Leftist Mexican Presidential Candidate’s Populist Appeal Draws Comparisons to Trump

By Mark Browne | September 7, 2017 | 9:14pm EDT
Leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador is leading the polls ahead of next year’s presidential election in Mexico. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Hasselbladswc)

Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – Leftist politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador, making his third attempt to win Mexico’s presidency, is running a populist, anti-establishment campaign that some political analysts here are comparing to Donald Trump’s successful bid for the White House.

The acknowledged frontrunner in next year’s election, López Obrador leads in popularity and has the highest recognition of any other presidential candidate, according to a poll last month by Mexico City-based Consulta Mitofsky.

He scored a 28.8 percent favorability rating in the poll, compared to 16.6 percent for Margarita Zavala, his closest competitor, and the 14.9 percent garnered by current Secretary of the Interior Osorio Chong.

Zavala is the wife of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who defeated López Obrador in a 2006 election.

But López Obrador also managed to get the highest negative ratings in the poll – 30.9 percent – and he has drawn allegations throughout his political career of not respecting democratic institutions.

Echoing that criticism, President Enrique Pena Nieto recently compared his campaign rhetoric to the rhetoric of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and said he feared that Mexico under López Obrador could end up looking like Venezuela today.

“That may be a little exaggerated,” said Edgar Moreno, chief political risk analyst and director at Impacto Social Consultores in Mexico City.

While López Obrador has a “good chance” of winning the presidency in 2018, he is also seen by many as a “risky alternative,” he said.

“What I think most people fear is his unpredictability. The Mexican electorate has been pretty conservative and risk adverse.”

The presidential campaign is being waged amid historic levels of violence and corruption that have contributed to the low approval ratings for Peña Nieto and his PRI party. Homicide investigations are up by 30 percent over last year.

Corruption among government officials is widespread, with businesses in Mexico having paid nearly $89.5 million in bribes in 2016.

In a speech to supporters in Mexico City last weekend, López Obrador said voters must choose between “maintaining the regime of corruption” or look for a way to “transform Mexico.”

“We live at a defining historic time, and we have to succeed at a rebirth of Mexico … because people are fed up with the corruption and deceit.”

He said his campaign was “not Maduro” and “not Trump.”

In the view of respected political analyst Jesus Silva-Herzog, comparing López Obrador with Trump is “valid.”

“There is a parallel between them although they don’t represent the same things,” he told CNSNews.com.

Both are similar in their appeal to populism and seeing the world as a “two-way confrontation between the people and the elites,” said Silva-Herzog, professor of political science at the School of Government at Tecnológico de Monterrey.

Like Trump, López Obrador has attacked the press, in his case charging that the Mexico City daily Reforma is run by a mafia.

Claims that López Obrador doesn’t respect democratic institutions is also “fair criticism,” Silva-Herzog argued.

“He is a politician who has made his career using institutions but then ignoring them when it doesn’t serve his purposes. He has been a politician for 25 years that has only accepted election results when they are in his favor,” he said.

“Throughout his long career he has spoken out against institutions, including electoral institutions in Tabasco, judges and the federal elections institution.”

Still, Silva-Herzog said if López Obrador wins the presidency, Mexico would not become another Venezuela.

“The danger is that there could be a process of damage to weak democratic institutions in Mexico. But I don’t see the hyperinflation of Venezuela or a government prosecuting its opponents.”

As for the chances of a López Obrador presidency, Silva-Herzog said there was a “high possibility that he will win.”

“He is the best known candidate in the country among politicians. He has a very faithful following, and he has tried to moderate his image.”

“The election is very open. In three months the scene could change,” he said. “It’s early, but you have to take López Obrador seriously.”

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