It’s ironic that the finest publicists future left wing thrice presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) could hope for are President Enrique Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) peers.
The worst part for the President and his PRI “goldfinches” (as PRI political hawkers are known in Mexican politics — “jilgueros”) comes practically now on a daily basis at every event Peña Nieto shows up, or for that matter, the group of “hoodies” (“tapados”) who are hoping to be pointed out by the President as a future PRI presidential candidate.
While AMLO is already campaigning for his National Regeneration Movement (Morena) political party as the only candidate, the rest of political parties are taking their time to select their own candidates and will most likely make their pick by the end of November.
In theory it sounds fine as in next year’s electoral calendar all parties must register their candidates with the National Electoral Institute (INE) the first week of March and start the electoral race campaigning the first week of April, lasting till the end of May. Presidential election day is slated for Sunday, June 3, 2018.
To give examples of what I mean, just last week there was a barrage of attacks against AMLO, without ever mentioning him by name but due to his political branding as “a populist” — whatever that means.
Just last Friday the words “the threat of populism” were thrown around all over Mexico. For instance, at the Donaldo Colosio memorial at PRI headquarters on Insurgentes Avenue in Mexico City, keynote speaker Health Secretary José Narro, instead of delivering a eulogy for the memory of Colosio, concentrated on attacking “populismo” as a devastating and dangerous economic philosophy.
Dr. Narro, who was for many years Dean at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), fell off the grace of many an observer because as a well-liked man, and now potential PRI candidate, he sounded more like a PRI goldfinch than the respectable physician we know him to be.
In Acapulco, during the annual National Banking Convention, President Peña Nieto delivered a speech against “dogmatic” ideologies that are “dangerous” for the economy and that are “ideas that postulate easy solutions but that in reality close spaces to freedom and participation.”
Though he never mentioned AMLO by name, everyone in the hall at the convention was thinking AMLO indirectly as it has by now that every time the President would hope to distract attention elsewhere other than his low popularity he will always have AMLO to kick around.
Another high government official speaking against populism at the Bankers’ convention was Mexico’s Central Bank (Banxico) Governor Agustín Carstens, who offered a prescription medicine to fight populism with “strong institutions that are transparent with a clear administration.”
Looking back to the anti-AMLO political discourse, his “populism” has been attacked in the past.
In the 2006 presidential election, which AMLO lost by half a percent point to Felipe Calderón, his populism was attacked as “a threat and a danger to Mexico”. Then in the 2012 election Peña Nieto repeated the formula winning the election by a six percent difference with 38 to 32 percent of the votes.
In fact, in a conversation with Barack Obama, Peña Nieto warned against populist ideologues and Obama warned him to use the word populism carefully because it can be applied to people who are interested in improving poor people’s welfare, like him, with his Obama care law which has turned into a Gordian knot Republicans in the U.S. Congress can’t undo.
But it is clear that over the next year, PRI politicians will continue to bash populism in order to defend the neoliberal economic policies now in place. The question is if these onslaughts against populism are not backfiring on the PRI because it seems that every time populism is mentioned, it remind voters of AMLO, even if his name is not.
But there is no doubt that at present the chirping of the goldfinches that is intended to muddy up AMLO’s name is working against them, as every time they chirp their anti-populist speech AMLO’s rating in the polls grows.
Indeed, the President and his PRI peers are chirping next year’s election away.