At first blush the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO in Mexico, might seem like the best possible news for the Mexican people and bad news for the people of the United States.
Mr. Obrador is of the left, and campaigned on promises of a massive public works program to employ 2.3 million people; Bernie Sanders-like grants for university students; and doubling Mexico’s old-age pensions. He likens himself to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his program to the New Deal.
His counterpart in the United States, Donald Trump, is a tax cutter and regulation slasher.
And the two men would seem to be on a collision course, given Mr. Trump’s war on illegal immigration and Mr. Obrador’s characterization of Mr. Trump as a bully.
Two nationalists, one of the left and one on the right (sort of), seem bound to clash.
But then again, AMLO’s more fundamental platform, and the reason he won in a landslide (53.4 percent) against the two major parties (the runner up got 22.6 percent), and took control of the Congress, is his three-part personal pledge: “Do not lie; do not steal; and do not betray the people.”
Mexico has been stolen blind by its leaders. It is overrun with corruption. Mr. Obrador has vowed to end it.
And Mexicans seemed to say: Left or not, at least this man will try.
The country is also incredibly violent with a dramatic uptake in murders in recent years and months, many of them over drug trafficking or politics, only a tiny percent of which get solved.
Finally, Mexico remains a poor country for most Mexicans, despite the status of Mexico City as one of the world’s new financial meccas. In the provinces, poverty, thuggery, and political corruption are the rules of life.
Corruption among political bosses in small towns is so rife that any journalist who does his job quickly finds his life is at risk.
Violence, corruption, and poverty are destroying Mexico’s social fabric and its national pride.
So, Mr. Obrador faces a very dangerous and very deep swamp.
The larger and long-range issue in Mexico is the lack of political institutions — the courts, the police, and much of the media cannot check the corruption because they are a part of it. From the time of the fall of the PRI party, which employed one-party rule for 75 years, Mexican politics has been in a kind of free-fall. The PRI kept order, thanks to its monopolistic hold on power. When it fell apart, there were few strong institutions to fall back on and few have matured or developed since.
Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who is now a scholar at Yale, says there are three ultimate issues for Mexico: The rule of law, the rule of law, and the rule of law.
Can AMLO address that? Probably not. But he is a broom, and the only one that was available. Mexico almost had to choose him. He is an old-fashioned populist who campaigned against what he called the “power Mafia,” and promised to cut his salary in half and turn the presidential palace into a park. He ran twice for president before and lost narrowly. This time the people wanted change, and were willing to take a chance on AMLO’s socialism.
The question will be whether the new president will focus more on honesty and nationalism or more on state spending to help the poor. Mexico has spent itself into federal insolvency before, and the poor were not helped.
Mr. Obrador served as mayor of Mexico City once upon a time, and was not only a pragmatist, but a deficit hawk. He has promised to finance public works by ending corruption. If he can do that, and stop the killing, he will have done a lot.
A nationalist and a change agent who is ultimately a pragmatist? Mr. Obrador may have more in common with Donald Trump than anyone expected.
Voters in Mexico, like voters everywhere, are smart. Most do not think they are voting for instant transformation when they vote for change. They vote for a shift in direction. And Mexico could not have kept going in the same direction. This was not precisely a vote for the left. It was a vote for “Enough.”
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