How AMLO’s spinoff movement could help the PRD in Mexico

Since losing the 2012 Mexican presidential election on July 1 to Enrique Peña Nieto, Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been working at every turn to invalidate the result — through mass mobilization of his supporters to a lawsuit (since dismissed) charging wide scale fraud.

López Obrador (known simply as “AMLO” throughout Mexico) came in a surprisingly close second place in July, winning 32% to Peña Nieto’s 38%, and the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) won 140 seats in the Cámara de Diputados, the lower house of the Mexican Congress, an increase of 52 seats for the PRD, which kept Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI) from an absolute majority.  While it is very likely true that the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years from 1929 until 2000, engaged in some amount of fraud, especially in Mexico’s more rural states, some of which have been controlled by the PRI for 80+ years and running — but not the kind of fraud that would make up 6% of the electorate in Latin America’s second-most populous country.

Earlier this month, however, AMLO left the PRD to join forces with the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (MORENA, the National Regeneration Movement), an umbrella group that combines elements of even more leftist forces in Mexico and the #YoSoy132 youth protest movement that notably highlighted the issue of fraud before the election and served (and continues to serve) as a broad anti-PRI bulwark. It seems clear that AMLO is angling to form a second party on the Mexican left in advance of the 2015 legislative midterm elections and the 2018 presidential election — even before Peña Nieto is inaugurated in December!

That could complicate the PRD’s hopes to consolidate its legislative gains in 2015, and it could yet again deny the Mexican left the presidency after decades of bad luck and wrong turns.

AMLO, the former head of government in the Distrito Federal (the position essentially amounts to being the mayor of Mexico City), very narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election to Felipe Calderón, the candidate of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN).  AMLO thereupon accused Calderón of fraud after that election, and he and his supporters set up camp outside the Zócalo in Mexico City for months to protest the result — going so far as to hold a mock inauguration of the ‘legitimate’ president of Mexico.

It’s those demonstrations — and AMLO’s insistence that he should be the PRD’s 2012 presidential candidate instead of outgoing DF head of government Marcelo Ebrard (pictured above) that have attached to him a bit of a narcissistic — even messianic — image.  In the most recent race, AMLO even ran television ads apologizing for his post-2006 demonstrations and pledged to respect the result of the 2012 election.

All of which is to say that, despite the initial fears of a split left in Mexico, and despite a strong core of personal supporters, AMLO’s departure might well be the best thing to happen for the PRD.

It seems incredible that a candidate, seen as yesterday’s man and a sore loser from 2006, could come within 6% of Peña Nieto, who led by double digits in nearly every poll ever conducted in advance of the 2012 presidential election.

When you examine the gains that the PRD also made in the legislative elections, it’s hard not to believe that the 2012 was the Mexican left’s election to lose.  Despite ALMO’s very intense personal support, it seems almost certain that a candidate like Ebrard, with a much more moderate and stable image, would have wooed enough PAN voters to win the presidency.

Ebrard, who will leave office later this year, is viewed as having been incredibly successful as Mexico City’s mayor.  Like Peña Nieto, he was once married to a Mexican soap opera star (they divorced in 2011).  He’s achieved international acclaim for his green initiatives, including a bike-share program, the expansion of Mexico City’s bus system, and other projects that have reduced carbon emissions.  Ebrard has also reduced crime — early in his tenure, he dismounted ‘La Fortaleza’ in the notorious Tepito neighborhood, a key victory against drug dealers in Mexico City; he has presided over a tranquil and increasingly safe capital, even as other parts of the country have gotten more dangerous.  He also legalized same-sex marriage in 2010 in Mexico City, pitting him opposite both AMLO and the PAN.

Without the now-significant baggage that AMLO brings to the PRD, Ebrard would be able to situate himself even more clearly in the center, and win disaffected PRI and PAN voters.

As such, Ebrard must certainly rank (as far as these things go) as the most likely candidate to win in 2018, and he certainly seems the most likely candidate for the PRD in 2018, though that’s not certain.

Because AMLO refused to cede the PRD’s nomination to Ebrard in 2012, who was term-limited from seeking another stint as the DF head, will now compete with his successor, Miguel Ángel Mancera, who served as attorney general in Ebrard’s administration. (The PRD is incredibly popular in the DF and in central and southern Mexico, generally, and so it has held the DF since the position of head of government became an elected post in 1997).

Mancera, who’s seen as having a bit more charisma than the more monkish Ebrard, and who has been called the “Mexican George Clooney” for his good looks, said last week he would respect Ebrard’s presidential wishes in 2018, and that he himself would not be able to compete with Ebrard because he would be busy governing Mexico City — but six years is a long time in politics.

Notwithstanding the threat of a Mancera candidacy, however, Ebrard will be free, starting in December, to devote himself to the full-time pursuit of the presidency.  Given the internal disarray of the PAN, it is conceivable that Ebrard could even headline a joint PRD-PAN front against the PRI in 2018 if the PRI move aggressively in an anti-democratic or corrupt manner during Peña Nieto’s presidency.

It’s true that AMLO’s latest lurch could scramble the Mexican left, but it may well turn out to be a benefit as Ebrard seeks to bring the PRD to power for the first time in Mexican history.

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