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Will Mexico’s New President Be Able To Take On Donald Trump?

A landslide victory elected the country’s first progressive leader in generations.

Newly elected Mexico's President Andres Manuel López Obrador cheers his supporters at the Zocalo Square after winning general elections, in Mexico City. Photo by Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images.

The mood in the streets of Mexico’s capital was palpable.


On July 2, the historic Zocalo square at the city’s center was filled with thousands of people to hear a victory speech by the new Presidential-elect Andres Manuel López Obrador. For his supporters, disbelief was coupled with relief. Joy was followed by celebration as the realization that history had been made.

But others, like Alejandro Gonzalez, a taco stand owner and Mexico City native, offered cautious optimism: “Well, at least [things] can’t get worse.”

López Obrador — the former Mexico City mayor, often referred to as AMLO — had just pulled off a landslide election victory so clear and resounding that concessions came from the contending presidential candidates within an hour after all of the country’s polls were closed.

After election results were doubly and officially confirmed with final tallies yesterday morning, Mexico’s national daily papers referred to AMLO’s victory as “overwhelming” and “historic” in large font headlines, but with good reason: The election was nothing less the Mexican equivalent of the Obama victory in 2008.

His victory offered a long lists of “firsts.”

It was the first time — following the seven-decade rule by just one political party — that a presidential candidate broke the 50% threshold in winning an election. It was the first time that a progressive candidate won the Mexican presidency since 1934. And it was first time that a brand new political party — the Morena party that AMLO formed after his 2012 presidential election loss — managed to record instant success, capturing not only the presidency in a resounding fashion, but also more seats in Congress than any of the other major two and long established political parties.

AMLO had achieved victory in a complicated country that had once been described by the Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa as the “perfect dictatorship.

Photo by Pedro Mera/Getty Images.

Election skepticism

In a country well known for surprises of all stripes and colors, this summer has not been short of drama, with the historic election occurring right along-side a topsy-turvy World Cup-run by its beloved national soccer team.

AMLO had been enjoying a sizable lead in many polls leading up to the election. Yet, given past election irregularities, Mexico’s political history — and in light of record-breaking violence this year — some Mexicans were deeply skeptical, and downright paranoid, about what may actually wind up happening.

In this year’s campaign season alone, there were well more than 130 election-related killings, with dozens of local candidates being assassinated. History also loomed large as Mexico’s dealings with past presidential elections has often been dark and seedy. In the past, there have been massive vote-buying schemes, illegal use of public funds, and elections being disputed outright, as was the case in 2006 when AMLO lost in a statistical tie and even more so in 1988, when a predecessor of sorts of AMLO's was also involved in a hotly disputed election. Back then, many observers were in consensus that Cuauhtémoc Cardenas, the son of Mexico’s last progressive and storied president, Lázaro Cardenas, suffered nothing less than a stolen election.

Following election disputes after his previous 2012 loss, AMLO broke from his former political party to form Morena. So his landslide victory confirmation by Mexico’s official electoral body left his supporters in a state of disbelief.

While many Mexicans “knew” it was going to happen, they couldn’t believe it was actually happening.

Photo by Pedro Mera/Getty Images.

Mexico’s Future

Lopez Obrador has been on campaign for almost two decades following his successful mayoral run. He has changed a lot over that period of time, so some Mexicans are left wonder what version of AMLO will lead the country.

Now 64, AMLO has become more cautious, more measured, and decisively less progressive than he was as mayor of Mexico City, and as a first-time presidential candidate in 2006.

While AMLO is often described as a “leftist” by foreign media outlets, a closer look at the evolution of key positions by him reveal much softer and even business-friendly positioning. AMLO’s team is even open to negotiations on the corporate-friendly North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a pact that Donald Trump has long decried.

Furthermore, in spite of prior opposition to the pervasive privatization of Mexico’s nationalized oil company, Pemex, by Mexico’s current president, the new position by AMLO is to take an individual look at specific foreign oil and drilling exploration contracts. Finally, AMLO even reversed his stance toward foreign development of a new Mexico City-area airport, which in prior years, had been canceled in the wake of widespread protests by farmers with fertile lands granted to them by historic reforms.

Photo by Pedro Mera/Getty Images.

Mexico Today

AMLO’s victory arrived in the wake of a devastating time for Mexico.

Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has a 77% disapproval rating.

AMLO is far from a charismatic figure. He is hot-tempered, slow-speaking. But his historic campaign victory was not about his personality. It was a result of years of organizing, political resistance, and widespread support among dislodged farmers, poor people, and grassroots activists.

That same personality is expected to clash with the unpredictable and chaotic Trump administration, in spite of a friendly, well-publicized phone call that was placed by Trump to AMLO moments after his victory. In the candid conversation, AMLO reportedly offered to help reduce undocumented immigration to the U.S. in exchange for greater foreign investment, but most observers find it hard to imagine any sort of deep cooperation resulting between two heads of state who have nearly polar-opposite ideologies. Furthermore, Trump continues to demand that Mexico pay for an expansion to an already existing, large border fence and wall.

Large questions remain for AMLO: Will negotiations with Trump actually result in substantive and bi-national agreements that could serve to enhance economic relations between the two countries, and possibly curb undocumented immigration?

Or will inequalities both within Mexico and between the U.S. and Mexico continue with the immigration crisis remaining unsolved?

But for now, the prospects for change, or lack thereof, will continue to loom large on the minds of Mexicans and world.

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