In 2018, Andres Manuel López Obrador (better known as AMLO) won the Mexican presidential elections; this being the third time he ran as a candidate. His electoral victory is significant because after 12 years striving for it, AMLO finally became Mexico’s president with an outstanding and triumphant margin of 53.8% . Not only did AMLO come to power in 2018, but he also preached that his mandate would ultimately make history for the nation. AMLO specifically seeks to make history during his presidency by bringing about profound change as he promised to reform the entire country.
“It is not a change of government, it is a change of regime”
His ambitious plan for his presidential term is named The Fourth Transformation. The objective of this is to eradicate existing corruption, abuses and privileges in the Mexican government. To achieve this, his government developed major reforms to endorse austerity measures against corruption and impunity. Furthermore, AMLO’s austerity plan will adjust the distribution of wealth and public spending in the nation; favoring the most in need as his political motto has consistently been “first the poor.” Moreover, AMLO seems to be primarily motivated to eradicate all the existing corruption; believing only once that happens, the country can begin moving forward. The way he plans to achieve this is through his ruling alongside MORENA ( the political party he created) which now dominates the political arena in Mexico.
AMLO had been striving since his first nomination in 2006 for a victory in Mexico’s presidential elections. For over 100 years in Mexico there were only two political parties that dominated Los Pinos (the Mexican presidential house). Since his first candidacy in 2006, AMLO never went unnoticed because after losing the presidential elections, he described the results as a fraud and proclaimed himself “the legitimate president of Mexico;” convocating a series of protests that lasted for more than 6 months. However, there was a recount of votes that reiterated that he had not been elected with the majority. 12 years after that incident, in 2018, AMLO gained a 30-point lead over second place, a difference that had not come about since 1982 in a presidential election in Mexico, according to historical electoral data from the National Electoral Institute. Having a significant percentage of the Mexican population favoring him, and alongside a populist campaign and a 12-year-old political career, the ‘AMLO phenomenon’ was created.
A Robin Hood Inspired President
AMLO’s prevailing populist speech and leftist-oriented political agenda (with his “first the poor” slogan) plays an important role in the Mexican political arena. Emphasizing his loyalty and commitment to the people, AMLO’s populist speech and idealistic rhetoric is perhaps what marks his leadership style as so unique. More specifically though, The Economist has labelled his populism as “rampant and constrained.” All in all, he has adopted a Robin Hood approach in a way, as he is committed to compensate the poor and eradicate once and for all, the injustices committed against them.
AMLO’s personal vendetta against the old regime and those he labels as “the mafia of power’‘ widely influence his policies. Ever since his election campaign, he assured that the decline of Mexico is due to corruption and bad government; specifically, those he refers to as “Los Pinos cartel” (Los Pinos is the Mexican White House) headed by Enrique Peña Nieto (Mexico’s former president). According to AMLO, all Nieto did was looting and stealing the goods of the nation and the people,and allowing impunity and corruption to grow. Ultimately, AMLO has condemned the past governments and even called them immoral for committing acts such as those Nieto is accused of. Moreover, with a moral tone that has blended with political speech, AMLO has cited Pope Francis in condemning the practice of impoverishing people. In AMLO’s Robin Hood tale, it is clear who the bad and good characters are, yet it remains to be seen how his story unfolds.
Similar to Robin Hood, AMLO is also convinced that having an interest in righteousness will fix the nation. He once said that Mexico is a “rich country with poor people,” all because of the never-ending problem of corruption. Thus, MORENA fights to end corruption in the hope of achieving the rebirth of Mexico. Some examples of AMLO’s new austerity reforms aimed at tackling corruption are the decrease of the presidential salary and the enactment of a law that prohibits public officials from earning more than the President receives. In addition, this new law lowers the salaries of high public officials to increase salaries of teachers, nurses, doctors, police, soldiers, and sailors. With these Robin Hood policies, AMLO “will lower the wages of those above to increase the wages of those below.” For instance, the reforms will guarantee free education at all levels of schooling as well as allow an increase in the elder pension, among others. Other new reforms propose that public servants involved in acts of corruption confront their process in preventive detention and that the State can confiscate the property from corrupt officials, their spouses and their economic dependents, when their provenance is not proven.
