Mexico’s Upcoming Election: A New Era in Mexican Politics and its Implications for the Survival of NAFTA

by Daniel Blazekovic

In July 2006, Mexican politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador – often abbreviated to AMLO – lost the presidency of Mexico by less than 250,000 votes in a country of 130 million people. Six years later, AMLO was the runner-up once again. However, in the upcoming election on July 1st 2018, AMLO  – known to many as a leftist and populist leader ­– and his supporters will no doubt insist that the third time is the charm.

Indeed, AMLO looks poised to lead Latin America’s second largest economy for the next six years – a recent report from Reuters suggests AMLO  and his MORENA party enjoy a 26-point lead over centrist candidate Ricardo Anaya.

Anaya leads an unlikely political coalition composed of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), the social-democratic Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and the lesser-known Citizens’ Movement Party. As a matter of fact, AMLO led political coalitions that included the PRD in 2006 and 2012, as well as the Citizens’ Movement in 2012.

While these two politicians compete for approximately 80 million votes in mass open-air spaces throughout the country, officials from Canada, the United States, and Mexico have been talking across tables, through phones, and in video conferences in a scrambled effort to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The future of NAFTA is in limbo ahead of midterm elections in the United States that may alter the balance of power in the House of Representatives and Senate, while the national election scheduled for July in Mexico is sure to bring change to a constituency that is demanding a complete transformation of the political landscape.

The median Mexican voter has become increasingly disenchanted with current Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. Despite his good looks and natural charm in front of the cameras, voters tend to point readily to his lack of progress in curbing narco-violence, corruption in his administration, and limited economic progress during his time in office.

While electoral fraud is expected to be absent from the July election, the PRI party is historically notorious for altering the numbers on election night.

If AMLO is chosen by the Mexican electorate, we can expect many changes. AMLO promises a substantial hike to the minimum wage and the earmarking of substantial funds to invest in infrastructure projects and social programs. AMLO also vows to fight corruption and claw back the salaries of senior officials.

Anaya too pledges to increase the income of Mexico’s poor. If elected, he plans to nearly double Mexico’s minimum wage and would introduce a universal basic income – two unusual moves from a member of Mexico’s business-friendly political party. Anaya also intends to fight corruption through a stronger application of the rule-of-law.

Mexico 2
The Mexican National Palace

So, how do these two men differ?

AMLO envisions a return to an era of protectionist policies, and has traditionally been a vocal adversary of Mexico’s capitalist north (although he has had to downplay these views in order to broaden his support base). AMLO believes that poor southern states like Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Michoacán have continuously struggled to improve their socio-economic conditions while rich northern states like Nuevo León and Chihuahua have disproportionately benefitted from Mexico opening its economy to the world, and – in particular – to Canadian and American markets.

Anaya says that AMLO’s economic ideals are outdated. Anaya’s statements suggest he desires a modern and open Mexico that will be receptive to the demands and technologies of international markets.

That being said, Mexico’s upcoming election may decide the fate of NAFTA – for once it may not be Trump and his government holding all of the cards at the negotiating table.

AMLO  warns Mexican voters that a “weak” President Enrique Peña Nieto will succumb to the pressures and demands of President Trump and his negotiating team. In a recent televised debate, AMLO presented the claim that Mexico’s exit from NAFTA would not be fatal for the country. However, he has also reassured Mexican bankers that his election would not result in a political upheaval like those witnessed with the election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Nevertheless, AMLO is expected to forge closer relationships with both these countries.

If all three countries fail to renegotiate the trade pact in the immediate future, and Mexican voters select AMLO to lead them for the next six years, NAFTA’s hopes of survival will grow more tenuous than they already are.

Daniel Blazekovic is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of Toronto School of Public Policy and Governance. Daniel completed his Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management with a specialization in Development Studies at Carleton University. He is particularly interested in Latin American politics, conflict studies and populism.

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