A leftist, anti-Trump nationalist is favored to win Mexico’s presidential election Sunday after a campaign marred by the worst political violence the country has seen in a generation.
The vote is the largest in Mexico’s history, with some 88 million Mexicans at home and abroad eligible to cast ballots. In addition to the presidency, a mind-boggling 18,000 elected posts also are on the line, according to Mexico’s National Electoral Institute. These include all seats in Congress, eight governorships, and in 30 Mexican states, state congress and mayors too.
Recent polls showed former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 64, had a commanding lead in the presidential race, which centered on security, political corruption, the economy and Mexico’s relations with the United States. Under Mexico’s system, presidents can only serve one six-year term, so Mexico’s unpopular incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto is not on the ballot.
From 1929 to 2000 all of Mexico’s presidents came from one party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). In 2000, the rival National Action Party (PAN) came to power and has had the presidency since.
Obrador is not from either party ¬— he represents the National Regeneration Movement. The left-wing politician, who has run for president before, says he will rattle Mexico’s status quo and revolutionize the country’s political system. His rhetoric has been a lot like the populist, anti-establishment themes then-candidate Donald Trump pushed so effectively.
Obrador says he wants to find common ground with Trump over immigration. But he is virulently opposed to a border wall, and once compared Trump to Hitler and his administration to Nazis.
In a recent speech, Obrador declared that “immigration was a human right” and that he would champion the cause worldwide: “And soon, very soon, after the victory of our movement, we will defend all the migrants in the American continent and all the migrants around the world,” he said. If Obrador becomes president, such rhetoric is sure to put him on an even bigger collision course with President Trump.
Why So Violent
The elections are taking place during a year in which Mexico has seen record levels of violence, with official numbers indicating more than 25,000 people were murdered in 2017.
At least 136 politicians and political operatives have been assassinated in Mexico since the campaign began last September, according to Etellekt, a risk analysis firm in Mexico. More than a third of those killed were running for local government positions and campaigning in areas where drug cartels are more powerful than local law enforcement, or where local police collude with gangs. Other victims included elected officials, political party members and campaign workers.
In addition to the killings, Etellekt reports more than 400 cases of aggression against politicians and campaign workers during the campaign. These acts include attempted assassinations, threats, intimidation and kidnappings.
Experts say that, ironically, Mexico’s war on drugs and the rise of political parity have fueled the out-of-control political violence.
Like other developing countries, people living in large swaths of Mexico are more dependent on local governments than they are on the federal government. Many of these areas were historically controlled by big drug cartels. The big cartels were not as concerned about politics because there was just one political party to deal with.
During the last decade, Mexico’s war on drugs has taken out many high-ranking cartel leaders. But instead of destroying the cartels, many fractured into smaller gangs. With less power, the gangs expanded their criminal activities. Now they rely on complicity with local government and law enforcement officials to protect their business in drugs, prostitution, racketeering and even government contracts.
In this election, some gangs assassinated their way to victory before the voting began. Often, no one dared to run against a candidate chosen by the gangs. Many of those who did lose their lives before they could lose an election.
Whoever is elected president of Mexico inherits an inexorable scourge of bloodshed with dim economic prospects to offer the very people they champion. Making a case to the U.S. that Mexico can solve these root causes of illegal immigration might be futile. And after months of publicly lambasting President Trump, it will be difficult for Mexico’s new president to make nice and convince him not to build that border wall.