Change and continuity: On the Mexico mandate  

Mexico’s first woman President must crack down on organised crime 

Updated - June 08, 2024 12:27 am IST

Published - June 08, 2024 12:10 am IST

When Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist nationalist and leader of the Movement of National Rejuvenation (Morena), became the President of Mexico in 2018, many warned that the Latin American country was on the path to become another Venezuela. But Mr. Obrador proved his critics wrong using populism with fiscal responsibility and pushing Mexico’s polity, which was dominated by the pro-American, centre-right Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for over seven decades, towards the Left. The Morena’s surge helped Claudia Sheinbaum, the 61-year-old climate scientist who was endorsed by Mr. Obrador, make history last week as she was elected the first woman President of Mexico. The former Mexico City Mayor, known for her tough measures in tackling violent crimes, won 58.6% votes, while her rival, Xóchitl Gálvez, the joint candidate of three opposition parties, secured 28.4%. Morena also won a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which makes Ms. Sheinbaum the first leader in over 30 years who can push constitutional changes — a long-standing promise of Mr. Obrador — through Congress without the opposition’s support. Ms. Sheinbaum, who campaigned on the promise of wealth distribution, tackling crime and building a stronger economy, said she will stay true to Mr. Obrador’s legacy.

Mr. Obrador’s victory in 2018 marked a paradigm shift in Mexico’s politics. He promised to end widespread corruption and launch a massive public spending programme. But unlike several other populists in the region, he adopted a pragmatic approach seeking to bring in gradual changes. He rolled out cash handouts of about $350 for the elderly and monthly scholarships of about $50 for students, besides launching reforestation grants in rural areas, without jeopardising the country’s economic stability. The Mexican peso rose to its strongest levels in almost a decade and investments flowed in. While economic expansion averaged at about 1%, unemployment fell to 2.8%, one of the country’s all-time lows. Mr. Obrador remained largely popular despite criticisms of his failing to tackle violent crime and his intolerance towards dissent. Ms. Sheinbaum should be mindful of the criticisms her predecessor faced. There are concerns that the Morena’s supermajority would lead to constitutional amendments, doing away with some checks and balances on executive power. The new President should bring the fiscal deficit, which ballooned in Mr. Obrador’s last year in office, under check while continuing his social security measures. A bigger challenge would be to crack down on gangs that control drug trafficking to the U.S. Ms. Sheinbaum should use her strong mandate to offer a social contract that improves on Mr. Obrador’s welfarism with a stronger emphasis on the Morena’s social democracy.

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