The Irish Times view on Mexico’s election: From right to left

A landslide victory for a leftist presidential candidate is an expression of Mexicans’ anger over poverty, corruption and violence

Andrés Manuel López Obrador will become Mexico’s first left-wing president since the country became a democracy after his resounding election victory at the weekend. Photograph: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Andrés Manuel López Obrador will become Mexico’s first left-wing president since the country became a democracy after his resounding election victory at the weekend. Photograph: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

 

The stunning victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico’s presidential election marks an important moment for the country and the region. The 64-year-old’s win, which will give Mexico its first left-wing leader since it became a multi-party democracy two decades ago, is an emphatic rejection of the conservative establishment that has run the country for generations and an expression of fury at the failure to confront corruption, poverty and rampant drug violence.

In a country where half the population lives below the poverty line and 200,000 lives have been lost in the failed 11-year “war on drugs”, López Obrador generated huge support with his battle cry for greater income redistribution, a cleaner politics and a new approach to the drug cartels. His 53 per cent of the vote gives him an exceptionally strong mandate. He should use it to stand firm against Donald Trump, who has humiliated Mexico at every turn since becoming US president.

López Obrador’s rivals sought to portray him as a dangerous populist, but he is a more complex figure than that suggests. The former Mexico city mayor, who cut his political teeth as an activist defending the rights of indigenous peoples, has a history of working with the private sector and has become steadily more moderate. In poverty and corruption he has correctly identified the two biggest problems facing modern Mexico. A more valid criticism is that he has raised expectations without offering enough clarity on what he plans to do with his power. He proposed an amnesty for low-level drug criminals but then resiled from the idea when it drew criticism. He has promised significant social spending schemes and said he will fund them with the money he saves from eliminating corruption, which he vaguely states will save tens of billions of dollars a year.

The technocrats and right-wing politicians who have run Mexico for generations have failed, however, and López Obrador deserves his chance. Mexico, but also Latin America, where the same anger that brought López Obrador to power simmers widely, should hope he succeeds.

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