Democracia y PolíticaElecciones

The Economist: Andrés Manuel López Obrador will haunt his successor

Mexico’s next president will struggle against gangs, poverty and migration

A hand and a voting card going into a ballot box with a Mexican flag in the background.illustration: vartika sharma

The scourge of the blockbuster remake has come for the world’s seventh-largest democracy. Mexico’s second presidential debate took place (appropriately) at Churubusco film studios in Mexico City, the capital, on April 28th. The main question was whether Mexicans want a sequel to the six-year feature that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has scripted, directed and starred in.

Claudia Sheinbaum, the candidate for the ruling Morena Party, said Mexicans face a choice between “advancing with the transformation” started by her mentor, Mr López Obrador, or returning to a “past of corruption and privileges” with Xóchitl Gálvez, who leads a coalition of opposition parties. Ms Gálvez presents herself as the candidate to rescue Mexico from Mr López Obrador’s incompetence and his attacks on democracy. Voters will decide on June 2nd. They will also choose representatives for tens of thousands of local posts, nine governors and all 628 seats in Congress.

The task confronting the contest’s victor—who looks almost certain to be the 61-year-old Ms Sheinbaum—is immense. The country of 128m has a large economy that has long grown sluggishly at an average of 2-3% per year; it is failing to attract sufficient investment despite interest from firms like carmakers and medical-device manufacturers who want to relocate production from China.

Poverty hafallen under Mr López Obrador, but a third of Mexicans remain poor, according to a domestic measure that accounts for access to services; almost 40% lack health care. The incidence of extreme poverty has not budged. Mexico’s annual homicide rate is 23 murders per 100,000, three times higher than in the United States. Corruption is rife. The record number of people of all nationalities trying to cross Mexico’s northern border is creating tension with the United States.

That these issues are not at the forefront of the campaign demonstrates the power of Mr López Obrador, who cannot run again. Ms Sheinbaum’s 20-point lead over Ms Gálvez owes as much to her closeness to him as to her record as mayor of Mexico City’s 9m people. The current president has many Mexicans in thrall. They believe, whatever the evidence against, that he has transformed their country into a safer, more prosperous and less corrupt place, a view enhanced by his generous cash transfers to the poor.

Ms Sheinbaum promises to follow in his footsteps: increasing cash transfers and raising the minimum wage by more than inflation. All three candidates for the presidency pledge to keep these benefits, even though the cash transfers are becoming unaffordable, but Ms Sheinbaum claims that she alone can guarantee them. The 25m cash-transfer recipients seem to believe her. Fully 64% of them plan to vote for her, compared with 36% of non-recipients.

Listen to this story.
 Enjoy more audio and podcasts on iOS or Android.

The scourge of the blockbuster remake has come for the world’s seventh-largest democracy. Mexico’s second presidential debate took place (appropriately) at Churubusco film studios in Mexico City, the capital, on April 28th. The main question was whether Mexicans want a sequel to the six-year feature that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has scripted, directed and starred in.

Claudia Sheinbaum, the candidate for the ruling Morena Party, said Mexicans face a choice between “advancing with the transformation” started by her mentor, Mr López Obrador, or returning to a “past of corruption and privileges” with Xóchitl Gálvez, who leads a coalition of opposition parties. Ms Gálvez presents herself as the candidate to rescue Mexico from Mr López Obrador’s incompetence and his attacks on democracy. Voters will decide on June 2nd. They will also choose representatives for tens of thousands of local posts, nine governors and all 628 seats in Congress.

The task confronting the contest’s victor—who looks almost certain to be the 61-year-old Ms Sheinbaum—is immense. The country of 128m has a large economy that has long grown sluggishly at an average of 2-3% per year; it is failing to attract sufficient investment despite interest from firms like carmakers and medical-device manufacturers who want to relocate production from China.