An almighty president
After winning the presidential election with one of the biggest percentages of turnout in the history of the nation, AMLO is confident that he represents the Mexican population. More importantly, he is convinced he is the president of “the people” or “el pueblo,” as he claims that past governments have ignored the majority of the Mexican population who are in the lower-income segment of the population. In essence, “el pueblo” represents those in the Mexican population excluded by the elite, which has categorically defined itself as the enemy.
AMLO began his political career by supporting the candidacy of the Tabasco poet Carlos Pellicer for the state of Tabasco. Pellicer, being one of the most intellectual characters in Mexico in the last century, probably held many of the ideas that today constitute AMLO’s decision making as Pellicer was surely a source of inspiration for the current president. The strong social activism that prevails in AMLO’s political career is largely attributed to the figure of Pellicer. After working with Pellicer, AMLO became the director of the Tabasco Indigenous Institute where he did important work dedicated to the Chontale indigenous people. Pellicer’s ideas and actions undoubtedly influenced AMLO’s own actions and policies today as inherent in his deep desire to represent “el pueblo.”
The “AMLO Phenomenon”
The AMLO phenomenon is based on a series of ideals that remain the core of his political speech. According to New York Times analysts, the “AMLO phenomenon” is built around the image and personality of the politician. His leading presence is an effective form of contagion which has been solidified in his charismatic traits. Analysts argue that his speech generates flammable reactions regardless of a person’s position as AMLO’s opinions, confessions, words, jokes and provocations are hard to forget. In other words, he dominates every side of the public discourse.
In fact, AMLO has been compared to Hugo Chavez on many occasions because both have successfully used the analogy of saviors of the people. An incredibly powerful aspect of the “AMLO phenomenon” is the fanaticism of its voters or “followers” as many call them. Curiously, it can be said that the “followers” of AMLO idolize him in a context between “messiahs” and “celebrity” for a number of reasons. First, because AMLO speaks with a messiah attitude which nourishes fanaticism. Second, because AMLO (since making his name an acronym) has worked hard to make his name an idea, almost like a single trademark. These citizens that “follow” him, have lost all critical and rational eyes to see and judge the actions of the president and those around him. They support their leader (or the concept that he is) unconditionally, including when AMLO accuses the political system as “consinspirational” against him. He seldom admits that his government or himself has taken wrong decisions, even when data might prove it. Whenever he is confronted by the press, the president defends his ideals faithfully despite sometimes being controversial or criticized. Most of the time, he responds saying his famous phrase: “Well, I have other information.” To this, some even consider that he suffers from megalomania; a mental disorder in which the person has delusions of greatness and believes himself capable of doing great things. This potential condition has cost him confrontations with the national and international press who have reached the conclusion that AMLO is unreliable. Not exactly a healthy sign for a legitimate leader.
AMLO, however, is not alone in his ideological revolution. Beatriz Gutierrez Muller, his wife, is a very influential figure next to the president as the new Mexican First Lady is very different from her predecessors. Gutiérrez Müller is a writer and journalist who did not want to adopt the name of First Lady. She is the first wife of a Mexican president who does not serve as First Lady as it was her decision to remove this position. One such reason for this is her claim that there will be no “first or second ” ladies in the Mexican society. She is now head of the advisory council of the new National Coordination of Historical Memory. Some even claim that it was her idea to make AMLO ask the president of Spain for an apology letter to compensate for the injustices the Kingdom of Spain committed in the former Spanish colony that is now Mexico. While this episode caused international tension, the underlying message was clear: AMLO (and his wife) and the current Mexican government will pay attention to all social injustices; once again strengthening the figure and concept that is AMLO.
