MS Risk Blog

Mexico Election Analysis

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Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leader of the Movement for National Regeneration Party, has won Mexico’s July 1stpresidential elections with a landslide victory after securing 53% of the vote. The 64 year old better known by his nickname ‘Amlo’ will take office from December 1st2018 until 2023. This is not Amlo’s first attempt at gaining the presidency, after narrowly losing the race in both 2006 and 2012.His election success is likely to signify a change to the geo-security landscape of Mexico and is highly likely to have an impact on areas such as corruption, the war on drugs and cartel violence, and relationships with Mexico’s neighbours.


Much of Amlo’s campaign leading up to the elections on July 1stfocused on the issue of widespread corruption in the Latin American nation.According to a 2017 report by anti-corruption pressure group Transparency International, 51% of Mexicans surveyed said they have had to in the past pay a bribe to access public services, with this being the highest rate recorded in Latin America. One of Amlo’s key slogans throughout his campaign was ‘There can be no rich government for poor people’ and has regularly blamed the previous regime in the country for the overwhelming issue of corruption, particularly within the country’s government. Amlo was quoted during his campaign as saying “Corruption is not a cultural phenomenon, it’s the result of a regime in decline”. He also said that no-one who was guilty of corruption would be spared, “even brothers-in-arms”. Analysis into corruption in the country has found that many politicians in the recent past have had their campaigns funded by drug traffickers, meaning often these criminals are granted protection by those in power in exchange for the campaign funding they have received. Despite taking a firm position on his desire to deal with government level corruption within the country, he has given little information or inclination on exactly howhe plans on addressing the issue aside from saying he will be leading by example. One of the few proposals he has put forward on the matter is to revise any oil contracts that has been awarded by the previous administration to companies in order to check them for signs of corruption. He went on to say that any contracts that are found to show signs of anomalies will be addressed by Congress in due course. If Amlo is able to follow through on his promises made during his election campaign, there could be a significant reduction in the amount of government level corruption within the country.

The War On Drugs & Cartel Violence

The War on Drugs began in December 2006 by former President Felipe Calderon against the cartels and drug-related violence in the country. There are a number of reports that suggest Amlo is considering a radical new approach of amnesty in regards to the War on Drugs, and has suggested he will push for a law allowing non-violent criminals who have been involved in drug related incidents to walk free. This approach, which is being coined as the ‘pacification strategy’ would aim to reintegrate low level criminals who have been/ are employed by drug cartels. The number of individuals who would fall into this category is estimated to be around 600,000. Mexico currently has a deficit of 200,000 police officers. Amlo has suggested that he wishes to increase their pay in order to entice people to sign up, allowing for the removal of the military from the streets. This approach however has faced a lot of criticism, with some suggesting this will make the situation with drug cartels worse by creating a power vacuum in these areas. If this vacuum does occur, it is likely that levels of cartel violence will rise, the polar opposite of what Amlo is trying to achieve. Amlo has also stressed the need to dismantle organised crime rather than just arresting the drug kingpins if the situation in Mexico is to ever improve.  Under former President Enrique Peña Nieto, high-profile cartel bosses were arrested but the vacuum left by these arrests seemed to inflame turf wars and cause even greater levels of cartel violence. Mexico experienced its most violent year in record in 2017, with three quarters of these incidents being related to organised crime. As of January 2018, 230,000 people have been murdered and more than 28,000 reported as disappeared, alongside hundreds of thousands of people being displaced due to the violence. Neither the National Action Party (PAN) nor the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who have both been in power for the duration of the War on Drugs, have been able to get Cartel violence under control. In his victory speech, Amlo blamed corruption for the violence in Mexico. However, except for his plan to meet daily at 06:00 with his public security cabinet, he has given little detail about how he aims to tackle the endemic violence in Mexico.

Neighbour Relations

Almo having won the election may results in a change in Mexico’s relationship’s with its neighbours, in particular the United States. Throughout the election campaign, Amlo had been the most critical candidate of US President Donald Trump citing that if he was to gain the Presidency he would make Trump ‘see reason’ and ‘put him in his place’. Since being elected however, Amlo has struck a much more conciliatory note, saying he would pursue a relationship of friendship and cooperation with the US. Given the US involvement on the War on Drugs, the US appears to be wary of the potential softening of Mexico’s security policies that are being considered by Amlo. If the radical new approach of amnesty is adopted by Amlo, it is possible this will exacerbate already somewhat tense relations between Mexico and the US given Trumps current ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on immigration amongst other incidents. Not only are US law enforcement agencies in close cooperation with Mexican forces to combat crime and drugs trafficking, but they are also a key trading partner for Mexico. Relationships regarding trade have the possibility of becoming strained given both Trump and Amlo have openly expressed they are sceptical of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Given that the US is Mexico’s second-most-important market for soybeans, corn, wheat and rice exports, this scepticism by both countries leaders could mean bad news for US farmers who grow these crops in particular. However, given that 81% of Mexican exports headed to the US in 2017, it appears it is in both countries interests to make their relationship work from at least a trade standpoint.

It is not only Mexico’s relationship with its Northern neighbour that has the potential to change under the new President, but relations with its neighbours to the South.  Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Center Mexico Institute in Washington D.C. has said Amlo must turn south to its Guatemalan neighbour to strengthen its bond with them in light of the potential difficulties the Trump-Amlo relationship may face. By doing so, it will lead to a reduction in Mexico’s dependency on the US should issues in their relationship transpire. There are also suggestions that Amlo will and should strengthen Mexico’s ties with South American economic blocs such as MERCOSUR once again so Mexico is less reliant on the US. MERCOSUR’s full members include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Should Amlo begin to turn to his southern neighbours and begin the process of strengthening ties, this may suggest that Amlo plans to reduce the Mexican dependency on the US in pursuit of bettering Mexico’s ties to the south.