Special Briefing: What the Leftist Landslide in Mexico Means

Special Briefing: What the Leftist Landslide in Mexico Means

Newly elected Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador cheers his supporters at Zocalo Square in Mexico City after winning the general election on July 1, 2018.

SourcePEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty

Why you should care

Because a combative populist with nationalist impulses is now going to be in charge south of the U.S.-Mexico border as well.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? There’s been a landslide in the largest and perhaps most significant election in Mexico’s history. Andrés Manuel López Obrador swept to power Sunday with 53 percent of the vote, a larger share than any candidate since the nation transitioned to democracy nearly two decades ago. In his third bid for the presidency, the 64-year-old liberal populist campaigned on promises to increase pensions, reduce poverty and stem violent drug wars, and rode a wave of voter frustration with rampant corruption and violence to victory.

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Following his election victory, Andrés Manuel López Obrador salutes supporters at the Hilton Hotel in Mexico City on July 1, 2018.

Source Manuel Velasquez/Getty

Why does it matter? López Obrador’s win represents a clear rejection of the status quo in the nation and a sharp rebuke to a long-reigning political establishment that has focused on centrism and globalization. It also puts a leftist in charge of Latin America’s second-largest economy and the United States’ third-largest trading partner at a time when U.S.-Mexico relations are at a low point. President Donald Trump congratulated López Obrador on his victory in a tweet, but the new Mexican leader, who said he would “put Trump in his place” during the campaign, is not expected to be an easy ally.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

A history of violence. Gang-related bloodshed is reaching record proportions in Mexico, reportedly having claimed a new victim every 15 minutes throughout May. More specifically, political killings — an astonishing 130 since September — reveal that corruption and organized crime are still deeply woven into the country’s social fabric. In one case, a city’s entire police force was arrested in connection with the murder of a local mayoral candidate.

Swinging to the left. All that trouble is what launched López Obrador to victory on Sunday. He’s promised to wipe away “mafia of power,” referring to the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party that has ruled for much of the last century. It’s unclear whether this left-wing populist, who’s promised to overhaul the state bureaucracy in favor of the disadvantaged, can make good on his lofty pledge to set Mexico straight. But after losing two previous presidential ballots — gaining less than 35 percent each time — López Obrador may have finally won the discouraged country’s confidence.

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López Obrador greets Mexico City mayoral candidate Claudia Sheinbaum at a political rally in the capital on April 9, 2018.

Source Humberto Romero/Getty

Meet the new neighbor. As one populist leader to another, López Obrador is expected to hold a tough line against Trump. He had plenty of criticism for the American president leading up to his election, and said that he would turn to the United Nations if a border wall was constructed. With his apparent allegiances outside of the business community, López Obrador might actually take the tearing up of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump has threatened, in better stride than other candidates. He wants a trilateral deal and has said no deal is better than a bad deal.

“El año de la mujer.” They’re calling it the year of the woman. Mexico gets not only a new president but also a new Congress. Thousands of state representatives and hundreds of new mayors were elected from more than 3,000 women candidates. That includes Claudia Sheinbaum, of López Obrador’s party, elected as the first female mayor of Mexico City from a field of seven candidates, five of whom were women. But it may not be a groundswell of feminism at work: Much of the female candidate turnout can be traced to a 4-year-old law requiring political parties to field women for half of their races.

New energy. Markets are watching with bated breath to see what López Obrador does with Mexico’s recently liberalized energy sector. He’s called for a freeze in investment in exploration and production of oil while shifting focus to refining. The goal is for Mexico to produce its own gasoline rather than send oil to the U.S. to be processed. Still, during the run-up to the election, he took a more moderate tone on energy policy, offering the possibility of allowing more oil and gas fields to be auctioned off if he doesn’t find corruption in the process.

WHAT TO READ

Mexico’s Elections: The Battle at the Ballot Box, the Easiest One Ahead, by Inés M. Pousadela in Open Democracy

“Unprecedented levels of violence and corruption, exclusion and impunity have created expectations around the advent of a leader who will deliver radical change.”

The Return of Populism, Latin America Style, by Javier Corrales in The New York Times

“These movements may not kill democracy, as some critics contend, but they will strain democratic institutions.”

WHAT TO WATCH

López Obrador Claims Historic Win in Mexico Election

“We will follow three basic principles: Not to lie, not to steal and not to betray the people.”

Watch on Guardian News on YouTube:

Comedian John Oliver Discusses the Importance of the Mexico Election

“Next Sunday will see the biggest election in Mexico’s history, which I know probably doesn’t mean much to most Americans — it’s like saying the biggest mattress sale in Dutch history.”

Watch on Last Week Tonight on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Noticias falsas. Turns out fake news is a major problem in Mexico too, with López Obrador hobbled by allegations that Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro’s Chavista regime choreographed his campaign. One observer called Sunday’s election a “trial by fire” for the nation’s attempts to weed out fake news.

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