Mexico’s July 1 presidential election is likely to lead to a historic result as the center-left candidate Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador leads the race by 25 percentage points over his closest rival. We talk to Laura Carlsen about the race, the murders of local candidates, and the impact of Trump’s immigration policy on the race
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
Mexico’s closely-watched presidential election is heading into its homestretch, with a vote scheduled to take place a mere week and a half from now on July 1. Centerleft candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, also known by his initials as AMLO, remains far ahead of the other three candidates according to the latest polls. If AMLO wins, it would be a truly historic result for Mexico. While the presidential race is in full swing, local races, which are also taking place, are becoming increasingly violent. Over 100 local political candidates and politicians across the political spectrum have been assassinated so far.
Joining me to look at the latest developments in Mexico’s all-important presidential race is Laura Carlsen. Laura is the director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. She focuses on U.S. policy in Latin America, and grassroots movements in the region. Thanks for joining us today, Laura.
LAURA CARLSEN: Thanks, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: So let’s start with the latest polls. What are they saying about AMLO’s lead, and is there any chance that any other candidate could still catch up? And perhaps you could say something about the fact that Mexico does not have a runoff like you have in Colombia and Argentina, for example, and what impact that has on this election.
LAURA CARLSEN: That’s right. There’s virtually no chance according to the polls that another candidate could catch up with Lopez Obrador, with just a week and a half to go until the elections, especially. The latest polls, the Forbes polls, show Lopez Obrador with 50 percent of the vote and his closest opponent, which is the conservative candidate Ricardo Anaya, has 25 percent of the vote, and only 19 percent for the ruling party candidate, the PRI candidate, Jose Antonio Meade. So his lead is significant. It’s considered to be, you know, irreversible at this point.
And there is no runoff. So we’re looking at the four candidates going into the elections. The three major coalitions, center left, conservative, and the ruling party coalition, as well as an independent candidate who has just a tiny percentage of the vote. Things seem to be sewn up, but there’s a lot of tension still in the air because of kind of the maneuvers surrounding the elections at this point.
GREG WILPERT: Well, actually, could you say something about that? What kinds of maneuvers are you talking about? I Know that there have been talks about the two main establishment candidates trying to unite, perhaps, against AMLO. Is there any chance of that happening? Or what other maneuvers are you referring to?
LAURA CARLSEN: Well, that’s probably the main one. Right now. The establishment, the powers that really would do pretty much anything to keep Lopez Obrador from becoming president despite being by far the favorite of the voters in a democratic system, are looking to see what possibilities there are to create what they call the useful vote. And that means to choose one of the candidates, either Mead or Anaya, and have everybody throw their weight behind him to catch up with Lopez Obrador. In the first place, even if they did that, they don’t have the number of votes according to these recent polls to catch up with them.
And in the second place, the possibilities that they can actually do that are minimal. In the first place, I mean, Ricardo Anaya, excuse me, has come out openly criticizing the PRI in very strong terms. The corruption of the Pena Nieto government. And so the PRI base and the PRI leadership is not disposed to throw their weight behind him, even though he is the second place candidate at this point. They have launched this campaign to try to get the PAN to throw their weight behind Meade, but Anaya is obviously not willing to do that. What they’re arguing is that there’s much more possibility that Panistas would vote for Meade than that PRIistas would vote for Anaya, so we should do it this way. But they really don’t have much pull.
There’s also internal divisions. I mean, even the PAN itself, the conservative forces are not really united behind Anaya. There was a lot of really dirty play that went into the whole process of him becoming the PAN candidate. So there’s internal fighting on all sides, and the chances that they could actually get together and consolidate votes to prevent Lopez Obrador from gaining the presidency are pretty much nil.
GREG WILPERT: I might just add, also, I think the PRD, which was AMLO’s former party, is supporting Anaya of the PAN. It’s often referred to in the media as a right-left coalition or something, which sounds a little bit bizarre. Maybe you could just say a couple words about that.
LAURA CARLSEN: Well, I think the main thing that we have to understand there that it’s been a long time since the PRD was really a leftist party and in any way represented more left-wing principles of, say, redistribution of wealth. So it wasn’t altogether a surprise that they would join forces in a very opportunistic coalition with the conservative right-wing, socially conservative as well, anti women’s rights, et cetera, party that is the National Action Party, or PAN. The other important thing to realize is that there’s really almost nothing left of the PRD. Since the party split off from Morena, which is the National Regeneration Movement of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or rather the reverse, Morena split off from the PRD, there’s been a constant exodus of party leaders to Morena, and very few are left. And those that are left are really much more interested in political power than any particular political ideology.
GREG WILPERT: Let me just turn now to kind of what’s happening to the U.S., and how that’s impacting the race in Mexico. Trump’s immigration policy, particularly the practice of separating children from their families, has been the number one topic in the United States this week. Has this topic reached Mexico’s presidential race at all? And if so, what effect has it had?
