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Could AMLO do it?

30 January 2012

… I think so.

While the assumption in the foreign media has been that the Mexican Presidential campaign, like one in the United States, is a horse race between two candidates, and — as in the United States — it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the party which is having a contested primary is the one that’s gonna lose (the difference being that’s the party now in control of the Executive), things may turn out quite differently than so many of us predicted.

I admit, I’m patting myself on the back for warning those of us who write in this very narrow field of Mexican political observations, that it was a huge mistake to assume Enrique Peña Neito would be the odds on favorite to win the election when it finally starts (unlike the U.S., we have some restraint in these matters, and officially, campaigning can’t start until 90 days before the 1 July General Election).  Peña Nieto, sort of like Mitt Romney in the United States, is the favored son of the party establishment, but unlike Romney, didn’t face any primary challengers.  He also has enjoyed excellent propaganda, thanks to an early (and dubious) investment in Televisa, which has been running fluff pieces and presenting positive pieces about Peña Nieto for over a year.

He also has an edge in that none of the PAN candidates are particularly attractive (Josefina Vasquez Mota, Santiago Creel Miranda and Ernesto Cordero Arroyo).  Cordero has been hapless, ever since, as Secretary of the Treasury, he claimed a middle class family could live well on 6000 pesos a month (I earn more than that, and have trouble making ends meet, even without kids or a car).  Most likely, he’ll end up running as the PANAL candidate, PANAL having recently divorced itself from its usual coaliton partner PRI, and not attractive to… well… anyone.  Creel has lost several high-profile elections, and — as a representative of the old ruling class (his family are THE Creels, who have run Chihuahua and maintain power through dynastic marriages, since Porfirio Diaz was President).  He has the support of the PAN traditionalists, and… probably no one else.  Vasquez Mota is pledging to continue Calderón’s agenda, which is not seen as a winning formula, even within PAN.

Peña Nieto, as a candidate, has been devastating… to Peña Nieto.  Dutch journalist Jan-Albert Hootsen argued that Peña Nieto’s verbal gaffes don’t much matter (like Rick Perry, whose campaign came to a crashing halt when he was unable to name three cabinet departments, Peña Nieto was unable to name three books he had read… at the Guadalajara Book Fair where he was supposedly presenting his work as a recent author).  Hootsen, who lives in Nezahuacoatl, State of Mexico, may be right that the party faithful will just vote for the party, and State of Mexico people will vote for the State of Mexico guy, but we have no proof that Peña Nieto has traction outside his own baliwick, and his support may be “a mile wide and an inch thick”… broad, but not deep.

Being dismissed as a light-weight by the intellectuals (who are heeded in Mexico and have political weight… one reason Presidents back to Santa Ana have always sought to assuage them, or at least co-opt them into the administration) matters not because voters are going to listen to Carlos Fuentes so much, as because reporters and newscasters and opinion makers are going to listen to Fuentes and begin asking questions about Peña Nieto.   That the candidate has been making nice to the Catholic Church turns off the anti-clericals (and PRI is traditionally an anti-clerical party). Given revelations that he has a number of illegitimate children how much support he can expect from the Bishops (who aren’t supposed to, but do push PAN candidates reflexively) is questionable.  That Peña Nieto’s eldest legitimate daughter tweeted rude comments about the working class isn’t going to help either… and campaigning hasn’t even started yet.

Under the radar, the almost-won (or, maybe actually did win) 2006 candidate for the leftist coalition (PRD and friends) has been organizing since 2006, and still maintains much of his old popularity.  I spoke with David Agren who is one of the few foreign reporters who actually follows the Mexican political process, who mentioned that no eyebrows were raised by Mexican political observers when he predicted several months ago that AMLO would get 25 percent of the vote.

That’s just based on his hard-core support, who’d vote for him no matter what.  I’d happened to be at dinner the night before speaking to Agren with a former reporter, one of those of the “he tied up the traffic in Mexico City and it was horrible” people.  One thing that didn’t cross my mind at the time was that AMLO was just a bit ahead of the curve… #OccupyReforma in 2006 had a more than single purpose political party agenda, questioning the entire premise of the nation’s control by the elites.  That kind of street action may have been seen as an unconscionable imposition on suburban commuters back then, but like everywhere else on the planet (#Occupy… Tahir Square, Wall Street, London, Paris, Madrid, Athens, Santiago… and on and on), middle-class people are demanding economic change, something AMLO’s been talking about for a very long time, and it may pay off for him.

At the same time, AMLO has toned down his rhetoric, and is reassuring the business class (the “one percenters”) that he’s not the “fiery populist” of the New York Times´phrasing, but a former mayor of one of the world’s largest cities and someone who has worked well with others… and, in what looks like a good faith effort (and is smart politics), he’s been letting out the names of his potential cabinet appointees… all well-respected as managers and administrators.

It’s almost obligatory in any piece on Mexico to mention the “drug war” so just a word about that.  Yeah, everyone is against violence, and more and more people are rejecting the present administration’s contention that their policy in prosecuting that “war” is the only possible one.  Or that the administration is “winning” anything but a Guinness Record for the government causing the most needless deaths of its citizens.  PAN candidates are going to be stuck with defending it, and Peña Nieto unwisely committed himself to continuing the present policy back when it looked as if the “war” was going to continue to be seen as worthwhile.

