Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Mexico recently shocked football fans around the world when it defeated Germany in its opening game in the FIFA World Cup. It has also been at the forefront of the global news cycle as the USA’s southern neighbour. Trump’s controversial handling of the immigration issue - through the potential construction of his infamous wall or his recent policy of separating families at the border, is the source of major social and political turmoil in the US and has been discussed heatedly around the world. But now, Mexico is making worldwide news because, on 1st July, the second-largest economy in Latin America took to the polls for the biggest general elections in Mexican history with an expected but unprecedented result of the presidential race.
88 million Mexicans were entitled to vote, and 18,000 posts were up for grabs. The elections determined all seats in both houses of the National Congress, as well as the state congress and mayors for 30 Mexican states. However, the critical race was for the presidency. The left-wing candidate and the winner of the presidential race, AMLO, or Andrés Manuel López Obrador, dominated polls for months before the election. His presidency will be the first time in 88 years that a party other than the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) and its opposition, the National Action Party (PAN) will be in power. His win has been described by the BBC as a “political earthquake”.
But what are the factors behind this historical change and what will be its consequences?
After 13 years of relentless campaigning, Obrador has risen to popularity by promising a peaceful social revolution to a country that is frustrated by slow economic growth, rampant crime, and deep corruption. His victory will disrupt the status quo as he discards the neoliberal outlook that has, in his opinion, caused these problems. Corruption is an issue that unifies the electorate and which all candidates aimed to address in their campaigns.
Nonetheless, AMLO’s fiery conviction to abolish the “mafia of power” (the corrupt elite political and business class which dominates the country) has made a significant impact.
Another major theme of the campaign focused on addressing the levels of crime in the country. In fact, due to the elections, Mexico experienced the highest number of homicides in the month of May than in the last twenty years. A large part of this violence is caused by the government’s targeted fracturing of crime groups such as drug traffickers. Over the years, many leaders have attempted to curb Mexico’s drug problem and this time, the people have placed their trust in Obrador.
Mexico is one of the few countries in Latin America that hasn’t had a leftist government in recent decades, but this election has changed that.
Obrador vows to reduce inequality and improve pay and welfare spending on areas such as pensions, student bursaries, apprenticeships and agricultural subsidies. Critical to this plan is his insistence on not increasing Mexico’s debt burden. He plans to run a tight budget through strategies such as the reduction of bureaucratic salaries. However, he has also been labelled by some as a ‘leftist Trump’ due to his nationalistic tendencies, populist rhetoric and impulsive personality. Some critics go as far as to label him intolerant and authoritarian.
It is perhaps this conviction in his beliefs that has led him to become so popular with the Mexican public, earning him a landslide victory by the largest margin since Mexico has been a democracy. This change will also have a significant impact on how Mexico deals with its foreign policy, particularly with the United States of America. Trump has been extremely loose-tongued when talking about Mexican immigration and NAFTA and it is possible that the election of fiercely patriotic Obrador will not spell good fortunes for Mexico-US relations.
Trump has been vocal about his objections to NAFTA and while Obrador has stated that he supports the trade agreement, he also believes that Mexico will be fine without it. He has called for agricultural and energy imports from the US to be replaced by domestically-produced alternatives.
In his victory speech, Obrador stated that he would seek friendly relations with the USA, but only time will tell how these two leaders react to each other on contentious issues. Nevertheless, we can be certain that if AMLO takes a pugnacious approach to Trump, cooperation between the two countries in trade, immigration, border security and crime enforcement will plummet even further.
N.B. This article reflects the author’s opinions only.