Lopez Obrador donned the presidential sash, declared himself the legitimate leader of Mexico and called on Mexicans not to recognize the victor, Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party.
Many of Lopez Obrador’s voters have never forgiven him for the spectacle.
Now the former mayor of Mexico City is back for a second run, this time as the less confrontational Democratic Revolutionary Party candidate who calls for a “loving republic” as he seeks to repackage himself as the wise uncle that Mexico needs to take itself into the 21st century.
But his campaign is failing to ignite.
Which raises one of the most interesting questions in Latin America: Why isn’t a candidate from the moderate left more popular in Mexico, a developing country struggling with high numbers of disenfranchised and a deep divide between rich and poor?
Center-left moderates have been elected in Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile and El Salvador in recent years. Voters in those countries are increasingly inclined to believe economic growth can be fostered by reformist, activist politicians who are business-friendly but push for social programs to alleviate poverty and foster upward mobility.
In Brazil, more than 20 million people climbed out of severe poverty during the two-term presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — affectionately known just as “Lula” — and the country is now the eighth-largest global economy and the envy of Mexico’s political class.
Argentine voters handed center-left president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner a landslide reelection victory in 2011, crediting her with economic recovery, and she followed up by nationalizing oil interests.
So where is the love for Lopez Obrador, whom everyone calls “AMLO” for short?
Lopez Obrador is stuck at about 20 percent of the vote just weeks before the July 1 election, while the onetime authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is leading with a handsome party stalwart, Enrique Peña Nieto.
Josefina Vazquez Mota, the candidate of the conservative incumbent National Action Party, is locked in a virtual tie with Lopez Obrador for second place.
“In view of the Chilean and Brazilian examples, I think Lopez Obrador missed the opportunity to present himself as a more moderate centrist leftist. A lot of people don’t believe his transformation to a loving leftist,” said political science professor Denise Dresser.
“We can’t say there is not a vigorous left in Mexico,” said Sergio Sarmiento, one of the country’s leading columnists, who writes for the newspaper Reforma. “Why isn’t his candidacy stronger?”
This time around, AMLO is presenting himself as a moderate who will combat corruption and create jobs and economic growth. He has pledged to take on the monopolies that stifle competition and make services such as cellphone access more expensive in Mexico — a proposal that has won praise from members of the business community who feel the oligopolies hold the country back.