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Column 040405 Emmond

Monday, April 4, 2005

 

If Lopez Obrador becomes President of Mexico

 

By Kenneth Emmond

 

What might happen if the worst fears of President Vicente Fox, Santiago Creel, Roberto Madrazo, and others are realized, and Mexico City’s mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is elected president of Mexico?

 

The short answer is no one knows. Still, plenty of apocalyptic doomsayers are willing to share their thoughts.

 

Last week Claudio X. Gonzalez, a high-profile leader of the business community, said, “All indications are that the person who will compete (in the 2006 presidential elections) is a political leftist who is retrograde and dinosaur-like, and will leave Mexico in bankruptcy.”

 

Gonzalez worries about polarization of the nation, the possible compromising of the rule of law, and the danger of a flight of capital.

 

The specter of a Lopez Obrador presidency also strikes fear in the hearts of Mexico’s bankers. One bank, eyeing the debt Mexico City has accumulated since 2000, predicts that a Lopez Obrador government would usher in an era of 20 percent inflation.

 

Some political scientists even aver that Lopez Obrador is “not a leftist,” that he is a populist opportunist whose political big chance happened to develop in the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

 

One critic, Jose Fernandez Santillan, director of the Center of Research in Humanities of the Monterrey Technical Institute, says Mexico City’s executive branch operates like the “old PRI” — a snide reference to Rene Bejarano, Carlos Ahumada and the video scandals.

 

As we should know by now, it’s dangerous to predict how a candidate will act once he’s elected.

 

The U.S. administration knows that: Condoleezza Rice has said her government could work with a leftist Mexican government.

 

A classic example of post-electoral surprise is close to home: who would have guessed that George W. Bush, elected in 2000 on a platform that included rhetoric about international co-operation, would turn into the unilateralist’s unilateralist?

 

Or that ex-president Ernesto Zedillo, chosen in 1994 by his predecessor Carlos Salinas as guardian of the status quo, would be a catalyst for fair elections in Mexico?

 

Then there’s Brazil’s president, Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, or “Lula.” As a candidate in 2002 he was even scarier than Lopez Obrador.

 

Unlike Lopez Obrador however, he is embraced as a man of the people because of his humble beginnings. As a self-educated metalworker and unionist in his earlier life, and leader of the Workers’ Party, no one could doubt his leftist credentials.

 

Before Lula’s election there was much hand wringing from business and the political elite, who offered bleak predictions about Brazil’s future if he were elected.  Yet under Lula, Brazil’s economy grew by 5.2 percent last year. He’s managed the nation’s debt so successfully that last week he was able to turn down an offer of further standby credit from the International Monetary Fund.

 

Mexico’s next president will face widespread poverty, a crying need for more government services, competition from abroad for export markets and foreign investment, and an ever-more-urgent need for an array of institutional reforms.

 

And, he (or she) will likely have to cajole the required legislation through a Congress in which no single party has a majority.

 

If the past were any guide, President Lopez Obrador would be a politician who relishes a fight, and who would garner support for initiatives stalled in Congress by taking his case straight to the people through the news media, public demonstrations, and possibly even referenda.

 

Another likely outcome of a Lopez Obrador presidency is disillusionment of his leftist supporters, as juggled priorities and congressional hurdles mean that electoral promises remain unfulfilled. That happened to Lula, who lost his party majority in last February’s mid-term congressional elections.

 

Returning to the present, the Fox government has painted itself into a corner.

 

If it fails to bar Lopez Obrador from running by employing a frivolous technicality over a trivial offense, it will have generated more publicity for the mayor than he could have dreamed possible — not to mention a sympathy vote.

 

If it succeeds, the likely result will be more political instability, uncertainty, and disillusionment among voters than would occur in any of the scenarios advanced by the mayor’s detractors. It will infuriate voters if legal maneuvering disqualifies the man they want to support.

 

That anger could precipitate precisely what Claudio X. Gonzalez fears most: polarization of the nation, the possible compromising of the rule of law, and the danger of a flight of capital.

 

And that would be the saddest, most ironic twist of all.

 

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Kenneth Emmond, an economist, market consultant and journalist who has lived in Mexico since 1995, is also a columnist with MexiData.info.  He can be reached via e-mail at Kemmond00@yahoo.com.