President Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the elections in 2018 with a strong promise to transform Mexico. After razing the presidential election with La Cuatra Transformacion as a map and compass and MORENA as a faithful squad, AMLO promised to restore security in the country, end corruption, stimulate development and change the way Mexicans see those in power.
Now, after two years in office, AMLO sails the presidency of Mexico is in murky waters, considering that it has been difficult to start governing with the idea of having “radical change” and taking into account the severe crises; economical and political, that 2020 has brought…AMLO observing that perhaps his ship is sinking has adopted a sometimes authoritative and other times pedagogical approach.
MORENA: A new party or just old friends?
As controversial as it sounds, AMLO is doing what he criticized most former regimes for. All throughout his campaign, he condemned the former regimes for having corruption inside their parties, lack of transparency, and established social hierarchy where the power was shared and divided between what he refers to as “elites.” Nevertheless, AMLO is not acting very differently from them in that his party sees many of the same issues.
Since AMLO created MORENA, he has placed his colleagues, friends and family members in key positions in the MORENA political party (a neopatrimonialism trait, often seen in Mexican politics). For example, Gonzalo Alfonso López Beltrán, his 25-year-old son, works as state coordinator for Morena in Tlaxcala. Similarly, AMLO’s sons-in-law Ricardo Monreal was the former campaign coordinator and is the current coordinator of Morena in Guanajuato. Sergio Garfias, his other son-in-law occupies the Secretariat of Youth of Morena in Zacatecas. Beyond AMLO’s family, AMLO’s inner circle has also placed their relatives strategically among the nation. Interestingly, not only are AMLO’s peers now holding heads of government jobs, but the peer’s relatives too. For instance, Bertha Elena Luján and David Cervantes Peredo, hold positions in the MORENA party and placed their daughters and wives in directive positions of state coordination.
The unevenness of check & balances and opposition
The project that López Obrador has embarked on in the confrontation is accompanied by another phenomenon, that of greater concentration of power. It can be seen as a signal of authoritarianism the lack for power separation in the mexixcan political sphere where MORENA holds a strong concentration power which strengthened the AMLO’s power reach. With MORENA’s support in the other governmental branches, AMLO is allowed to carry out major reforms without many obstacles that in any other political framework would be much more complicated. This has opened the door to new social programs promoted by AMLO being included in the Constitution. These Constitutional reforms such as pensions for older adults, scholarships for students and support for people with disabilities will now be an obligation of the State. Among the beneficiaries of these welfare programs are students, indigenous groups, and elder adults; much of AMLO’s “pueblo” constituent base. Ultimately, AMLO’s extensive constitutional changes accentuate his commitment to the people and aim to ensure the “Fourth Transformation; thus marking his role as a “saviour of the people and the poor.”
In parallel, this political scenario might also hamper the checks and balances in Mexico which are imperative to avoid any abuse of power. With MORENA dominating the legislative branch and AMLO in the presidency restricts accountability and the principle of fair representation. In fact, many have labelled AMLO’s initiatives as unconstitutional and beyond controversial. One of the most complex initiatives is the creation of the National Guard— a corporation made up of elements from the Naval, Federal and Military police whose main task will be public security. The creation of this armed force unleashed accusations from opposition groups and civil organizations that the government was trying to “militarize” the country. In addition to these accusations, national and international organizations and institutions such as the UN, CDNH, CIDE and UNAM warned that the National Guard is a proposal that violates human rights. Regardless, AMLO will always consider himself the rightful one, and with all branches of the government behind him, he acts as one.
According to El Economista, AMLO’s government is litigating with the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) on more than seven actions that have been filed as unconstitutional and six other constitutional controversies. In addition, AMLO’s government is handling 5,631 amparo lawsuits filed by citizens, parties and organizations for cases such as the National Guard operation, the cancellation of the New Mexico City Airport, the new law limiting wages and the cancellation of the national childcare program, among others. The national leader of the PAN, one of the parties of the opposition, said about AMLO and Morena:
“We do not like their ways. It distorts the balance of power that should exist in any democracy, unconstitutionally concentrating greater power in the head of the Executive Leader.”
It will be interesting to witness how AMLO will deal with the opposition such as this leader. Will he repeat the oppression and corruption of past governments, the one that he so dramatically criticized? Or will he open the door to a fair and free democratic dialogue? Even with his greatest opponents?
Why are MORENA and AMLO so appealing?
