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Elections in Mexico: When the Winds of Change Blow

Elections in Mexico: When the Winds of Change Blow
 Institut Montaigne
Institut Montaigne

Last Sunday, July 1st, Mexican voters went to the polls to elect their new President, who will take office on December 1st. Former mayor of Mexico City, candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, comfortably won this election with 53% of the votes, thus offering a historic victory to the Mexican left. Laurence Pantin, from think tank México Evalúa, enlightens us on the stakes and the consequences this election involves for Mexico and its foreign partners. 

How do you explain the historic victory of the left-wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the presidential elections?

It should first be remembered that this was Andrés Manuel López Obrador's third attempt to win the election. Some analysts consider that he had in fact been campaigning for 12 years, which gave him the advantage of being well-known to voters even before the official campaign began, unlike his rivals. Indeed, when his first official spots praised the merits of "you know who" (ya sabes quién) without mentioning his name, everyone knew who it was referring to.

After his first presidential failure - which led him to call on his supporters to block Mexico City's main avenue for over a month and a half - López Obrador, a native of the state of Tabasco and former mayor of the Mexican capital, understood the importance of travelling throughout Mexico. The aim was twofold: to make himself known to all the inhabitants of a very diverse and contrasted country, which is three and a half times the size of France, but also to listen to them and understand their concerns (insecurity, corruption, inequalities), which he placed at the center of his political discourse.

Much more charismatic than his opponents, López Obrador also benefited from a widespread discontent with the country's political elites, marked by their corruption and their inability to end the crisis of violence and insecurity that has been afflicting Mexico for more than 10 years.

Finally, the left was the only group of the Mexican political class that had never been able to reach the country's presidency, despite the political alternation in the highest position of executive power in 2000. This victory thus closes the cycle of the Mexican democratic transition.

How can this change in the political landscape transform the country, particularly regarding the major corruption and security issues  Mexico faces?

That is the question we’re all asking ourselves. Without doubt, the fact that his coalition of parties has an absolute majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, gives López Obrador room for maneuver from which none of his predecessors have benefited. And since he presented himself during his campaign as the symbol of change and, in particular, as the champion of the fight against corruption and inequality, his constituents do expect him to transform the country. To have a President who places these subjects at the center of his priorities is already a big change.
However, as is often the case during election campaigns, López Obrador did not give much detail on his agenda and sometimes even adapted his speech depending on who he was speaking to, which led him to defend contradictory positions. It is therefore difficult to predict what he will want to implement and what he will actually achieve.
Moreover, insecurity and corruption are fundamental problems that require in-depth reforms, the results of which will not necessarily be immediate. This is particularly the case with the strengthening of local police forces, the consolidation of the National Anti-Corruption System, but also the transformation of the political system. López Obrador will need to succeed not only in punishing those guilty of corruption in an exemplary manner, but also in preventing and reducing their prevalence. The newly elected President has already understood that his six-year term will be short to achieve these concrete and indisputable results. This is why, even though he will only take office on December 1st, he has asked the members of his transition team and those of his future government - the composition of which he announced during his campaign - to get to work now. Indeed, he wishes to do in six years what others would only manage to achieve in 12 years.

What impact can this result have on the future relations between the United States and Mexico?

As a candidate, López Obrador strongly criticized the current government for its lack of firmness towards Donald Trump. He nevertheless said he wanted to maintain a productive and respectful relationship with the United States and successfully renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The latter is one of the key points of contention between the current governments of the three countries - Mexico, the United States and Canada. He also mentioned the possibility of proposing to the United States and Canada an "alliance for progress" in Central America, which would stimulate development and reduce migration within this region, another point of friction with Mexico’s northern neighbor.
In any case, we must not forget that López Obrador considers that "the best foreign policy is domestic policy". This means, first of all, that his priority will be to support national growth in order to create better-paying jobs, reduce emigration - even though Mexican migration to the United States has already reached its lowest level in 40 years - and strengthen security, which would help to ease tensions with the United States. But his slogan also corresponds to a more general desire to return to the country’s tradition of "non-intervention" that marked Mexican foreign policy in the second half of the 20th century.

Moreover, the next government's relationship with the United States may not depend so much on López Obrador's strategy as on Trump's willingness to cooperate. For now, things are off to a good start since Trump was one of the first to congratulate López Obrador from his Twitter account for his triumph (even before the official results were published). Moreover, they spoke over the phone for half an hour the following day and the head of American diplomacy, Mike Pompeo, is scheduled to meet López Obrador next week. Trump's mood swings can, however, be abrupt and López Obrador's reactions sudden, which could jeopardize their bilateral relationship on the long term.

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