If progressive populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or AMLO, as he is widely known) wins Mexico’s presidential election on Sunday—which seems almost inevitable now, given his daunting lead in national polls—it will be due, in large part, to disgust with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the impoverished southern states of Mexico.
A popular former Mexico City mayor, López Obrador has made it a point to visit every municipality in the country, expanding the base of support that propelled his previous, unsuccessful runs for president, in 2006 and 2012, to include the social movements in Mexico’s south.
In a huge June 16 rally on in a field behind a cement factory on the outskirts of Oaxaca City, the candidate spoke to an adoring crowd. Projected on jumbotrons in a white shirt, with a garland of flowers around his neck, he promised a new jobs program to pave the roads in the majority of Oaxaca municipalities that lack this most basic amenity. His director of programs for indigenous communities will be Oaxacan, and his secretary of social development will be based here, he announced, to cheers from the crowd. His government will finish the long-delayed highway projects connecting Oaxaca City to the ports of Salina Cruz and Puerto Escondido on the Pacific Coast, he added, saying of those unfinished projects, “It’s shameful how the government has robbed the people.”
“We will do away with the misnamed education reforms,” López Obrador declared—an important message to Oaxaca’s militant teachers union, which has made resisting PRI president Enrique Peña Nieto’s education-reform program, and its mandate that teachers pass a test to keep their jobs, a centerpiece of its activism.
By focusing on the real problem—poverty in rural, indigenous communities—instead of making teachers pass competency tests, “We’ll have a plan for education that makes things better without compromising labor rights,” AMLO told the crowd.
“The problem is not here. The problem is at the top,” he continued, slipping into his familiar stump speech. “Right now there is a mafia in power that is oppressing all of the people…. Only the people can save the nation.”
This kind of talk has been making US investors nervous. The editorial board of The Washington Post has compared López Obrador to Donald Trump—a dangerous populist determined to undo the accomplishments of his more mainstream predecessor. Financial Times quoted anonymous business leaders who fear that an AMLO administration will turn Mexico into a new Venezuela.