AMLO triumphs because the traditional parties have not been capable of delivering the adequate answers to the problems of Mexico, hence the Mexican people grew frustrated. Then, AMLO appeared with strong promises to remove everything and defend the interests of the “people;” offering something presumably more attractive. With simple and demagogic solutions AMLO produced a momentary euphoria that rocketed his popularity to unprecedented levels. AMLO, like other populist leaders, tries to give simple and basic answers which grant ephemeral solutions. Yet on the bigger picture, the source of the problems continues to exist..
One of AMLO’s strategies is to implement social welfare programs which he advertises through his own controversial rhetoric. Governments are obliged to deliver quality services and support for their citizens, but what AMLO is doing is not that simple. Each one of his projects is presented as a solution to amend the problems once created by the former governments, or as he calls them, “neoliberals.” The President of Mexico has blamed the neoliberal policy of restraining economic growth for increasing poverty and corruption. In fact, even he affirmed the violence and machismo the nation experiences is due to the “decline” of values that has been dragging on from neoliberalism. On multiple occasions, López Obrador has said that the violence and inequality that the country is experiencing is the product of the neoliberal policy of looting and abandonment of people. According to economists, the president has decided to eliminate social programs through which the Mexican State offered quality aid and services to vulnerable groups and instead, prioritized the delivery of money and cash-transfers. This change not only dismantles many of the services delivered by the state, but it can also be understood as propaganda. Therefore, what makes AMLO’s politics so alluring is his genius plan to distribute cash and launch social programs with his name on it while blaming the nation’s problems on the neoliberals.
So far so good?
After two years in mandate, two thirdsof Mexicans say they are actual or potential beneficiaries of the distribution of money via the different programs announced by AMLO. Yet, a nation such as Mexico that is performing poorly economically will not be able to sustain this in the long run, much less if there are no incentives to help businesses and foreign direct investment stay in the country. What started as the strong AMLO phenomena, is now eroding. Policy analysts state that the logic behind this is that a significant part of the Mexican population has just lost any hope on AMLOs promises to revolutionize Mexico and bring a change. Mexicans have recognized that the country may not improve, corruption and insecurity may never end, and the economy may never flourish but at least they are receiving monthly cash incomes by these social programs. The Mexican population is now hesitating whether AMLO’s promises were once true, as seldom they are met; emphasizing that actions speak louder than words. The citizens are getting tired. The approval rate of President López Obrador is now at its lowest point ever according to the Mitofsky Survey for El Economista. This indicates that as his mandate continues, disapproval increases as AMLO cannot provide the things promised in his campaign. The surveys begin to show uncertainty in the true authority and effectiveness of the president in various matters. For example, citizens believe that the President will not be very successful in reducing corruption. It does not matter that AMLO insures one day and another also that he can limit corrupt practices, when at the end of the day there is a lack of action and his promises remain vague. Eventually, more and more Mexicans are growing insecure about whether AMLO can fight poverty, make the country grow economically and improve security. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, they say, hence AMLO shall focus on achieving tangible change and solving at least one of his promises, to prove his abilities as a ruler, instead of adding more promises to his lists of to-dos. Now, Mexico and its people need more concise politics and more holistic decision-making, rather than just more populist rhetoric to ensure AMLO’s dreams come to life.
And the rest of AMLO's term?
The promises of a populist demagogue are always attractive, yet they are also seldom viable. Ultimately, Mexico with AMLO is experiencing a loss of governance in the country. This loss grows every time AMLO decides to lose an opportunity, to not act upon his promises to “revolutionize the country for good.” But in reality, it is easier said than done. His oeuvre-maitre project is lost every time AMLO decides to have a greater concentration of his power as executive, abandoning the inclusion of debate and dialogue. With his autocratic attitudes, the president has already had several confrontations with legislators and magistrates as well as with autonomous organizations. These have raised doubts about the unconstitutionality of the Supreme Court of Justice,and it has raised complaints about the invasion of the sphere of other powers.
After two years in office, political analysts warned that AMLO’s regime is entering a “hyper-presidentialism” stage which could dangerously lead AMLO to turn his regime into an authoritarian one. Having the congress and the senate at his side, he holds the monopoly over various political spheres that would make him capable of doing just that. To this, one must add the egocentric character that sometimes shows in AMLO, nourished by the effects of the AMLO Phenomenon which is built on a demagogue speech.
Until when can AMLO keep the opposition minimized to keep exercising full control over his barrier-free politics? It is a question many are concerned with.