For months it seemed increasingly likely. By the end it was a given. In Mexico, you would say “este arroz ya se cociό” (the rice has already been cooked), an age-old idiom that means it is a done deal. And it was. As the polls forecasted, on July 1, 2018, Andrés Manuel Lόpez Obrador of the Morena party (National Regeneration Movement) was elected president of Mexico. The country’s leftist candidate received a whopping 53 percent of the vote, easily double that of his nearest rival and the largest margin of victory since Mexico began transitioning to multiparty elections more than 30 years ago.
But two weeks ago, ahead of the third and final presidential debate, Lopez Obrador already knew what was in store come election day. “Vamos muy bien, requetebien” (We are doing well, super well), he told reporters with a chuckle amid a flurry of cameras and microphones. “Este arroz ya se cociό” (It is a done deal).
During the debate later that night, Lόpez Obrador, popularly referred to as AMLO, seemed relaxed. He had the right to be. The latest polls put him at 50.8 percent, while his two major opponents, Ricardo Anaya of the PAN (National Action Party) and José Antonio Meade of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), trailed at 24.8 percent and 21.6 percent, respectively. His game plan that night was simple: be confident, stay out of trouble. For Anaya and Meade, it was to take shots and try to skim off votes from the top. With the World Cup set to begin in two days, the debate offered an opportunity for the candidates to get their final words in before the country’s political attention dwindled in a soccer-induced stupor. So the candidates pulled out all of the stops.
During the debate later that night, Lόpez Obrador, popularly referred to as AMLO, seemed relaxed. He had the right to be.
Moments after talking about social security in Mexico, with time still on the clock, Meade whipped out a fake DVD titled “The Great Depression” featuring Lόpez Obrador on the cover. “Esta es una película que no vas a ver, porque Andrés Manuel va a volver a perder. Esta película habla sobre la Gran Depresión de México de 2018 a 2024” (This is a movie that you will not see, because Andrés Manuel is going to lose again. This movie is about the Great Depression of Mexico from 2018 to 2024), the PRI nominee said, looking at the moderators with complete sincerity. “Esta película solamente la va a ver Andrés que va a tener mucho tiempo en su rancho terminando esta elección” (Only Andrés will see this movie because he will have a lot of time on his ranch following this election).
Armed with photographs and legal documents, Anaya walked the public through an alleged corruption scandal that implicated Lόpez Obrador. In what may have been the most tense moment of the debate, the 39-year-old PAN candidate turned and faced Lόpez Obrador and questioned his complicity in the matter. After the frontrunner denied involvement, Anaya went farther. “Si te presento los contratos renuncias la candidatura?” (If I present the contracts will you drop out of the race?) he questioned insistently, his matter-of-fact rhetoric and bookish nature on full display. “No soy corrupto como tu” (I am not corrupt like you), Lόpez Obrador responded firmly, brushing off the accusations, while Anaya continued to repeat the question, finally brandishing a placard directing the audience to a website in which they could see evidence of his claims.
But there were four candidates at the debate. The last, and barely in contention, was Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, better know as “el Bronco.” Running as an independent, the former governor of the northern state of Nuevo Leόn was added to the slate of candidates under dubious circumstances, given that over half of the signatures supporting his nomination have been deemed invalid. Known for quotes like “mi caballo come menos que mi vieja” (my horse eats less than my old lady), “a una niña gorda no la quiere nadie” (no one likes a fat girl), or his infamous proposal to cut the hands off of thieves, the Bronco has created a name for himself, despite having virtually no chance of winning the presidency. In the third debate, Rodríguez Calderón’s role appeared to be to distance himself from “la tercia maldita” (the damned trio) and well, to be the Bronco, the outspoken, often problematic personality that he is. “Me divierto con ustedes, ahora dale un beso, cabrón” (I have fun with you guys, now give him a kiss, dumbass) Rodríguez Calderón told AMLO. “Dale pues, dale un beso, México necesita de la unidad de todos, no de pleitos” (Go on, give him a kiss, Mexico needs the unity of everyone, not fights).