Poverty has fallen under Mr López Obrador, but a third of Mexicans remain poor, according to a domestic measure that accounts for access to services; almost 40% lack health care. The incidence of extreme poverty has not budged. Mexico’s annual homicide rate is 23 murders per 100,000, three times higher than in the United States. Corruption is rife. The record number of people of all nationalities trying to cross Mexico’s northern border is creating tension with the United States.

That these issues are not at the forefront of the campaign demonstrates the power of Mr López Obrador, who cannot run again. Ms Sheinbaum’s 20-point lead over Ms Gálvez owes as much to her closeness to him as to her record as mayor of Mexico City’s 9m people. The current president has many Mexicans in thrall. They believe, whatever the evidence against, that he has transformed their country into a safer, more prosperous and less corrupt place, a view enhanced by his generous cash transfers to the poor.

Ms Sheinbaum promises to follow in his footsteps: increasing cash transfers and raising the minimum wage by more than inflation. All three candidates for the presidency pledge to keep these benefits, even though the cash transfers are becoming unaffordable, but Ms Sheinbaum claims that she alone can guarantee them. The 25m cash-transfer recipients seem to believe her. Fully 64% of them plan to vote for her, compared with 36% of non-recipients.

The opposition is struggling to make a mark. Ms Gálvez suffers from the fact that her coalition includes the Institutional Revolutionary Party (pri), which ruled Mexico as a dictatorship for seven decades until 2000. Jorge Álvarez Máynez, the third candidate from the Citizens’ Movement, a small leftist party, is polling below 10%. Even voters who abhor Mr López Obrador think Ms Sheinbaum is better prepared for the job than Ms Gálvez. Ms Sheinbaum’s advisers, who are drawing up detailed policy proposals on everything from health care and education to energy, are well qualified. She has sound plans for tackling corruption, including appointing dedicated special prosecutors. But other parts of her platform are vague, in part to avoid the appearance of any break with her mentor.

chart: the economist

That is clearest in energy. Ms Sheinbaum, a scientist who was part of a team that won a Nobel Prize in 2007 for its work on climate change, says she will invest $13.6bn (almost 1% of gdp) in clean-energy generation. But she also pledges support for Pemex, the state-owned oil company that has debts of $106bn. Just 3.8% of electricity in sunny Mexico came from solar panels in 2022, down from 4.2% in 2021. In Chile that figure is 17.4% and rising. Mr López Obrador spent millions propping up Pemex, thereby making Mexico’s energy dirtier. This has deterred foreign investors. Ms Gálvez has tried to exploit this gap between president and protégée by claiming that she is better placed to promote greenery and attract investment.

Ms Gálvez may also have been weakened by choosing security as the focus of her campaign. Although Mexicans tell pollsters it is the most critical issue for the next government, few believe any candidate can improve it. The elections have already been tarnished by gangs killing some 60 people—candidates they didn’t like and those connected to them. Ms Sheinbaum points to her record as mayor, brandishing data (albeit disputed) which show that homicides in the capital fell by 50% during her administration. She also says she will beef up Mexico’s intelligence and investigative capabilities.

Although they look set to support her as president, voters are likely to limit Morena’s seats in Congress (in midterms in 2021 Morena’s coalition lost its two-thirds majority needed for constitutional changes). A split Congress would be good not only for Mexico’s democracy but also for Ms Sheinbaum—if she does wish to move away from her mentor’s path. Mr López Obrador has repeatedly tried to weaken checks and balances. On February 5th he introduced a package of 20 reforms, including one that would see judges elected by popular vote (the appointed Supreme Court has often stood in his way). This looked like an attempt to lay out a road map for his successor. Ms Sheinbaum has backed the reforms, but with reservations.

Mariel Ibarra, the political editor of Expansión, a news magazine, says Mexico’s women are not excited about the country getting its first female president precisely because it is not clear whether she will be able to forge her own path. Come inauguration day on October 1st, Mr López Obrador will almost certainly have ceded Mexico’s lead role to a woman. But she may well have to stick to his script. 

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *

Botón volver arriba