A new face for AMLO?

Eric L. Olson and Diana Murray Watts
The Mexico Institute, 3/20/2012

Throughout history, much has been said about fallen giants who rise again from defeat. This is how many – both in Mexico and abroad – perceive Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the presidential candidate of the center-left coalition Movimiento Progresista that units three political parties – PRD, PT, and Movimiento Ciudadano – around his candidacy.

In Mexico’s last presidential race, held in 2006, López Obrador (commonly referred to as AMLO for his initials) narrowly lost the election to Felipe Calderón of the PAN by 0.56%.[1] In the months following the election, AMLO became an almost everyday topic in the Mexican media, as he publicly condemned what he believed was a fraudulent election. Moreover, after proclaiming himself the ‘legitimate president of Mexico,” López Obrador called on his supporters to a sit-in on the busy Paseo de la Reforma Avenue and at the Zócalo, Mexico City’s largest public square as a sign of protest against the election results. For 47 days, the so-called Plantón de Apoyo brought together Mexican citizens of all ages, united by AMLO’s enraged plea for justice. Although those protests fell on deaf ears, AMLO’s impassioned fight continues to linger in the memories of many Mexicans.

Almost six years later, on December 19th, 2011, López Obrador spoke for the first time publicly about that controversial political episode:

“The sit-in at Reforma and the Zócalo was carried out to prevent violence. It was very costly and we were highly questioned for it, yet I must say that had we not taken that decision, people would have been killed. We want change through a peaceful channel. We do not want violence,” he stated.[2]

And so, despite the waves of criticism from his political opponents who decry AMLO’s lack of political vision and maturity, the strong-voiced PRD leader decided to come back for what will be his second (and according to him, final) race for the Mexican presidency. He declared his candidacy in an almost seamless fashion after Marcelo Ebrard, who also aspired to win the PRD’s presidential nomination, both accepted and supported the poll results that indicated a majority of voter preference for AMLO.[3]

Since 2006, López Obrador’s platform has undergone a few changes. For instance, in his first presidential campaign AMLO publicly referred to the business sector in Mexico as “an elite that does not seek a true transformation of the country.”[4] Declarations like this were not passively received by business leaders. In response, for example, the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial (CCE) funded a series of political ads that referred to AMLO as “a danger for Mexico.”[5] Today, López Obrador no longer denounces the business sector as an “evil” force but instead has recently engaged in dialogue with prominent business leaders – including head members of CCE – and promised cabinet positions to some of them if he were to win the presidential election in July.

Adding to these efforts to subtly change the public perception of his persona from that of a political menace to one of a moderate, conciliatory politician is AMLO’s transparency to identify the people he would chose for his presidential cabinet. Prominent figures such as Marcelo Ebrard who is proposed as Secretary of Internal Affairs (Gobernación); Rogelio Ramírez de la O as Secretary of the Treasury; and Elena Poniatowska, who would take the lead as Secretary of Culture.  All are considered imminently qualified, and, in the case of the first two selections, reflect the more technocratic wing of the left. [6]

Furthermore, instead of fully withdrawing from the spotlight after the 2006 election, AMLO continued to campaign informally nationwide while listening to the concerns of Mexican citizens.   He also used this period to build a strong grassroots network of supporters that he formally unveiled on October 2, 2011 at the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City.  The network, known as the Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (or MORENA) is part campaign network and political movement intended to fuse together the causes of social reform and political action in an organization that acts beyond the confines of a traditional political party.[7]

Through MORENA, López Obrador has called for the Mexico’s transformation into a República Amorosa, a country that seeks to conduct its business based on three fundamental principles: honesty, justice and love. The goal is to improve the lives of Mexicans by promoting peace and social prosperity.[8]

Although this message might seem idealistic, it also reflects his analysis of the moral failings of Mexico.  He maintains that inequality and “the current national tragedy” are caused by immorality and manifested in widespread political corruption. He has widely criticized the absence of moral and ethical considerations in the national dialogue, and sees the growing political support for the PRI as troubling given his assessment that the PRI represents shady and corrupt political maneuvering.

López Obrador has also made the fight against poverty and inequality the center-piece of his campaign and believes poverty is inexcusable in a country so rich in natural resources. He extols the benevolence of the Mexican people and the cultural richness of its indigenous communities. He aims to project himself as a man of the people, and as one who understands the historical suffering and disenfranchisement of many of Mexico’s citizens.

López Obrador’s strategy has showing some early signs of success.  For instance, from February 2011 to February 2012, López Obrador’s approval rating increased by 23 points. Similarly, the percentage of persons polled who think negatively of López Obrador has plummeted 12 points during the same time frame.[9] In a survey conducted March 8th, 2012 from numerous poll sources, López Obrador sits just 6 points behind the PAN candidate, Vázquez Mota.   Nevertheless, both López Obrador and Vázquez Mota, however, trail the PRI candidate Pena Nieta by double-digits. The large portion of undecided voters – currently holding at 19 points – demonstrates that the battle is far from decided.[10]

While seeking to project a more moderate and tolerant imagine in 2012, López Obrador has not backed away from his calls for fundamental change in Mexico. He attacks the deep-seated corruption, cynicism, and impunity that he believes exist at all levels of the government, and has been an outspoken critic of “private sector oligopolies” that arose during the country’s economic liberalization and privatization of state owned companies.  He considers equality and fair play to be integral to a better and democratic Mexico. “There will never be democracy if there is not justice for all,” he declared.[11]

López Obrador is clearly approaching the 2012 election differently and attempting to expand his appeal and networks of support throughout the country.  Whether this will be enough for him to win the election and vindicate 2006 will be determined on July 1st.


[2] Vergara, Rosario. Plantón en Reforma evitó violencia y muerte: AMLO. Proceso. December 19, 2011. http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=291981
[3] AMLO, virtual candidato al 2012; Ebrard lo apoya. http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/808937.html
[4] El Financiero. AMLO busca reconciliarse con empresarios. http://www.elfinanciero.com.mx/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=4810&Itemid=26
[5] El Financiero. AMLO busca reconciliarse con empresarios. http://www.elfinanciero.com.mx/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=4810&Itemid=26
[6] Propuesta de Gabinete de Andrés Manuel López Obrador. http://www.gobiernolegitimo.org.mx/gabinete2012/index.html
[7] Garcia, Rosario. “López Obrador formaliza a ‘Morena’ como su estructura para las elecciones”, October 2, 2011. CNN. http://mexico.cnn.com/nacional/2011/10/02/lopez-obrador-formaliza-a-morena-como-su-estructura-para-las-elecciones

[8] López Obrador, Andrés Manuel. Fundamentos para una República Amorosa. December 6, 2011. http://www.lopezobrador.org.mx/noticias/comunicados.html?id=88650

[9] ADN Politico. March 6, 2012. “Imagen de Josefina y AMLO mejora, Peña a la baja: Encuestas” http://www.adnpolitico.com/encuestas/2012/03/12/imagen-de-josefina-y-amlo-mejora-pena-a-la-baja-encuestas

[10] Encuesta de Encuestas ADN Politico. http://www.adnpolitico.com/encuestas

[11] López Obrador, Andrés Manuel. “50 puntos para Salvar a México”. Discurso en el Auditorio Nacional el 20 de marzo 2011. http://www.amlo.org.mx

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