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What AMLO's Election Means

What is the future of Mexican democracy?

I'm trying to think of a way to start this that doesn't sound like the usual white-girl-studies-abroad-and-becomes-enlightened story, but I don't know if there is one. Last year, I had the opportunity to study political science for two semesters at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico. I could write a million posts about how wonderful this city was, and maybe I will write a few later, but right now I want to focus on a less-cliche topic. Politics. I'm an international relations student, so being able to live in this country in the midsts of a presidential election was heaven to me. I even saw one of my professors mediating one of the presidential debates (which he still denies, even though we all saw him). After having lived through the garbage fire that was the US 2016 election, I was hoping the Mexican elections would give me more hope.

A little background on Mexican politics. For 71 years, up until 2000, a centrist party called the Institutional Revolutionary Party (the PRI) ruled in a de facto one-party state. It was a party born out of the Revolution, which in terms of political science was not really a revolution, but that's a topic for another post. In 2000, Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN), wrested power away from the PRI and started what many hailed as Mexico's journey towards full democratic consolidation. There was some changing of power between parties (another PAN candidate won after Fox, followed by the current president, a member of the PRI), but Mexico's transition is incomplete. Right now, Mexico is what is called an electoral democracy, in that there are free, fair, and open elections. But it is not a liberal democracy, which is considered the gold standard among political science theorists, in that along with fair elections, there are codified rights and liberties that are protected and enforced by rule of law. Freedom House rates Mexico as "partly free" alongside countries like Pakistan and Turkey, for comparison. Mexico still has some progress to make in terms of becoming a fully-consolidated democracy.

Many of Andrés Manuel López Obrador's voters believe he is the key to completing that transition. Many of my classmates, professors, and neighbors voted for him. Even my boyfriend and his family voted for AMLO. AMLO had run for president two times before this election and had apparently come back to prove the old "third times the charm" saying true. This year, he won with a decisive 53% of the vote. He ran with the National Regeneration Movement Party (MORENA), which he founded after leaving the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). During the campaign, AMLO attacked corruption, violence, and inequality, which have all become ingrained parts of Mexican political culture over the years. His passionate speeches drew people to him. AMLO promised a change in the status quo, and that appealed to people who felt beaten down and robbed by their own government. He won, because people were ready for a change.

But I asked myself if this would really be a change. I saw AMLO's speeches on television and heard people around me talk about how much hope they had for him. He was an "outsider," which is similar to the platform Trump ran on. They both gave impassioned, fiery speeches and promised change for those who were tired of the same political greed. There's a key difference between the two men: Trump was an actual outsider, that was where part of his appeal came from; AMLO's entire adult life has been politics. He promised change, but I personally do not have high hopes for Mexican democracy under his administration. MORENA is a left-wing party, but AMLO has personally expressed very conservative beliefs on marriage equality, the legalization of marijuana, and same-sex adoption. The cabinet he has set up since his election reflects conflicting ideologies, including members from the PRI, PAN, and the ultra-conservative Social Encounter Party. His administration already appears to be conflicted and fragmented.

Whether or not AMLO is the answer to consolidating Mexican democracy is unclear, but the future does not look as bright to me as it does to those who voted for him (then again, I might just be a jaded post-Trump liberal who doesn't have a lot of faith in democracy right now). He shows inconsistency and a resentment for the press that is dangerous. If AMLO continues to further disregard institutional checks and balances as his predecessors have done, then the future of democracy does not look bright for Mexico. But I will leave this on one positive note: during the election, I saw people that were hungry for change, who were determined to create a different Mexico than the one their parents and grandparents had grown up in. If it is up to the people, Mexican democracy has a fighting chance.