In the meantime, while “security” still ranks near the top of every Mexican poll of voter issues, it isn’t necessarily the “drug war” they´re talking about, and the #1 issue is, like everywhere, the economy.   AMLO hasn’t been focusing anti-narcotics but on economics, which in itself means he might draw in yet additional voters for whom the “drug war” is not a primary concern, as well as those who see, as he’s only obliquely mentioned so far (wait til the campaign) that alternatives to militarization might hold out better hope for ending the violence… and may very well resonate with still more voters.

One other thing to be mentioned.  This year, unlike last time, the U.S. is preoccupied with its own presidential election and with a less bellicose figure in the White House facing a campaign that he’s certain to win, there is less chance of the U.S. intervening in Mexican affairs to prevent a “fiery leftist” from taking office.

In the 2006 election, PRI had been through a brutal primary and spent most of their energy fighting AMLO.  While Peña Nieto is not quite as bad a candidate, and the party is better united although not enthusiastic about the candidate, it will have to mount its fire against PAN, which is also not all that enthusiastic about their candidate, but will be on the defensive, both from PRI and from the PRD coalition.  If Cordero, as expected, is the PANAL candidate and even draws off a fraction of PRI and PAN voters, AMLO has a real shot at more than 25 percent of the vote.

How much more?  Enough to win (or win again and be declared the winner)?  I won’t predict, but I will say it’s far from impossible.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 30 January 2012 5:13 am

    And we’re off! I agree that AMLO has worked steadily since 2006 to turn his (imposed) loss into a (recognized) win. All the theatrics after the 2006 election were lamentable, but the “election” of Calderon was a complete fraud… the old boys once again triumphed and imposed their will on the masses. Tell me… really… what’s worse: tantrums in the street or outright theivery? Peña Nieto and Cordero policies are virtually indistinguishable as far as I can see, but Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at least offers the “hope” that he can turn around our deplorable situation. During the electoral process will he be ignored out of fear, or maybe because the electorate is so sick of being taken to the cleaners by either the PRI or PAN, maybe they will give AMLO a chance? I think the results of the July election will depend on how brave (some call it desperate) the voters become. Can AMLO do it? We have been in the same camp all along, and like you am feeling a little smug in thinking…. Hm-m-m-m maybe I wasn’t just whistling in the dark.

  2. 31 January 2012 11:45 am

    Good to see you writing here again. As for AMLO….I have my doubts. Although if voters get split between PAN and PRI, then who knows. Although I suspect if (and it’s a big if) he wins, he’ll have much less of a public mandate that he would have had in 2006 had he won*.

    I do know a lot of the moderate ‘swing voters’ I knew who had voted for him in 2006 were not terribly amused by his antics after. He lost an awful lot of votes on Reforma and elsewhere….

    *I can’t be bothered to argue the toss on the result. What was clear to me was that neither AMLO nor Calderon had a clear cut mandate to rule.

  3. 3 February 2012 8:55 am

    It is well to wander among the intellectuals. They inform us that Vazquez Mota cannot win because she is a female clone of Calderon and everybody hates the war and Calderon. Pen~a Nieto is a pretty boy who is spoiled by his family and Televisa, and he has seven illegitimate children. His support is a kilometre wide and a millimeter deep.
    Only AMLO is good. Only AMLO is great. He wants to help the poor. He wants to bring down the elites because they are bad and arrogant people who are accustomed to being waited on hand and foot. He and his people are the good ones who set up constant pointless manifestations and marches and confrontations like Chilpancingo and Oaxaca that are never intended to resolve anything. Their actions are solely for the purpose of destruction.
    He is the leader of the people who throw garbage, make litter, do graffiti, and then have the audacity to take over one of the most important thoroughfares in the world. Had Calderon been declared the loser of the election, the PAN militants would never had had the hubris to have so totally interrupted the processes of millions upon millions of people. The fact is that Calderon won. Furthermore, AMLO lost convincingly. He spent a 51% lead into a 33% loss because the lower-middle class noted fairly quickly that AMLO is essentially deranged, an atheist messiah. His plan? Make Mexico more like Cuba? Like Venezuela? Even leftist Mexicans know in what little soul they have that none of the “from each according to ability and to each according to his need” works.
    The only thing that works to produce social progress is hard work, private property, hard money, deferred gratification, moderation in alcohol, no drugs, and no bastardy, faith in a Supreme Providence, and the practice of the beatitudes and the Golden Rule.
    Whether peaceful or violent, the Revolution of the Proletariat is bilge, therefore AMLO is bilge. It is tons of litter and garbage, millions of babies born into a lack of anticipation ot preparation, public buildings painted in gang signs, and pandillas roaming like jackals through the barrios.
    AMLO will implode as before. Calderon’s approval and the approval for the elimination of the cartels through military degradation of their lives and property is much higher in the countryside than those of you who go to the right restaurants and saloons in Mexico City and complement each other about how wise, enlightened, and tolerant you are.

  4. 4 February 2012 12:52 pm

    It’s nice to hear, for a change, a good annalysis on the 2012 Mexican election. Most pollsters and the media have told Mexicans that AMLO is currently in a distant third place from Peña Nieto and Vazquez Mota, but Obrador’s movement, Morena, is growing by attracting displeased leftists voters (sick of the internal divisions in the PRD), the middle class, businessmen (speciallly from the North, were Calderon won in 2006 and his drug war has caused more chaos) and the young vote. I think that AMLO lost the ’06 election due to fraud, but also because of his over-confidence of being the frunt runner and because of treason inside his own campaign team and electoral structure (many poll centers were left without AMLO’s representatives to avoid voter fraud). As a part of his movement, I believe we have learned from our mistakes and that we actually have a more realistic chance to reach the presidency that in the previous election.

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