AMLO Has a Plan to Install Sheinbaum – Will It Work?
On December 1st, 2018, President Andrés Manuel López-Obrador (AMLO) set out his constitutional project by aiming to break with the past, transforming the present of violence and impunity, and laying out the constitutional foundations for a new Mexico[i].
Not much of that has been accomplished. Over the last five years, you could not really say that AMLO’s thing was running the Mexican government. In a blatant double-standard, accusations of corruption leveled against former government officials were never substantiated by evidence, while those against his entourage have been altogether discarded.
He thrives by talking from the bully pulpit every morning, but with few exceptions, his rhetoric does not translate into actual management of the government. If president Porfirio Díaz (1876-1880 and 1884-1911) insisted on ‘little politics and a lot of administration’, AMLO’s presidential term has focused on around-the-clock politics and hardly any government management, with the exceptions of his megaworks and his pet social projects.
The time has arrived, however, for AMLO to devote his full attention to something he relishes: campaigning in full swing. Only this time he is the incumbent, and the Constitution bars him from running for re-election. He has anointed Claudia Sheinbaum, 61, a former Mayor of Mexico City, as his Morena party’s standard-bearer. Her key skill is to mimic and worship his mentor and protector.
Although the Mexican constitution forbids a sitting president from political campaigning, he does not shy away from interfering and ‘advising’ other candidates’ pre-campaigns. All is part of his three-pronged plan to install Sheinbaum:
1) Destroy the referee: pull out the budget of the National Elections Institute (INE), the Elections Court of Appeals (TEPJF), and most of all, weaken the Supreme Court.
2) Divide and conquer: threaten Senator Xóchitl Gálvez, 60, the Broad Front for Mexico (FAM by its Spanish initials) would-be presidential candidate, with unwarranted audits and made-up false accusations to put her against the ropes. AMLO has ‘advised’ Movimiento Ciudadano (MC, the potential third horse on the race) not to rally with the opposition, or else.
3) Tell everyone Morena’s victory is a done deal. There are so-called pollsters who have already given Sheinbaum an insurmountable advantage, although the campaign only starts on March 1st, 2024, and election day is on June 2, 2024.
Mexico has a strong president and a weak government. AMLO’s bet has not been to strengthen the State, but to reinforce his personal power at the expense of democracy and of government effectiveness.
Many federal government ministries and agencies are in a shambles. Public education and the public health system have undergone dramatic attrition. The number of violent homicides has already surpassed those registered under presidents Fox, Calderón or Peña Nieto.
AMLO’s sure bet to maintain the support of the poor for his party are his signature cash transfer programs. The late security analyst Alejandro Hope was right when he pointed out this administration was in fact ‘an ATM with armed forces’.
In September 2023, during the final 30 days of his mandate, under a freshly elected new Legislature, AMLO plans a new attempt to gain passage for three landmark reforms: an electricity overhaul, a transformation of the Supreme Court, and a thorough reform of the INE, all three geared to concentrate power in the Executive branch of power.
The new president will be sworn in on October 1st, 2024, just one month before the U.S. presidential election. The good news is that Mexico will have a woman president, but nothing else is yet written in stone.
[i] Cossío, J.R. and S. López-Ayllón (2023). El Proyecto constitucional de la 4T, nexos, October 10, https://redaccion.nexos.com.mx/el-proyecto-constitucional-de-la-4t/
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The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more