But despite the many accusations hurled his way, the playful jabs, and Hollywood-like drama, Lόpez Obrador left as the real winner of the debate. He had participated little, certainly had not shined, but he had done his job: he had not imperiled his lead. When attacked at one point, AMLO responded playfully. “Yo qué culpa tengo de que ustedes estén empatados hasta abajo [en las encuestas] y piensen que aquí en el debate van a remontar 30 puntos que les llevo” (What fault do I have that you two are tied at the bottom [of the polls] and you think that here in the debate you will make up the 30 points that I have on you), a smirk emerging from his face. “Yo entiendo que estén desesperados, pero serénense” (I understand that you guys are desperate, but chill out). It was a big “f— you.” A mic drop. Lόpez Obrador had said it explicitly, he did not need to entertain accusations or insults, he just needed to stand there and look pretty.
This was not the first presidential campaign in which Lόpez Obrador had been in the lead. It was just the first one in which he held it. The native of the southern state of Tabasco had run for president twice before, in 2006 and 2012. The first time, AMLO, then running under the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) held a two-point advantage over PAN opponent Felipe Calderón a mere week before the election. He ended up losing by half a percentage point.
Refusing to accept the election results, the fiery populist claimed voter fraud and declared himself the legitimate president. He rallied his constituents, staged massive month-long sit-ins, and even set up a parallel government in which he was inaugurated as president. His actions demonstrated his ability to mobilize the masses, but also angered many Mexican voters. In 2012, Lόpez Obrador ran again, this time repackaged as a more toned down candidate. But his old-fashioned discourse, rebellious populism, and strongman persona fell flat as the country opted for Enrique Peña Nieto, the new, youthful face of the PRI.
But 2006 and 2012 now seem long gone. Revamped, revitalized, and running under a new party, Lόpez Obrador was ready to prove that the third time is the charm. With Peña Nieto’s presidency marred with scandal and inefficacy, the country is coming out of a presidency with one of the lowest approval ratings in decades. As corruption headlines the news and violence continue to rise, Mexico and its citizens are looking for change. Cue Lόpez Obrador, who has positioned himself as the only man for the job.
Unlike his competition, AMLO styled himself as an insider with an outsider feel. Having been involved in politics for 42 years he knows the ropes, but has painted himself as an anti-establishment candidate committed to fighting “la mafia del poder” (the mafia of power), his nebulus concoction of corrupt politicians and government that are ruining the country.
It starts with his opposition. In a race with four remaining candidates, AMLO stood out. There was Meade, “the technocrat,” Anaya, the young “smart-aleck,” and “el Bronco,” a nickname in itself. Meade was running under the PRI: mistake number one. Despite its attempt at rebranding in 2012 with a younger, attractive president, the PRI has re-established its reputation as corrupt and untrustworthy. A Meade presidency was widely perceived as more of the same. Anaya lacked AMLO’s personal appeal and political savvy. And then Bronco ran the same anti-establishment gambit that Lόpez Obrador did, just with less political expertise and more loose cannon personality. Did the man that delivered quotes like “mi mamá sigue buenota” (my mom is still really hot) or touted his “Facebook Bronco Investigation program,” titled FBI, ever really have a chance?
Unlike his competition, AMLO styled himself as an insider with an outsider feel. Having been involved in politics for 42 years he knows the ropes, but has painted himself as an anti-establishment candidate committed to fighting “la mafia del poder” (the mafia of power), his nebulus concoction of corrupt politicians and government that are ruining the country. Humble, ggood-humored and connected to his people, Lόpez Obrador has the personality to back up the outsider image that he puts forward. When he speaks people listen, but more importantly, people believe. They believe he is someone willing and able to create change.
But what change will look like for Mexico is hardly clear. Lόpez Obrador’s platform hinges on the rhetoric of Mexico being in shambles, positioning him as the only solution to Mexico’s problems, yet giving little substance as to how change will actually come. There are the smaller things: He will sleep at his own home, turning Los Pinos, the Mexican “White House,” into a public space. He will sell the presidential jets. Lower the presidential salary. Cut the presidential pension. Ideas that only make him more likable and accessible with his base. There are also larger undertakings like construction projects that would depend on Mexico’s manual labor rather than advanced machinery in order to boost employment in rural areas. Pensions are promised to double, while scholarships will be awarded to all low-income students. The funding? Simple. It will all be financed from the money freed up from ending Mexico’s corruption. As the country’s president-elect likes to proclaim, official corruption costs Mexico 10 percent of its national budget. And how will the corruption be tackled? That is less clear.
