Mexico elects leftist politician as new president

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has declared victory in Mexico's presidential election, with preliminary results showing the leftist veteran politician securing a landslide win. CNN's Leyla Santiago reports.

Posted: Jul 3, 2018 8:15 AM
Updated: Jul 3, 2018 8:37 AM

"If Trump sends out an offensive tweet, I will take charge and answer him," said incoming Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as "AMLO," at a campaign rally in Oaxaca. Lopez Obrador, who founded the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), follows in the populist tradition, and vowed to fight fire with fire when it comes to Trump.

This worries some Mexicans, who see Lopez Obrador as unpredictable, prone to outbursts of emotion and quick to change his mind on issues. Sound familiar? As president, he may well be, at least in terms of temperament, the Trump of south of the border.

Lopez Obrador, who has run for president in every election since 2006, has humble beginnings, flies coach class and says that he will convert Mexico's presidential palace into a public park.

While his political plans don't have much of anything in common with Trump's, his response to critics and the media does, as well as his lack of commitment to LGBTQI and women's rights. Lopez Obrador has said that as president, he will have to consult with the millions of Catholics, evangelicals and "free thinkers" who he represents to make decisions about same-sex marriage and abortion. In response to him, activists in the LGBTQI community in Mexico said that basic human rights should not be consulted -- they should be guaranteed.

And in his 461-page plan for governing the country, LGBTQI rights are not mentioned at all, while gender equality is only mentioned once, according to a BuzzFeed News review of the document. Notably, when Lopez Obrador was mayor of Mexico City from 2000-2005, he did not promote same-sex marriage or the decriminalization of abortion.

But the similarities between the two leaders don't stop there. Like Trump, Lopez Obrador has surrounded himself with people who have a proven track record of ethically questionable behavior. For example, he made an alliance with Elba Esther Gordillo, the former leader of Mexico's teachers union, who was accused of embezzling more than $200 million and was known for her investment in a designer wardrobe, plastic surgery and a private jet. (Gordillo has not been convicted of any crimes and denies any wrongdoing.)

If you wonder why Lopez Obrador is so popular, then, consider who his opponents were. The Institutional Revolutionary Party, to which President Enrique Peña Nieto belongs, was plagued by continued failings in the investigation of the forced disappearance of 43 students, as John Oliver so succinctly summarized in his recent segment on the Mexican elections. As Amnesty International reported, officials obtained confessions via torture in the case of these students.

And there then was the issue of corruption. In 2014, Aristegui Noticias broke the story of the President's family owning a luxurious residence registered in the name of a construction company that won contracts during the Peña Nieto administration, which led to a public scandal over conflict of interest. Peña Nieto apologized publicly for the conflict of interest scandal, while simultaneously unveiling legislation to curb political corruption -- but for many Mexicans, the damage was already done.

José Antonio Meade, who was the candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, was unlikely to garner many votes because of his party's association with long-term corruption. Ricardo Anaya, resigned from the National Action Party (PAN) to run as a candidate with Forward for Mexico (Por México al Frente), an alliance of a variety of opposition parties. He was a policy wonk more known for his love of PowerPoint presentations than people. And in last place we had Jaime "El Bronco" Rodríguez, the independent candidate who launched a thousand memes by promising to cut off the hands of corrupt officials and criminals. Highlighting the irony of it all, one of the most shared memes related to the candidate has been of "El Bronco" himself with no hands.

But it's not just what his counterparts lacked that made Lopez Obrador appealing. He, like Trump did when he was on the campaign trail, made sweeping proclamations to drain the swamp. In April, he said, "We are going to end corruption. It will clean up public life of Mexico, there will be no corruption and then [Trump] will not hold that idea, he will not insist on giving the impression that Mexicans are corrupt." Lopez Obrador's anti-corruption message was appealing to voters who had been worn down by the scandals and corruption from the previous administration. He is fond of saying, "Everything I am saying will be done," which, aside from being impossible, has the ring of a Trump's "I alone can fix it" sound bite.

Like Trump, Lopez Obrador has shown consistent disdain for the media. On the campaign trail, he referred to the media as "fifi" or elitist. He has also framed his politics as either you're with me or you're on the side of the corrupt mafia, polarizing the country in a way that may be familiar to many Americans.

The real question for Americans now is how President Lopez Obrador will interact with Trump and what effect his policies will have on the US. It appears that a Twitter war is imminent and that the second largest economy in Latin America will push back against Trump's dehumanization of Mexicans.

The issue that could have an impact on global human rights is if the Presidents of the US and Mexico both work to limit the rights of the LGTBI community and women's sexual and reproductive rights. The progress toward marriage equality and women's autonomy over their own bodies could be pushed back decades, leading to repression of marginalized groups.

Lopez Obrador may be the best candidate among a weak field, but his presidency is unlikely to produce a functional relationship with the US. That said, only time and Twitter will tell.

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