By freelance correspondent Ann Deslandes
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — better known as AMLO — is feted with confetti on stage at Estadio Azteca at his final campaign event. (ABC News: Jorge Dan Lopez Juarez)
Mexicans are crying out for a solution to the country’s corruption problem, along with the near-total impunity for the powerful drug cartels that have murdered more than 230,000 people in a little over a decade.
Many think they may have found it in presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, popularly known as AMLO.
Ahead of Sunday’s election, the three-time candidate, whose politics are somewhere between populism and radical leftism, has convinced many Mexicans that he will bring change to their country.
AMLO is more than 20 points up in the polls, but his critics say he’ll run Mexico into the ground as they believe Hugo Chavez has done in Venezuela.
On the campaign trail: front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO). (Reuters: Gustavo Graf)
AMLO’s bid to end corruption
The 64-year-old leader of the newly formed Morena party — the “Movement for National Regeneration” — has made humility and morality a centrepiece of his appeal to voters.
“We are about to begin a transformation of Mexico and to make the dreams of many Mexicans a reality,” he said to 80,000 supporters at his final campaign event on Wednesday.
AMLO hails from a working-class family in the south-eastern state of Tabasco.
He regularly appeals to “el pueblo”, the ordinary people of Mexico, and many of his policies are targeted at them.
He lives in a lower-middle-class neighbourhood in Mexico City and if he wins on Sunday, has promised to turn Los Pinos, the palatial Presidential residence, into a public park dedicated to popular arts and culture.
AMLO wants to roll back the deeply unpopular “gasolinazo”, the hike in gas prices introduced by outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto after the deregulation of the energy sector. It is one of his more popular promises, along with doubling pensions and decreasing the cost of education.
He also says he has the ideas and will to end corruption and impunity.
One of his signature proposals is an amnesty for “narcos” — members of drug cartels — a tactic that has had some success in making peace in Colombia.
He would also create a ministry of public security and a national guard to increase accountability for violent crime.
PRI candidate Jose Antonio Meade takes selfies with supporters during a campaign rally this week. (Reuters: Alberto Puente)
Left shift bucks the trend
AMLO’s coalition slogan “Together we’ll make history” is not an overstatement. The current ruling party — the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI — has been in power for the better part of a century.
Now the PRI’s presidential candidate Jose Antonio Meade is in third place behind the National Action Party (PAN) candidate Ricardo Anaya, marking a decisive break with Mexico’s historical loyalty to the PRI and the last party that held itself up as an alternative.
Emeritus Professor Barry Carr of LaTrobe University, an expert on Mexican history and politics, says if AMLO wins it will be the first time since 1934 that the centre left has won a majority of votes.
“One measure of the broad cross-class and cross-region coalition that Morena has built is the extraordinary support being shown in northern Mexico, normally a PAN-dominated region.”
This shift to the left by Mexican voters runs counter to the electoral shifts to the right seen in Europe and the United States.
In Central and South America, governments are also moving rightward with the demise of the “pink tide” of left-wing leadership in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Elites warn of economic collapse
Mexico’s second-richest man, Alberto Bailleres, has cautioned against the populist leader, a sentiment backed by many of the country’s business leaders and elites.
“Vote for the candidate who is the most likely to defeat Lopez Obrador; it’s the best opportunity we have to preserve the economic system that allows us to employ people,” he told El Financiero.
National president of the PRI Enrique Ochoa Reza says the path Morena proposes hasn’t worked in any Latin American country to date.
“The path of populism has already been traced in other countries, such as Venezuela, where the results have been regrettable,” he said.
But appearing at ALMO’s event on Wednesday, pop star Belinda channelled the reasons why many Mexicans have pinned their hopes to his campaign.
“I want a country in which you can go out on the street without fear … where we all have the right to universal and free health care. I want a country in which education and culture are the main tool of progress for all,” she said.
Demonstrators hold up placards during a protest against the border wall on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez earlier this month. (Reuters: Jose Luis Gonzalez)
Mexico ‘no piñata’ for Trump
AMLO would be inheriting a country with a testy relationship with its northern neighbour.
Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall between the two countries and crack down on illegal immigrants have not been well received.
Mr Pena Nieto’s approval rating plummeted when he received Mr Trump in Mexico for their first meeting during the US presidential campaign.
The meeting ended in a war of words on Twitter where Trump claimed that Mr Pena Nieto had agreed Mexico would pay for the building of a wall on the US/Mexico border.
There’s little doubt AMLO intends to stand up to Trump’s discourse about Mexicans. In his book, Oye Trump!, published after the US President’s inauguration, he pulled no punches.
“Trump and his advisers speak of the Mexicans the way Hitler and the Nazis referred to the Jews, just before undertaking the infamous persecution and the abominable extermination,” he wrote.
It was a theme he touched on at his campaign speech on Wednesday night.
“Mexico is a free and sovereign country — it will never be a piñata of any foreign government,” he said to loud cheers.
He went on to say that cordial respect for other nations was important.
“We will not lack respect for the United States government.”
Change seems inevitable
Whatever the result this weekend, history has been made: Mexicans appear to have abandoned the party that had a near-unbroken rule over the state for over a century as well as the one which posed itself as a genuine alternative.
Professor Carr said AMLO’s campaign has hit a nerve in the country.
“There is one word that sums up why AMLO has captured the imagination of so many Mexicans, and that is ‘hartazgo’, meaning that people are thoroughly fed up with conditions as they are.”
Mexican political analyst Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez agrees.
“It is clear that for Mexican voters there is no greater danger than the continuity of what exists,” he wrote this week in Spanish daily El Pais.