AP NEWS

Be very interested in Mexico’s election

June 16, 2018

He describes himself as a populist and the only politician who can drain the swamp. He is an unapologetic nationalist who invites criticism of the nation’s elites. He has a base for whom he can do no wrong. His critics warn of autocratic, strongman tendencies.

No, not Donald Trump, but Andrés Manuel López Obrador, running to be Mexico’s next president. Also known as AMLO, he has run up a double digit lead over two leading opponents while running as a leftist who will tackle Mexico’s deep-rooted corruption and lawlessness.

We’re having our own elections in November, with control of Congress at stake. But Mexico’s presidential election on July 1 is also full of portent for the U.S.

López Obrador, 64, a former Mexico City mayor, is running as the nominee of the leftist National Regeneration Movement, or MORENA. Ricardo Anaya Cortés, 39, is the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, candidate. José Antonio Meade, 49, is the candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which returned to power six years ago with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto.

If López Obrador wins it will largely be because Mexicans have heard PAN and PRI promises on corruption and lawlessness and perceive that matters have worsened. They have simply hit rock bottom when it comes to patience. But López Obrador will also have won because he has effectively channeled the anti-Trump sentiments of Mexicans who are tired of being used as the U.S. president’s punching bags.

López Obrador promises to forcefully protect the sovereignty of his country — magic words in Mexico because of a U.S. history of imposing on this.

Yes, there are comparisons to be drawn between López Obrador and Trump, but they are not really the same politician on substance — he’s probably more Bernie Sanders than Trump. Yet, ironically, Trump, by word and deed, will have helped pave the way for the kind of Mexican president that he and business interests both here and in Mexico will likely view as radioactive. López Obrador has been critical of policies perceived as building the country’s middle class and opening up Mexico’s economy and industries to innovation and investment.

Though it is largely Mexico’s economy — poverty still prevalent — and problems of corruption and lawlessness that will drive the vote July 1, Trump might soon get a new lesson that his words and policies have consequences. Simply, they offend Mexico and Mexicans and López Obrador is their response. Just to cite a few of Trump’s words: Mexico sends us its rapists and criminals and a border wall that the U.S. will make Mexico pay for.

It’s likely U.S./Mexico relations will be strained no matter who wins the Mexican presidency. But if it is López Obrador, they could arguably hit their nadir.

We’d love to be wrong about this. Mexico is one of Texas’ leading trade partners. That means Texas stands to lose big if two nationalists try to outdo one another with populist meddling in trade and the economy.

López Obrador’s critics say that underneath his image of probity and incorruptibility, there is a future Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s late strongman whose nationalistic policies began that country’s slide into the economic and social abyss.

We’re not sold that López Obrador is that person, though we’ve not seen a credible anti-corruption plan from him. We, along with many others, suggest he, or anyone elected, start by creating an independent federal attorney general’s office with the power to root out corruption wherever it is found.

And, in fact, we sympathize with the Mexican mood that something starkly different is now required in Mexico. Whether López Obrador is the answer is unclear, but Mexicans have seen the other parties’ winners unable or unwilling to take effective action on corruption and the cartels.

In an earlier campaign for president against PANista Felipe Calderón in 2006, López Obrador was said to be the front-runner and lost — narrowly and controversially amid claims of a stolen election. But, perhaps it’s his time. Remember, this sentiment — the desire for something starkly different — took Trump to the White House.

But, as for the fear that under López Obrador Mexico will devolve into the next Venezuela … well, Mexicans believe they are already deep in crisis — 200,000 murders in the last two administrations and corruption unchecked.

President Donald Trump must make it a point — no matter who wins the Mexican presidency — to nurture the relationship rather than continue to stir the animosities that exist on both sides of the border.

It is an open question, however, whether López Obrador as his Mexican counterpart, will be buying it.