- - Thursday, November 29, 2018


It’s not a good sign when a president’s approval rating slips under water before he assumes the office. But that’s the lot of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who will be sworn in Saturday as the new president of Mexico.

AMLO — he’s known by the abbreviation formed by his initials — was elected in an authentic landslide earlier this year, besting his closest opponent by 30 points. A leftist and perennial gadfly, Mr. Lopez Obrador was buoyed by public disgust with the endless corruption within by Mexico’s political establishment, widely blamed for the crime that frightens everyone. The scandals ensnared the incumbent president, the unimpressive Enrique Pena Nieto, and AMLO is the first Mexican president elected with a majority vote in three decades.

AMLO has always been a man of the left, but there was some hope after his election that he might run the country as a moderate, technocratic leader — a Tony Blair not a Hugo Chavez. But AMLO’s performance during the weeks between his election and his inauguration has won no rave reviews.

Mr. Lopez Obrador convened a series of “citizen consultations,” meant to ask his constituents what kind of president they wanted him to be. These were a sham — they were not supervised by any objective, independent observer, and the questions were written in such a way as to make sure that his own opinions carried the day. Many people voted more than once.

One “consultation” backed building an oil refinery in AMLO’s home state. Another asked whether to scrap a new airport under construction just outside Mexico City. Seventy percent of the 1 million people who participated in the “consultation” said to cancel the new airport, which was AMLO’s own position.

With the cover of the “consultation” in hand, Mr. Lopez Obrador scuttled the airport project — although construction had commenced and everyone agreed that Mexico City’s aging, overcrowded airport should have been replaced long ago. “The decision is to obey the mandate of the citizens,” he said. Scuttling the airport project means breaking dozens of contracts with major construction firms, and it’s further bad news for those who bought the bonds to pay for it.

So was AMLO’s idea of slashing of salaries for thousands of government workers. What looked at first like a welcome move toward good government is actually the opposite. Pushing career civil servants out of the government will make room for thousands of cronies. The peso and Mexican stock market have tanked, just like Mr. Lopez Obrador’s approval rating, which has declined from 65 percent to 56 percent.

AMLO’s foreign policy feints look troubling, too. He invited Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s thuggish president, to his inauguration, undermining pan-Latin American attempts to isolate him. He has yet to condemn the widespread human rights violations in Cuba. He floated the idea of an amnesty for drug cartel chiefs, which would mean pardoning many people who have brought much misery on their country.

Many Mexicans fear that the country will turn to a military dictatorship under AMLO. The new president faces scant opposition at home. Mr. Lopez Obrador will govern with majorities in the Mexican Senate and Chamber of Deputies, the lower house. The media cannot be expected to provide an independent check. One ray of bright hope is that AMLO has suggested that he might work with President Trump to curtail the chaos at the border. The two leaders have struck up a peculiar kind of bonhomie — Mr. Trump calls AMLO “Juan Trump” — and AMLO has good reason to want the chaos resolved. But as the deteriorating relations between President Trump and his onetime pal, Chinese President Xi Jinping, demonstrates, not all of President Trump’s “bromances” are built to last.

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