a professor at Columbia University who specializes in Mexican history, told me shortly before the election, “The president might be very honest, and by all indications López Obrador is a very austere and honest guy. But what happens underneath, at the level of the bureaucracy, the municipal governments, the state government — that’s going to be very difficult to control.”

Mexican voters are tired of the government’s wrongdoings — and once López Obrador is at the helm, they will almost certainly hold him accountable for his promises to take on corruption.

“The biggest problem I see are the expectations he has built,” Carlos Illades, a professor of social sciences at the Autonomous Metropolitan University and a historian of Mexico’s left, told the New York Times. “The problem is going to be what he is not able to do. There are people who are expecting a lot.”

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.