Amlo: voters might make a left turn in 2018. Amlo: voters might make a left turn in 2018.

Mexico must look for stronger leadership

With Trump in power and continued slow growth, Mexico could make a left turn

Many Mexicans dislike the leader of the left-wing party called Morena, but Andrés Manuel López Obrador may represent the kind of firm leadership that Mexico wants in the face of a new relationship with its northern neighbor, says an expert on Mexico-U.S. relations.

Tony Payan, director of the Mexico Center at the Baker Institute in Houston, Texas, also predicts that with Donald Trump in the White House a stronger nationalistic fervor will probably develop in Mexico, leaving Amlo, as López Obrador is commonly known, as a strong contender for president in 2018.

Payan was among several observers and pundits polled by the news website Sin Embargo, many of whom agreed that Mexico’s new president must have a strong, patriotic and nationalistic profile, characteristics that many felt were currently lacking.

“The next president will have to be nationalistic, even if he or she doesn’t want to,” said Lorenzo Meyer, a historian at the College of Mexico, or Colmex, who said an inevitable shift in the country’s economic model must be assumed by the new president.

“It changed after the failure of president José López Portillo [1976-1982], a complete failure of the system.” Oil was used in the meantime to keep the country from sinking too deep and then came president Carlos Salinas de Gortari [1988-1994], bringing a new model, Meyer said.

“It is time to realize that that model is no longer viable because now the North American neighbor is saying: ‘I have no interest in being connected with you, I don’t want you, I dislike you, you’re a threat to my country, to my civilization.’”

“We have to create a model through which we regain our sovereignty and stop being so dependent,” said the historian and journalist.

He said Mexico’s leader appears weak before Donald Trump and is unable to face him with strength and dignity, and predicted that Enrique Peña Nieto’s term will conclude with the lowest approval ratings in history.

Meyer was quoting the results of the latest opinion poll by the newspaper Reforma, in which the president’s approval dropped to just 12%.

That same poll showed Morena and its leader as the preferred choice in answer to the question, “Who would you vote for if an election for president were held today?”

Morena’s rise in the poll was not a surprise for the experts interviewed by Sin Embargo, who see López Obrador gaining the most with Trump in the White House.

“I said once to Sin Embargo that if Trump won the presidency of the United States the probabilities for a nationalistic response in Mexico were very high,” said the Baker Institute’s Payan.

“Today, popular demand is that the country’s dignity be rescued. The harshest criticism against Peña is precisely his lukewarm response in the face of what is considered by many Mexicans as a humiliation, an abuse.

“The demand is for a more Mexican profile, for a harsher or clearer response on the part of Mexico, which few politicians in the country can give.”

Payan said while López Obrador fits the requirements he is a polarizing figure and might lack “the political and diplomatic finesse, the ability to understand that closing the economy is not a good thing, because a statist and closed model isn’t good, either.”

He said Mexico’s president in 2018 must regain the leadership Mexico had in Latin America and find a balance between a state that creates independent economic growth and a model that answers the aspirations of the Mexican people.

“I don’t know if Obrador has it or not, but if you see the people from the National Action Party (PAN): Margarita Zavala, Ricardo Anaya and Rafael Moreno Valle; or those from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI): Luis Videgaray, José Antonio Meade, Manlio Fabio Beltrones and Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, none of them have that profile and that understanding that this isn’t about retracting like a snail . . . .”

For Payan, the new resident at Los Pinos, the president’s official residence, must defend the anxieties of a Mexican people who are being beaten by a “partner we believed an ally, a friend that suddenly turns out to be an executioner.”

For Ivonne Acuña Murillo, a social and political sciences professor at the Iberoamerican University, the next president must be a statesperson who can “rise to the historical challenge, because they will receive an increasingly complex country, increasingly difficult to rule. Whomever becomes president in 2018 will have a hard time and must be able to win the support of the different sectors of society,” she said.

Acuña wasn’t sure if the same kind of nationalism Mexico had in the 1930s and 1940s is needed today. What she thinks is needed is “someone who loves the country and who is committed to the people, because those that have reached the presidency in recent decades have lacked that commitment.”

She discarded the notion that the person with the necessary profile to be the next president could emerge from either the ruling PRI or its predecessor PAN. “We need someone who doesn’t come from those two political backgrounds; those two parties have been divvying up presidential terms between them,” she asserted.

U.S. intelligence officials and a former commerce secretary have also weighed in on the upcoming Mexican election.

Anti-immigrant sentiment seen during the U.S. election campaign “fueled public resentment in Mexico, which could feed into Mexico’s presidential election in 2018,” warned a report by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which also suggested that Mexican voters could make a left turn towards politicians opposed to Peña Nieto’s structural reforms if those reforms do not produce some positive economic results.

The report’s authors applauded the reform efforts but pointed out that growth “has been subdued” in spite of them.

On Friday, Carlos Gutierrez predicted cooling relations between Mexico and the U.S. if the Trump administration doesn’t move carefully on issues such as trade.

“How they do things is very important,” he told CNBC. “I’m worried about what happens to Mexico’s elections in ’18. If we bully them, we could end up with [an] anti-American populous.”

They are “unintended consequences that we’ve got to think through,” said the former secretary of commerce, who served under president George W. Bush between 2005 and 2009.

Source: Sin Embargo (sp), El País (en), CNBC (en)

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