“Emotion, uncertainty, hope and fear” was how one Guadalajara radio commentator summed up the mixed mood of the nation this week, just days before Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes the oath of office as the next president of Mexico.
A host of leaders and dignitaries from around the world will attend the inauguration ceremony, scheduled 11 a.m. on Saturday, December 1 in the federal Chamber of Deputies building (Palacio Legislativo de San Lázaro) in Mexico City.
Among the delegation from the United States will be Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen; Ivanka Trump, presidential advisor and daughter of the U.S. president; Energy Secretary Rick Perry; Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), among others.
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, the Governor General of Canada, will represent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Other dignitaries include King Felipe VI of Spain and President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.
Once the pomp and ceremony — and, no doubt, a fiery inaugural address lasting around an hour — is over, Mexico’s new leftist president faces a formidable task in governing a diverse nation of 130 million people historically mired in paradox and contradiction, besides extreme inequality.
There is no doubt Mexico stands at a crossroads unlike few before in its history. The last 12 years have seen a massive rise in violence fueled largely by the government’s aggressive war on the drug cartels, sluggish economic growth, the stagnation of living standards for the majority of the population, and a sharp decline in trust in the nation’s institutions and leaders. Poverty still ensnares 50 percent of the population and three decades of neo-liberal governments have scarcely made a dent on the country’s massive wealth inequality paradigm.
Over the course of his three presidential bids (2006, 2012 and 2018), Lopez Obrador has argued vehemently that reducing the power of Mexico’s technocratic elites is the key to national regeneration. The corruption of the wealthy and privileged class has been the undoing of the country for decades, he has declared consistently. He has railed at the token government investment in the poorest regions of Mexico, blaming the lack of opportunities for young people as a major reason for the spike in crime. He has never wasted an opportunity to underline his commitment to the nation’s poorest classes, pledging that as president he will always put them first.
While these are logical sentiments for a democratic socialist Latin American politician, the realities of Mexico in 2018 and pragmatic politics will likely take precedent after he moves into the presidential palace this weekend.
And if the five-month transition period since the July 1 election is anything to go by, Lopez Obrador will be keen to lower expectations from the outset of his presidency. Three years are required before any significant sign of improvement in the country’s fortunes will be noticeable, he has stressed on several occasions recently.
There are clear signs that Lopez Obrador will exercise prudence — at least initially. He has already backtracked on a former pledge to remove the military from law-enforcement duties, acknowledging that the nation’s police forces are not up to the job. He has vowed to maintain the nation’s finances on a tight rein, not spending more than the government brings in. He is also promoting austere government as a means of obtaining income rather than raising taxes, and not messing with the energy reforms passed by his predecessor that open up the sector to private investment.
While these indicators have largely pleased the country’s business community, his decision to hold a flawed public referendum during the transition period to scrap the new Mexico City airport has done him few favors. For many people, this was an act of folly that threatens to scare off potential foreign investment. Indeed, Mexico’s central bank has already cut its economic growth forecast for 2019, citing uncertainty over Lopez Obrador’s policies.
But ruffling feathers has never concerned Lopez Obrador unduly. That said, he is unlikely to shake up Mexico to the same degree Donald Trump has attempted to undo the established order in the United States. Although his relationship with the Mexican media has always been tense, he will want to avoid the kind of all-out war Trump and the mainstream U.S. media are currently waging.
Lopez Obrador will be also keen to avoid any sparring with Trump, who — despite their ideological differences — believes the Mexican president-elect is a single- and like-minded soul he can work well with. Lopez Obrador may feel that a friendly relationship with the U.S. president will help allay the concerns of potential global investors, who are uneasy at the prospect of a leftist/populist running the world’s 11th largest economy.