Mexico’s probable new president may have had to make compromises but offers a genuine alternative for the progressive left.

In recent days, polling for the general election in Mexico, which takes place on 1 July, has shown Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party as the favourite for the presidency. He leads by more than 20 per cent over Ricardo Anaya of the National Action Party (PAN), which represents the country’s secondary political force after the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) led by current president Enrique Peña Nieto.

López Obrador has lost two consecutive presidential elections, in 2006 to Felipe Calderón and in 2012 to Enrique Peña Nieto. While there were denunciations of electoral fraud in both cases, in neither of those previous elections did polling indicate a difference like that which currently separates first and second place.

According to analysts interviewed by Brasil de Fato, this lead in the polls results from public dissatisfaction with traditional parties the PRI and the PAN, which have governed the country for the last 89 years. ‘López Obrador’s lead over the other candidates comes from Mexicans’ indignation towards a failed governing model’, says José Humberto Montes Oca Luna, secretary of foreign relations for the Mexican Electrical Workers Union.

According to political analyst Katu Arkonada, criticism of previous governments stems from the low minimum wage, which is currently around $135 dollars a month, as well as the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few business leaders and a rise in extreme poverty.

Data compiled by Oxfam, the international human rights organisation, shows that current levels of poverty in Mexico have stayed similar to what they were in the 1990s. ‘In the last 20 years, from when Mexico began participating in free trade agreements with the USA, poverty in the country has fluctuated very little. Although it’s gone up and down, today’s poverty levels resemble those in the early-to-mid 90s’, says Oxfam Mexico’s executive director Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva.

This context differentiates Obrador from other presidential candidates. According to the trade unionist Oca Luna, it is only the MORENA party candidate that proposes a different country and a real alternative. While Obrador is not considered a traditional left-wing candidate, as a politician he has risen from the base of the so-called ‘Mexican revolutionary nationalism’, represented by former president Lázaro Cardenas, who governed Mexico during 1934-1940 and promoted important state reforms in a similar vein to Gétulio Vargas in Brazil and Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina.

‘Obrador doesn’t come from the traditional left, he was never a member of left-wing parties like the Communist Party’, says Oca Luna. ‘However, his main political identity is revolutionary nationalism. He criticises the neoliberal model. The outcome of 30 years of neoliberal governments in Mexico is disastrous. López Obrador is conscious that he is proposing an alternative start, without starting at the bottom. Within what’s possible, he proposes adjustments and economic and political reforms that will redistribute wealth’.

Most of all, Obrador’s nationalist discourse relates to the economic sector. He says that the country’s natural wealth, such as oil and water, will remain under state control. In 2014, President Peña Nieto proposed energy reform to privatise part of the electric sector. He also opened the oil sector to foreign companies for exploitation and production, which today is controlled by state company Pemex. ‘I’m going to halt the privatisations and recover Pemex for Mexicans’, says Obrador.

Another nationalist element of his campaign regards the country’s food production. On 10 April, López Obrador met with 5,000 peasant farmers in the state of Zacatecas, in the centre of the country, where he signed a document reaffirming his commitment to implement a Plan of Ayala for the 21st century, which presents a series of government policies around agricultural production and is directed at small rural producers and indigenous communities. ‘We are going to return Mexico’s food sovereignty which was lost under neoliberal governments’, assured Obrador.

Criticism of Obrador

In an effort to win these elections, López Obrador has moderated his discourse, made agreements with Mexico’s financial and business sectors and even formed an alliance with the evangelical and right-wing Social Encounter Party (PES). In agreement with MORENA, such alliances are deemed necessary to guarantee a party presence in certain sectors that Obrador has otherwise been unable to reach. Furthermore, as a small party with barely three years on the electoral register, MORENA has not performed massively across the country. Alliance with other parties is also seen as important to guarantee that electoral witnesses are present in all voting centres to reduce the possibility of fraud.

‘The difference between previous elections and this one is that now there are agreements with the capitalist sector, PRI-linked politicians and the evangelical church which can result in Obrador’s victory, but this will not completely eliminate the dirty possibility of fraud. Win or lose, the scenario for social movements is difficult because they are fragmented and weak’, says political activist and philosopher Rafael Magdiel Sanchez Quiroz of the Autonomous University of Mexico.

What’s more, left-wing organisations and social movements have criticised the makeup of Obrador’s cabinet, should he be elected. Obrador published on his campaign website the names of those who would be his principal government ministers. The most emblematic example is the potential future agriculture minister, the agricultural engineer Victor Villalobos, who supports transgenic products and is the former director general of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), part of the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Despite the criticisms, political analyst Katu Arkonada says that Obrador is the left’s only option at this moment: ‘Among candidates with real possibility of being elected, Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the only progressive who offers an alternative for social sectors and the left. López Obrador is the left that is possible in Mexico today’.

Likewise, Oca Luna says that a potential Obrador government could also have a positive effect in halting persecution of the left. ‘Merely the fact of having a government that doesn’t kill us or persecute us will be a major step forward. It will allow the left to reorganise itself and to fill the political void created by the lack of an alternative that can genuinely represent us as the left’.

Translated by Alborada

This article was originally published in Brasil de Fato.