This is Patrick Corcoran, from Ganchoblog.
In general, I don’t find the arguments that Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka AMLO) is a grave economic risk to Mexico to be very convincing. His program isn’t particularly extreme. Rogelio Ramírez de la O (his proposed finance minster) is sharp, experienced, and within the economic mainstream. And most importantly, between its business community, central bank autonomy, and NAFTA, there’s something of a policy straightjacket in Mexico. I don’t think anyone should expect a Kirchner a la mexicana should AMLO pull off the upset, and if I were a fund manager or a currency speculator, his election alone wouldn’t do all that much to change my opinion of Mexico’s prospects.
The problem is this: AMLO’s democratic commitment has wavered time and again. This is something that he has demonstrated repeatedly over the past six years. The reaction to the 2006 loss was a big part of that, but it’s not the only example. The takeovers of Congress were shameful. The shenanigans in Ixtapalapa treated the democratic process in an area of almost 2 million residents as though it existed only to serve him. And there’s no reason to think that this would change. When asked if he would accept the results of the election in July, a question where the only acceptable answer is an unqualified “Yes,” he waffled. His moderation during the campaign has been laudable, but when faced with a narrow defeat of an agenda item he holds precious, I don’t believe that he’ll just take his lumps and move on. Unfortunately, taking your lumps and moving on is a basic element of democracy.
The counterargument to this is that AMLO has been justified in his more extreme actions — that is, the election was a fraud, and the oil reform proposals being tossed around were a vital threat to Mexico’s well-being. Clearly AMLO seems to believe that; he couches his reaction in 2006 as a defense of democracy, notwithstanding his sending the institutions to the diablo. Given the fraud in the 1994 Tabasco race and President Fox’s 2005 push to deprive him of his legal immunity when he was mayor of Mexico City, I can understand him assuming any opposition to him is illegitimate. But while this bias is understandable on a personal level, that doesn’t make it any less worrying or damaging. Over the past six years, there isn’t much to support his belief that he was acting in democracy’s defense: the case for outright fraud in 2006 is extremely weak and has been contradicted by numerous people on the left, and his opinions regarding Pemex are just that — opinions — and have no more inherent value than those who would privatize the company tomorrow (which is certainly not what I’m advocating). The “desperate times, et cetera” explanation for AMLO’s unorthodox actions over the past six years just doesn’t hold up, and if your bar for the barbarians being lined up at the gates is set so low, well, then, what crushing political loss doesn’t justify an assault on the system?
That’s not to imply that his opponents would necessarily make better leaders. There’s also a pretty good argument to be made that the (potential) insidious erosion of democracy from within under Peña Nieto would far more harmful than AMLO’s frontal assault, which has typically been conducted in plain view of the public. If Peña Nieto turns out to be as bad as many assume he will — that is, if he is an old-school PRI dinosaur in a pricey suit — the damage could well be much worse than what is at risk in an AMLO presidency. Even if that doesn’t happen, by all indications Peña Nieto is the lightest of lightweights, and the campaign doesn’t seem to have put much weight on his bones. And the defects of Vázquez Mota are so obvious and damning that they hardly bear mentioning. From my point of view, there is no right candidate, and this is the worst slate of candidates of any Mexican election that I am more than passingly familiar with (basically, from 1988 onward).
But now that AMLO has emerged as the optimistic, anti-Peña Nieto candidate, it’s important to be clear about what his drawbacks are. Support for AMLO carries risks that go well beyond ideology. Electing AMLO would mean entrusting the system to someone who doesn’t wholly believe in it.