Enrique Acevedo is an anchor for the late-night edition of “Noticiero Univision” and a special correspondent for the Fusion Media Group.
Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, presents himself as an heir to some of the country’s most beloved historical figures, frequently quoting heroes such as the revolutionary Francisco Madero and Benito Juárez, the icon of Mexican liberalism and resistance to foreign intervention.
But as AMLO, as he’s popularly known, takes office on Saturday after what felt like an eternal transition period, we are learning that his decades-long political journey to the presidency seems more about amassing power to shape his legacy rather than the country.
He will surely try to do both. AMLO is pinned between a historic mandate and big expectations, and the burdens of building political coalitions on opportunity rather than principle. Among the most pressing questions looming over him are how willing he would be to pay a political price to make hard decisions and whether he will respect the country’s institutions that could try to rein him in.
AMLO is promising a “fourth transformation” inspired by three previous political, economic and social disruptions credited with changing the course of Mexican history. His sweeping victory in July earned him the soaring clout most politicians can only dream of. His newly formed Morena party took both the House of Deputies and the Senate, giving him the ability to pass budgets, modify laws and even reform the Constitution.
During the transition, AMLO has shown that he is not afraid to use his popular support to send a message. But his plan to carry out a series of plebiscites played out like a sham instead of giving legitimacy to his proposals. The low-turnout referendums were plagued by irregularities, with journalists showing how people could easily vote multiple times and polling stations placed mostly in areas won by AMLO’s party during the presidential election.
For a man who repeatedly denounced previous elections as unfair and illegitimate, it seems as though he learned all the wrong lessons and even before his inauguration has put his presidential thumb on the electoral scales.
More referendums have been announced, ostensibly to let Mexicans decide whether the president should have an advisory board made up of some of the country’s most prominent businessmen. Or whether he should create a new national guard to combat organized crime. But it’s clear that these referendums are fig leaves for political power-grabs masquerading as citizen empowerment.
That’s because they posit simple yes-or-no answers to extremely complex questions that carry ramifications that most voters might not entirely appreciate. AMLO needs to realize that the “fourth transformation” would be better served by him carrying out the structural reforms he promised to combat poverty, violence and rampant corruption. More than 50 million voters made their voices heard in a regular election defined by the most important issues of our time -- making these referendums redundant at best and a real threat to representative democracy at worst.
I fear the president-elect sees his landslide win and these rhetorical “consultations” as blank checks. Yes, AMLO won because of his tenacity and his ability to channel Mexico’s dark mood, but his victory was also due to an unprecedented repudiation of the establishment.
AMLO must recognize the challenge before him -- Mexico’s demand for peace, transparency and accountability is nonnegotiable. But his actions as president-in-waiting over the past five months have shown more of a heavy-handed leader than a sure-footed one. Instead of gloating about the scale of his victory and the relevance of his movement, AMLO should reflect on the fact that many who cast a vote for him are far more loyal to the promise of change than to the man himself.
The joyous crowd that overflowed Mexico City’s Zócalo the night of the election was electric with a renewed sense of hope, a buoyant scene achieved through peaceful, democratic means. With Mexico’s future on the line and its body politic behind him, AMLO has an incredible opportunity to build the kind of legacy he described in his lofty victory speech, assuring him a place among the greats.
For now, everyone in Mexico is hoping he can deliver, but doing so with eyes wide open.