All in the name of “The Fourth Transformation”
AMLO’s campaign and socio-political movement, The Fourth Transformation, is heavily influenced by Mexican history. This can be further explained by understanding that his wife, Beatriz Gutierrez Muller is a historian and an academic now in charge of the National Coordination of Historical Memory. With the Fourth Transformation AMLO aims to make his 6 year mandate the 4th most impactful reform in Mexico, marking it as a key moment in Mexican history. The first transformation took place when Mexico became independent from the Kingdom of Spain in 1810. The second La Reforma occurred when the separation of Church and State was obtained. The third would be the revolution resulting in the end of a dictatorship and the creation of the Constitution that currently governs Mexico. AMLO is hoping his presidential term will be the fourth. As a matter of fact, one of AMLO’s first tweets as President said:
“Today we begin the 4th transformation of the country. This will be peaceful, orderly, but profound and radical. No more corruption! No more privileges!”AMLO
But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and now, AMLO has a great weight on his shoulders because he promised to change Mexico if not “revolutionize” it. For the last century, Mexican presidents have only come from two parties, PRI and PAN. Deciding to change this through his campaign, AMLO decided that “Together We Will Make History” by merging three parties and making a strong opposition to the two dominant parties in the political history of Mexico: The PRI and the PAN. AMLO’s commitment to making historical political change was how he managed to build his own party “National Regeneration Movement” (known as MORENA), the Labor Party (PT) and the Social Encounter party. This alliance is also named: Together We Will Make History.
With AMLO convinced of his project and a dominating MORENA party in all political spheres; including the legislative and judicial areas, AMLO seems to have a great deal of power to call the shots in the Mexican decision-making process. Dangerously; such as Louis XIV did, AMLO and the State are slowly becoming one as AMLO, seconded by his own party, controls the monopoly of power as MORENA dominates the Senate and the Congress. Beyond MORENA supporting him, the party is, rather, his strategically selected sect in which the parishioners do not admit the slightest question to the deity of AMLO. In other words, while some may believe AMLO’s plan for a Fourth Transformation is too much or unrealistic, they will not voice such opinions within the party he created.
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 and balances
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?
Will AMLO deliver his promises?
AMLO is convinced he will change the country in his six-year term (given that there is no possibility of reelection). As a result, AMLO has the significant pressure to compete and prove wrong the other parties that dominated Mexican politics in the past. However, without having very positive results thus far, AMLO has found himself in the complex (yet predictable) situation of being unable to deliver all the promises he made in his campaign.
The main problem is that AMLO envisioned a series of radical changes but paradoxically installed a regime of complete austerity, making it impossible for many of his plans, projects and promises to be carried out. Andrés Manuel López Obrador apparently is devoted to the poor, and has addressed their needs since his first day in office as “For the good of Mexico, the poor first” was the central phrase in his long campaigns. However, it is also the poor who have been largely affected in his presidential actions since all the budget cuts in his austerity reforms imply the cancellation of social and welfare programs.
Looking back, the 2018 elections represented a purge of the other two dominant Mexican political parties as MORENA entered the political stage. In effect, MORENA remains new and amateur in the Mexican political arena; requiring a certain amount of time as well as an incredibly efficient institutional and political coordination structure to achieve AMLO’s ambitious reforms for the nation. Ultimately, AMLO promised in 2018 to transform the country and in a certain way has succeeded. It remains to be seen whether the jump is backwards or forwards.
AMLO, despite having unprecedented support and having a strong “fan” base, is no different than any other politician in that if he does not deliver his promises and fulfill his agenda, it will cause him to lose his followers’ support. The question here is, what matters most to him: Keep his ideals intact, or contradict himself and cooperate with the “mafia of power” to seize some of his political goals? Regardless of the route AMLO chooses, this profile will aim to identify what drives him as a president, as a leader, as an idealist and ultimately, as a decision maker for roughly 120 million people.