With the victory of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in June’s presidential election, Mexico has bid farewell to the overwhelming power of its Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Not only did Lopez Obrador – a former mayor of Mexico City whose leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) has promised sweeping change – trounce his opponents with a 53 percent majority, but the PRI failed to win any of the nine gubernatorial races that took place simultaneously. Lopez Obrador’s party also won control of the Mexican Congress, a first since the emergence of the multi-party system in 2000.
The PRI has ruled Mexico almost continuously since 1929. 2000 to 2012 was the only interim, during which voters elected the more conservative National Action Party (PAN). The victories of Lopez Obrador and his party represent a hard shift to the left for Mexican voters, who throughout the election season decried PRI corruption, gang violence, and an economy designed to benefit the Mexican elite.
Indeed, Mexicans suffer from widespread poverty in a country that has the highest rate of income inequality in the developed world – a crisis that moved voters during the election.
During the campaign, Lopez Obrador attacked trade deals that he said exploited Mexican workers. “We’re buying everything abroad that we could grow in Mexico,” he said at a rally. “That’s going to stop.”
Instead, the president-elect has proposed a sweeping plan to increase domestic food production with a focus on resuscitating small producers, who have languished in the face of global competition. His plan involves directing government subsidies away from industry titans, and instead helping small farmers with a guaranteed minimum price and better access to loans, technology, and information.
The program doesn’t stop there. Lopez Obrador has promised Mexicans what he calls the “fourth transformation” of the country, figuring his election as one of the seismic events that define Mexican history – the three others being the 1821 independence from Spain, La Reforma (a series of liberal reforms that began in 1867), and the 1910 revolution (members of which went on to found the PRI government).
The extent of this transformation remains vague, as critics point to the relative lack of detail in the president-elect’s platforms. Lopez Obrador has promised a renewed investment in scholarships for the poor, pensions for the elderly, and new public works and jobs programs. Having been a figure of Mexican politics for decades, he has walked back some of the more radical positions of his past, such as the nationalization of the Mexican oil industry and an end to NAFTA.
The elections, however, were not without controversy. The National Electoral Institute has accused Lopez Obrador’s Morena party of violating campaign finance laws, and will vote on July 18 whether or not to impose a 10 million dollar fine on the party. The violation, says the institute, came in the form of an undisclosed trust that the party used to collect and distribute some 4 million dollars to its various candidates over the course of the elections.
In his efforts to tackle the corruption, poverty, and violence that plague Mexican daily life and government, it remains to be seen how far left Lopez Obrador will push Mexican policy and politics. One thing that is certain is that his overwhelming support in the polls represented a powerful rejection of the status quo by a people fed up with lies and abuse from the political establishment. What’s more, the downfall of the PRI, and their lack of resistance to defeats across the board, suggests – at the very least – that the machinery of Mexican democracy is well-oiled and spinning.