Mexico election: leftist Amlo expected to cruise to victory

New president pledges to pacify country and build Mexico’s very own welfare state

Mexico’s presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador: followers describe him in quasi-religious terms and detractors dismiss as Mexico’s populist “tropical messiah. Photograph: Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images

Mexico’s presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador: followers describe him in quasi-religious terms and detractors dismiss as Mexico’s populist “tropical messiah. Photograph: Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images

 

Millions of Mexicans will head to the polls on Sunday in a watershed election that is almost certain to see a silver-haired leftist who has vowed to take on the country’s corrupt ruling elite elected president of Latin America’s second-largest economy.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the 64-year-old former mayor of Mexico City and a friend of UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has put promises to eradicate corruption and fight poverty at the heart of his campaign and is expected to cruise to victory.The election comes against a backdrop of widespread exasperation with political sleaze and soaring violence, with Mexico on track to register its most violent year in recent history in 2018 with more than 13,000 murders already committed.

For months, polls have given Lopez Obrador, or Amlo as most call him, a 20-point lead over his closest rival, a 39-year-old lawyer and yoga aficionado called Ricardo Anaya.

“We can already affirm that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the next president of the Republic,” Claudia Sheinbaum, a close Amlo ally tipped to become Mexico City’s next mayor, told jubilant fans at his final pre-election rally on Wednesday night. “I am convinced we are standing at the gates of a new era.”

About 100,000 supporters had reportedly packed Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium for the rock concert-style jamboree – the final act in a punishing six-month campaign that has seen Amlo repeatedly criss-cross Mexico with his promises to wipe out corruption and pump the recovered funds into social projects.

“[Corruption] is the main cause of social inequality and economic inequality – and insecurity and violence also stem from corruption,” Amlo, who is making his third bid for the presidency, said in his eve-of-election address. “We will get rid of this corruption, this cancer, that is destroying this country.”

Tropical messiah?

Outside, street hawkers peddled T-shirts and trinkets emblazoned with the image and the gospel of a man who followers describe in quasi-religious terms and detractors dismiss as Mexico’s populist “tropical messiah”.

“Peace and tranquillity are the fruits of justice,” said an Amlo quotation stamped on to one mug. Another carried more words of wisdom from Mexico’s likely next president: “Outside the law, nothing; above the law, nobody.”

“It’s so exciting to know that someone is going to change our Mexico,” enthused Esmeralda de Jesus, a 21-year-old campaign volunteer who was among the crowds. “I believe in his project. I believe he can change the country. That’s why I’m with Amlo.”

Marti Batres, the president of Amlo’s party, Morena, in Mexico City, compared the coming sea change to the dawn of the welfare state in 1940s Britain. “It is a historic moment. This is the culmination of so many years of history.” Once sworn in as president in December, Batres said Amlo would immediately act to pacify the country and help the poor by starting to build Mexico’s very own welfare state.

Amlo’s rise has appalled Mexico’s political establishment, which – contrary to the views of most analysts – paints him as a Hugo Chavez-style autocrat-in-waiting set to cripple the country’s economy. At his last campaign assembly, Anaya told supporters: “This Sunday the future of our country is quite literally at stake – the future of a whole generation.”

Epochal shift

As well as the presidency, more than 3,000 elected offices were up for grabs on Sunday when more than 156,000 polling stations opened at 8am. Voters will also pick 128 new senators, 500 members of the lower house, nine governors and nearly a thousand local representatives.

Alan Riding, a veteran chronicler of Mexican society and politics, said he sensed the country was on the verge of an epochal shift similar to that witnessed in Brazil with the 2002 election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. “I think something has to be shaken up or else you are just going to have [six] more years of violence, corruption, minimal growth and unhappy people,” he said.

“When you think what people have been through in Mexico, the notion of some saviour coming along is rather appealing,” Riding added. “If you don’t think too much about it.”

– Guardian service