Mexican presidential election: Why the left is struggling.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the presidential candidate from Mexico's leftist party, is facing an uphill battle for the presidency due to his controversial past and Mexico's unique political history.
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Those words should have staying power in Mexico, where the gap between the rich and poor is vast: The world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, hails from Mexico, while more than 40 percent of Mexicans live on less than $2 a day. López Obrador, nicknamed AMLO or “el Peje,” after a tough freshwater fish from his native Tabasco, started his political career working on behalf of the indigenous in his home state and ran for governor in 1994, but lost.Skip to next paragraph
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He left Mexico City’s mayoral office with sky-high popularity thanks to social programs, like one that gave pensions to the elderly, and his shepherding of large infrastructure improvements. He is famous for leading mass protests in the name of democracy and social justice, appealing acts given Mexico's relatively recent foray into truly democratic, multi-party governance.
But López Obrador has since become a liability for his party. In 2006 his critics sought to portray him as the region's next Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's populist president. For those who didn't buy it, he later turned them off when he lost the 2006 race, staging a sit-in protest in downtown Mexico City. He refused to recognize the official results, instead declaring himself the nation's “legitimate president,” even holding his own inauguration and setting up an alternate cabinet.
“People don't forget that,” says George Grayson, author of a book on López Obrador titled “Mexican Messiah.”
His polarizing personality also caused deep fissures in his party. “All these divisions are becoming a burden [on] the left,” says Alberto Aziz Nassif, a specialist in democracy and civil society at the Center for Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology in Mexico City.
Today, even though López Obrador has tried to moderate his message, focusing on creating a “loving republic,” eschewing the confrontational style that he long depended on to rally his base, it has been a struggle to regain lost ground.
More than an image problem
But even if López Obrador weren't the candidate – he competed for the PRD ticket against current Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who is considered less radical – and the party were more unified, the PRD would still have faced a tough race.
The PRI's rule in the 20th century was not easy to categorize as right or left, but it was clearly nationalistic, appealing to campesino movements and unions, many of the same groups that vote for leftist issues like worker’s rights and land redistribution in the rest of Latin America. When opposition parties emerged to fight the PRI's hegemony, it was the conservative National Action Party (PAN) that became the clear opposition voice. The PAN won the presidency from the PRI after 71 years – while the PRD has had to vie for the same electorate traditionally drawn to the well-established PRI.
“The PRI took the space of the left,” says Mr. Aziz Nassif.