LAURA CARLSEN: It’s certainly reached Mexico. They’re planning this week a number of demonstrations at the U.S. embassy and in other places. There’s statements. It took the Pena Nieto government some time to come out with a strong statement. Now Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, Luis Videgaray who invited candidate Trump to Mexico and who claims to be a friend of Jared Kushner’s, has come out and called it a cruel and inhumane policy. But at the same time there’s a lot of criticism against the PRI, which is criticism that predates this most heinous step and really the immigration policies of the Trump administration, in the sense that they’re being easy on the U.S. government because they’re still bucking for a favorable response to NAFTA renegotiations.
There hasn’t been a lot of response yet from other candidates. All the debates are over. So they’re focused more on their campaigning and domestic responses. But this should be an issue for the candidates, and it should be an issue in the campaign because it has everything to do with redefining the critical binational relationship, which is this relationship between Mexico and the United States.
There’s a strong sense that part of Lopez Obrador’s popularity, in fact, has to do with that. If there’s anything that Mexicans totally agree on, it’s a repudiation of Donald Trump and his policies toward Mexico and toward Mexicans living both here and in the United States. So they’re defining, there’s a very strong sense that there has to be a redefinition of the binational relationship in which instead of just rolling over and accepting the U.S.’s bidding, like in the Mérida Initiative to close off the southern border between Mexico and Guatemala to try to stop immigrant families there before they even reach the United States, that instead of accepting these policies that go against international human rights and against the interests of Mexico itself and its traditional relations with Central American families, there has to be a stronger and a more sovereign foreign policy toward the United States.
Lopez Obrador has not been really firm about this, because he’s trying not to cause any rifts before the elections anyway. But he has clearly stated that Mexico would take a more sovereign line in terms of its relationship to the United States. And so that’s part of what has fed into his popularity, as well.
GREG WILPERT: So let’s turn now to the murders of local candidates and politicians. First, as far as you can tell, what’s behind these? And second, has that affected the race for president? And particularly surprising perhaps that that the presidential candidates themselves seem not to have been targets so far.
LAURA CARLSEN: Yes. They haven’t been targets, and they haven’t probably spoken up enough about what’s going on. What it affects is, first of all, local elections. It’s more focused on the local level than it is on the presidential or even the state level. Most of the murders and assassinations that we’re seeing are taking place on the local levels. You can assume, although there aren’t investigations to determine this, that they have to do with the alliances of candidates, or the lack of alliances, with candidates and local drug cartels that control the areas.
But the second effect is larger. The second effect is that there’s actually a chilling effect on people’s participation in elections in areas where there’s high levels of violence. They’re afraid to go out to the polls. They’re given a message that elections are, are equivalent to, to violence. That there could be violent incidents, including on election day. And it keeps people from going to the polls in places like Tamaulipas, on the Mexico-Texas border, and other places where there’s traditionally a very high level of violence. This is bad, because a low turnout contributes to, it always detracts from a healthy democracy in the first place.
It also contributes to the possibilities of more fraud, because the lower the turnout is the greater the possibility that this kind of what they call the core of, of forces that the ruling party has for decades manipulated to vote to maintain its own power has a proportionally larger impact on the elections themselves.
GREG WILPERT: And finally, during the last presidential debate on Sunday, it seems that the anti-AMLO candidates, the other candidates, are trying to do anything to smear him. One of the rather surprising accusations that came up during the debate seems that, it was from Anaya, saying that AMLO made a pact with the current president Enrique Peña Nieto. What was this about, and does this have any bearing in reality?
LAURA CARLSEN: Yeah. It turned out, they did a verification, because one of the very healthy things that have come out of these elections is that citizens are really mobilized. They’re doing fact checking. They’re going to be observers. They’re officials at the polls, and there’s likely to be a very high turnout. So one of the fact checking groups of young people called Verificado, they found that that picture of of Lopez Obrador and Pena Nieto was in fact from 2012, during [debates].
And what he’s going for is he’s saying, OK, Lopez Obrador- and this is true- has not come out and said, I will prosecute Pena Nieto for crimes of corruption during his administration. What he keeps saying is we are not going to be a government of revenge, because he’s trying to keep this already highly-polarized situation from becoming more deeply polarized, and also trying to keep pposition, opposition to him, factions from becoming more violent or desperate as, as it gets closer to what appears to be an inevitable victory of the Morena and Lopez Obrador forces.
So he said he’s not going to go after them, and Anaya is using this as a basis to say there’s been a pact, that Lopez Obrador is going to allow the corruption from the past to stand, and I would not do it. But there’s really no, as, as came out, this photograph was no evidence whatsoever of a pact. And he has not presented any other evidence of a pact. So there really doesn’t seem to be any substance to these accusations.
GREG WILPERT: OK. We’re going to leave it there for now, but we’re definitely come back to you. I was speaking to Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program at the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. I should also mention Laura’s doing an almost weekly report on Mexico for the website Rompeviento.TV, which we have begun to report on the real news website, and we’ll put a link on the story. Please check them out. Thanks, Laura, for having joined us today.
LAURA CARLSEN: Thank you, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. Also, if you like stories such as this one, I want to remind you that we recently started our summer fundraiser and need your help to reach our goal of raising $200000. Every dollar that you donate will be matched. Unlike practically all other news outlets, we do not accept support from governments or corporations. Please do what you can today.