What change will look like for Mexico is hardly clear. Lόpez Obrador’s platform hinges on the rhetoric of Mexico being in shambles, positioning him as the only solution to Mexico’s problems, yet giving little substance as to how change will actually come.
His party history also gives few answers. Morena is the newest of the political parties in contention in this year’s presidential race. In fact, it was founded by Lόpez Obrador himself after he lost the 2012 election. With little to no track record, there is little to glean from the party besides the fact that it is left-leaning and favors a strong anti-corruption agenda. The party’s coalition, “Juntos Haremos Historia” (Together We’ll Make History), created for this year’s election, has joined the radical left-wing PT (Labor Party) and the PES (Social Encounter Party), a conservative Evangelical Christian party, creating a mishmash of political alignments that provides more questions than answers.
But this is all in line with AMLO. The 64-year-old politician is a master of change and adaptation. He started his political career with the PRI, only to leave the party to help start the left-wing PRD in the late 1980s. After two unsuccessful PRD presidential runs in 2006 and 2012, Lόpez Obrador jumped ship to start his own party in 2014. AMLO was on a mission for the presidency and was willing to use whichever party would take him there. And in this case, it was Morena. He is the party’s creator, golden child, and mastermind all bundled up in one. His agenda is their agenda. Morena is the Lόpez Obrador show.
The rise of AMLO comes from a fertile breeding ground of mistrust in the government, rampant corruption, increasing violence, and a re-energized nationalism that has paved the way for a candidate that paints himself as Mexico’s savior. He has been likened to the Venezuelan Hugo Chavez for his radicalism, to Brazilian Lula da Silva for his populism and massive appeal, and has even been given the title “The Tropical Messiah.” But this year, leading up to the election, his platform often seems to mirror that of his northern neighbor, Donald Trump. His lofty plans and unwavering conviction in himself have been compared to Trump’s infamous “I alone can fix it,” while his outsider candidacy, populist tendencies, and demand for change, only strengthen the connections that the two men share a playbook. While Trump “drains the swamp,” AMLO fights the “mafia del poder,” while the businessman-turned-president attempts to “Make America Great Again,” Lόpez Obrador runs on an idea that Mexico needs to be made more Mexican again. They are men who connect with voters who feel ignored and capture the imagination of many of their nation’s people.
The rise of AMLO comes from a fertile breeding ground of mistrust in the government, rampant corruption, increasing violence, and a re-energized nationalism that has paved the way for a candidate that paints himself as Mexico’s savior. He has been likened to the Venezuelan Hugo Chavez for his radicalism, to Brazilian Lula da Silva for his populism and massive appeal, and has even been given the title “The Tropical Messiah.”
July 1 represented an opportunity for the voices of these people to be heard. As the country took to the polls to choose their president for the next six years, Mexico’s fragile state weighed heavy. This past year, 2017, was the most violent in decades. Over 29,000 homicides were recorded. For comparison, the United States reported an estimated 17,250 murders the year before. That is over 60 percent more murders in Mexico despite having 200 million less people. Meanwhile, corruption remains rampant. Transparency International ranks Mexico 135th out of 180 countries according to the organization’s 2017 corruption perceptions index. In 2012, during the last presidential election, Mexico slotted in at 105th of 176 countries. While violence increases and corruption continues, little progress has been made to combat widespread poverty and ameliorate a growing disparity of wealth. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has found that Mexico has the widest gap between the richest and poorest regions of the country of any of its member countries. For the many Mexicans disillusioned with the government and the state of the nation, Lόpez Obrador is a beacon of hope.
With the fiery, silver-haired candidate’s landslide victory, it is clear that Mexico’s citizens have spoken. The election is over and an AMLO presidency awaits. As the saying goes, “este arroz ya se cociό.” The rice is cooked, we will just have to wait and see how it tastes.