Andrés Manuel López Obrador. By now, most people have heard of the Mexican president-elect known as AMLO, but if you were in Mexico leading up to the election you would have thought that he had already been inaugurated. In fact, you could have gone an entire week without hearing the name of the man currently in power: Enrique Peña Nieto.
“Who is AMLO, and how did he come to be the most powerful man in Mexico? What comparisons can we draw to United States elections? Do people even care about politics in Mexico?” These are some of the questions I hoped to answer during my week studying the Mexican elections.
In 2016, we saw the rise of the populist movement in the United States. This was a major turning point in American politics and proved that the powerful no longer held all the power. What this movement did was pave the way for an outsider to rise to the occasion on the coattails of populism and distrust in the establishment.
Now let’s look at to AMLO’s rise to power in Mexico. This is a man who, in 2006, lost the presidential election yet refused to concede, drawing thousands of people to his protest in the main square of Mexico City. Losing again in 2012 led him to create his own party three years later, right around the time Peña Nieto (remember him?) started to plummet in popularity. In the wake of corruption and fraud allegations, Peña Nieto was losing power quickly, and the end of the reign of his party left a void to be filled by AMLO. This year, ALMO received 53% of the vote, toppling the establishment that had held power for almost a century.
I’m not calling AMLO Mexico’s Trump, but there are certainly comparisons to be made. As we know, apathy is a major issue in American politics, and the general consensus in Mexico was that citizens care more about soccer than about who their governor is. During the World Cup, I didn’t expect much reassurance.
On election day in Mexico City, we took to the streets to find out how much people knew about politics and their electoral system, and we were pleasantly surprised. Turns out the people who care, really care. Many of them stood in lines for six hours with no guarantee that they would even get the opportunity to vote. You don’t see that kind of commitment in the U.S.
Mexico’s party system works very differently from that the United States. Their political parties coalesce and act more as teams united by a will to win than by ideological similarities. This would be like Libertarians teaming up with Democrats to beat the Republicans. Social and fiscal policy take a backseat to political persuasion, and loyalty to one’s party regardless of coalition members seemed to be most voters’ number one priority. Many politicians switch parties multiple times throughout their career, which doesn’t appear to be a concern to voters. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning.
There were more than 3,000 elections throughout the country last week, and this year ushered in a new wave of excitement for Mexico’s future. Only time will tell what that means for the United States and the world. What we do know is that for now, the majority of Mexico is united behind the new face of populism; Andrés Manuel López Obrador.