Mexico's 'legitimate president' Lopez Obrador will run for high office again

Firebrand leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who led protests over his narrow loss in the Mexico's 2006 presidential race, was chosen by his party to run again in 2012. But can he win?

Henry Romero/Reuters
Mexico's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador waves to supporters after a news conference at a hotel in Mexico City November 15, 2011. Left-wing firebrand Lopez Obrador, whose narrow loss in the last election sparked massive street protests, will run again for the Mexican presidency in 2012.

Anyone familiar with Mexican politics probably knows that re-election of presidents here is outright barred. Unlike in other parts of Latin America, there are no exceptions and no attempts by leaders to re-write the ban.

So how is the “legitimate” president of Mexico poised to run again in the 2012 cycle?

That’s the quandary faced by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known widely as AMLO), who narrowly lost the 2006 race to official Mexican President Felipe Calderon, but who never recognized the victory and instead declared himself, over loudspeakers and in newspapers advertisements, the nation’s real leader.

Now his party, the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), has selected him to be its standard bearer in next year's presidential race.

Of course, AMLO doesn’t really face the re-election ban, because despite calling President Calderon a usurper amid allegations of fraud – he lost the race by about half a percentage point – only his most diehard fans ever took the discourse seriously.

Yet it is exactly this fiery side of his personality, embraced by his supporters on the left, that has alienated many who would have preferred to see Mexico City’s progressive Mayor Marcelo Ebrard as the party's choice.

Most recall with dread the six-week sit-in that AMLO called in the heart of downtown Mexico City in contesting the election results, causing nightmarish commutes. Might there be another if he is defeated once again?

The PRD selected AMLO over Mr. Ebrard via two surveys that the party agreed to use to choose their candidate. The popular mayor, who is seen as less radical but perhaps out of touch with the rural left that is so drawn to AMLO, said that, in the name of unity, he would step aside. “A divided left would only take Mexico to the precipice,” he said.

The Ebrard faction argued that it appeals to a wider swath of the public, especially independent voters. With AMLO on the ticket, many analysts speculate the race will be a tougher battle for the PRD to win.

But in choosing AMLO, the party itself, which has been badly divided, may fare better (especially since the Revolutionary Institutional Party, or PRI, is far ahead in polls anyway). AMLO is widely loved within the PRD and his star power will be a boon for candidates at the local level, says Aldo Muñoz, a political scientist at Mexico State's Autonomous University. “If AMLO left the PRD, the PRD would have a lot more to lose than AMLO,” Mr. Muñoz says.

The former governor of Mexico State, Enrique Pena Nieto, has been the favorite in polls leading up to the race. He comes from the PRI, which lost its power to Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) in 2000, after 71 years in power.  

The PRD is the first major party to have chosen its candidate. The race doesn’t officially kick off until February.

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