Vol. XLII No. 29 July 22, 2018

Who is AMLO?

R Arun Kumar

A SIMPLISTIC answer to this question would be, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, popularly called AMLO, is the president-elect of Mexico. But this is not all. The real answer to the question can only be understood when it is located in the broad political conditions in which the Mexican elections had taken place, the politics of AMLO and his party.

AMLO has decisively won the Mexican presidential elections held on July 1, securing 53 percent of the polled votes, while his rival candidates, Ricardo Anaya of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) and José Antonio Meade of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) managed to secure 23 and 16 percent of the votes respectively. AMLO’s election broke the stranglehold of the two main ruling parties of Mexico. PRI led by the current president Enrique Peña Nieto has been ruling the country for more than 71 years, while PAN always remained the principal opposition party, except for ruling the country for a brief period between 2006-2012. So, significantly, AMLO’s victory broke the cycle of the two-party system of established parties.

What makes AMLO’s victory sweeter is the fact that he emerged as the victor in all but one of the country’s 32 states (out of which 12 gave him over 60 percent of the vote) and in 80 percent of the country’s municipalities. Another significant feature is that along with the strong show of the individual AMLO, Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (MORENA), the Party created by AMLO and his supporters in 2014, also notched up significant victories in the Congress and the Senate. They won five of the nine governorships for which elections were held and that too by huge margins. In Mexico City, the largest city in the country and also its political capital, MORENA’s candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, won with a lead of sixteen points. These gains of AMLO and MORENA, spread beyond traditional AMLO strongholds, extending well into the northern parts of the country. In a country, notorious for electoral frauds (Obrador himself was robbed of presidential victory in 2006) and violence (more than hundred candidates were killed during the present elections), the victory of AMLO is really significant.

What really needs to be understood are the reasons that contributed to this massive electoral victory of AMLO and his party, MORENA. The neo-liberal policies pursued by the PRI government, its involvement in massive corruption, drug mafia have created lots of discontent among the Mexicans. The other established party, PAN was found not much dissimilar from the PRI on all these counts and people were not ready to trust either, to bail them out of the crisis. It is in this background that MORENA emerged with AMLO as its leader and caught popular attention.

AMLO rich from experience gained through his earlier two presidential election defeats, changed tactics this time. He had given away some of his radical agenda in order to not to antagonise business interests. To neutralise and attract the elite classes in the society, he had given away many of his radical programmes and also in a way compromised with the ruling classes. There are many incidents to prove this point.

In order to ensure the defeat of PRI, AMLO had weaved an eclectic coalition of parties. This coalition included all sorts of parties that intended to defeat the PRI, for whatever reasons they be. Though this helped in achieving the said objective, it came with its own set of problems. The lack of a basic common ideological standpoint, other than ensuring the defeat of the PRI, imposes certain restrictions on the agenda of the newly elected government and this is now reflected in various manners.

Well into his campaign, AMLO met behind closed doors with ‘top business people’ in an attempt to “smooth things over”. AMLO himself described this meeting as ‘constructive’. He had included people who are not ‘main cadres’ of his party as ‘leading advisers’ in policy making, with a particular purpose of convincing the corporates of his intentions. One such person is Alfonso Romo, who was an agro-industrialist, who formerly had ties with both PRI and PAN and is now slated to be the cabinet chief. A reflection of such appointments can be found in his toned down criticism of North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He has now categorically stated that he will not move out from the NAFTA, considered as an important tool in the hands of the US that was used to subjugate the economy of Mexico and responsible for impeding the growth of indigenous Mexican industry.

The latest is, his cabinet is designated to include representatives of the business sectors and members of the PRI.

Even on the day of the elections and when results were being declared, AMLO attended a meeting with corporate representatives and assured them that he is ‘committed to financial and fiscal discipline’. This is a clear indication that AMLO is not going to steer clear the Mexican economy from the path of neo-liberalism. It is only after concluding this meeting that AMLO greeted his thousands of cheering supporters, celebrating his victory. The scheduling of these two meetings and the prioritisation accorded to meeting business representatives over and above the people, sent a wrong message. Addressing the huge gathering at the Zocalo square, the Mexican city centre, AMLO thanked all the earlier progressive movements that he rightly observed as laying the base for his electoral victory. It is during the course of the speech he had made here, he reiterated his yesteryear campaign slogan, ‘for the good of everyone, first the poor’.

AMLO’s personal political background helps us further understand his politics. AMLO started his political life as a member of the PRI, attracted by the radical agrarian programme of this party. PRI, it needs to be noted was considered as ‘revolutionary party’, with a strong nationalist current existing inside it. AMLO belonged to this trend. However, after the 1980s, with the increased influence of neo-liberal policies world over, buoyed by the collapse of Soviet Union, the politics of PRI too took a sharp turn. They embraced neo-liberal philosophy just as the social democratic parties in many of the developed countries were doing – shunning their ‘socialist’ cloaks to don neo-liberal costumes. AMLO and his comrades were unable to accept the neo-liberal attack on the welfare State and quit PRI differing with it on this aspect.

Condensing all these facets of AMLO, we can state that he wants to run the government without rescinding from the neo-liberal path, but intends to give it a ‘human face’ through the implementation of certain social welfare measures. He intends to use the acquired State power to ensure a fair ‘redistribution of resources’ that will benefit the poorer sections. Redistribution of resources is not to be done through nationalising of resources that are concentrated with the rich and their subsequent distribution to the poor – in short ensuring a change in the patterns of ownership. His plan is to mobilise resources through putting an end to corruption, better management of tax collection and such other steps. Once mobilised, these resources will be distributed through the ‘fair implementation’ of various social welfare schemes. He would fight drug mafia and curb other violent groups in order to ensure a conducive atmosphere for a realisation of these economic ideals, preferred by liberal capitalists. The slogan ‘for the good of everyone, first the poor’, captures well his liberal-capitalist philosophy.

This in no way means that AMLO’s electoral victory is insignificant. It is a significant development in the present geo-political context. One, in the backdrop of setbacks to the various Left and progressive governments in the Latin American continent, AMLO’s victory once again gives us hope. Two, at least on the question of foreign affairs we can expect more pronounced positions against the US. For example, Mexico can be expected to standby countries like Cuba and Venezuela in the region, against the wishes of the US. Three, in a land where the workers, peasants, indigenous and other sections of the poor are reeling under the blows of neo-liberal economic policies, AMLO’s victory will certainly prove to be of some succour as he is going to introduce some redistributive policies. We can also expect AMLO to take a positive position on various democratic rights that were earlier curtailed.

All in all, AMLO’s victory can be broadly welcomed and definitely supported in all its pro-people endeavours. Nonetheless, without having any illusions of its ‘socialist’ character, we should hope that the people of Mexico will be ever vigilant to ensure that it does not do anything substantial against their interests.