Will Mexicans Benefit from Their Left-Wing President?

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The results of the Mexican general election in early July showed the discontent with the current state of society — and hope for a better future. They chose Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) by a landslide.

AMLO’s resounding victory is a clear rejection of the mainstream parties’ program of austerity and repression that have dominated in the era of neoliberalism. But the real challenges for the Mexican working and popular classes are still ahead.  Pressure will be needed to ensure that AMLO delivers on his promises to the poor.

The election campaign was marked by corruption, vote buying and violence.  The elections saw 138 candidates killed across Mexico. And polling day added Flora Resendiz Gonzalez, an activist for the Workers Party, to the list after she was assassinated in her home.

AMLO still received over half of the vote on July 1. The next closest party received less than half of this. Only one in five people voted for the lacklustre candidate of the long-time ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

The day after the election, the headlines of Mexican newspapers described the vote with words like “landslide,” “sweep” and “deluge”. AMLO and his political party, the newly created Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA), not only won the presidency, but clear majorities in both houses of parliament.

MORENA triumphed in all but one of the country’s thirty-two statesand won elections in five of the nine states that held governor’s elections.  This included the capital, Mexico City, where a woman, Claudia Sheinbaum, becomes governor for the first time in history.

MORENA is seen as the party of change. It promises to fight corruption and to use the state to help the working classes and wider poor masses.  This will reduce the massive inequality in Mexico.  There were mass strikes by, for example, the teachers earlier this year against assessment and other education reforms.  “That hartazgo [feeling of being fed up] is going to be noticed when it’s time to elect a president,” said the teachers’ leader.

Despite AMLO’s clear mandate at all levels of government, it remains unclear if he and his party will repeal the policies implemented under the Pact for Mexico of the previous government.  These included tax cuts for the rich, privatization of the oil, electricity and water sectors, draconian education reforms and obsequious concessions for mining corporations.

AMLO’s broad-tent MORENA party pulled in many figures from Mexican social movements who have been associated with resistance to the status quo. For example, the political prisoners Nestora Salgado and José Manuel Mireles — who were jailed by the former government for organizing self-defense movements against organized crime and the police in Guerrero and Michoacán states — will become senators in the incoming government.

Left supporters of AMLO consider these candidacies to be evidence that his government will be open and accountable to social movements. However, MORENA toned down its leftist rhetoric in the lead-up to the elections. Calls to bring the “Mafia of Power” to justice were replaced by talk of reconciliation and amnesty.

Two days after the election, AMLO gave a press conference in which he revealed some of his initial policy changes.  He will not use the scandalously expensive presidential plane and says he will take commercial flights. AMLO won’t live in the presidential mansion at Los Pinos and will continue to live in his small apartment (like the current President of Ghana).

These are small, mostly symbolic changes, but AMLO also discussed a more ambitious agenda. Some of these measures are progressive — for example, he wants to disband the secret police (like the DSS) and reduce the salaries of politicians and high-ranking government employees.

AMLO’s most substantial reform proposals are very vague, though. For example, he maintains that his battle against corruption will free up significant financial resources to be reinvested in the public sector, but this remains to be seen.

AMLO’s commitment to neoliberalism (privatisation and deregulation) is also one of the only constants in his program. His political team is staffed with technocrats from previous governments. Alfonso Romo, a rich business person, who is helping to shape AMLO’s economic program, told Forbes magazine in an interview that “Mexico will be a paradise for investors”.  It is hard to see how the new president can achieve this whilst also delivering on the hopes of the mass of his supporters.

AMLO received a high level delegation from the U.S. headed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just after the election. Ostensibly, the meeting was aimed at “resetting” relations with Mexico, which have been badly strained by Trump’s mad calls for Mexico to pay for a border wall between the two countries.

Unlike previous presidential administrations that came to power based on electoral fraud, AMLO has a clear mandate from the people, and so it won’t be as easy to push him around.  Nevertheless, the U.S. government is clear that it wants Mexico to play a more active role in enforcing its southern border and to capitulate on U.S. demands around the North American Free Trade Agreement.

For now, AMLO is in his honeymoon phase, even getting semi-respectful treatment from Donald Trump. But very soon, he and his government will come under a lot of pressure to deliver to all sides: the Mexican working class, the Mexican ruling class and the U.S. political and business elite.

The ruling class and the U.S. establishment are by far the most organized of these sources of pressure. The radical left will have to organize to make sure the urgent call for change that the elections represented isn’t silenced. AMLO and his government need to be held accountable for the reforms they have promised.

by Drew POVEY

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