Stubborn, headstrong - and proud of it

Mr Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is among the most divisive figures in Mexican politics: hated by critics and loved by his fans.
Mr Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is among the most divisive figures in Mexican politics: hated by critics and loved by his fans.PHOTO: REUTERS

MEXICO CITY • "Stubborn" is among the many insults that have been hurled at Mr Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the veteran leftist who swept to victory in Mexico's presidential election on Sunday.

He considers it a compliment.

The man known as "Amlo" kicked off his third presidential bid vowing to use his headstrong personality to fight for the change that so many Mexicans are demanding this election year.

"I'm stubborn. It's a well-known fact," he said. "With that same conviction, I will act as president... stubbornly, obstinately, persistently, bordering on craziness, to wipe out corruption."

Those close to him can vouch for that. "We're talking about a man whose main quality is his tenacity," said Mexican writer and historian Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

Mr Lopez Obrador, 64, is one of the most divisive figures in Mexican politics: his critics hate him as fervently as his fans love him.

But his vows to fight for a "radical turn" in Mexico worked in a nation fed up with seemingly endless corruption scandals and a horrifically violent drug war.

His fiery attacks on the "mafia of power" tapped the frustrations of voters sick of the two parties that have governed Mexico for almost a century: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN).

The two-time presidential runner-up also managed to present a cooler side this time around, answering criticism with humour and laughing off dire warnings about how he would wreck Latin America's second-largest economy.

When enemies accused him of ties to Russia, he turned the insult to irony, donning a Russian ushanka hat and calling himself "Andres Manuelovich".

When the three other candidates took turns attacking him during debates, he calmly stayed above the fray - at one point whipping out a chart with the latest poll numbers by way of rebuttal. "I don't want to brag, but I humbly submit to you the latest poll," he said.

It turned out his confidence was justified. As his rivals battled to sound the toughest on corruption, Mr Lopez Obrador easily emerged as the anti-graft poster boy.

He vowed to halve the presidential salary if elected, live in his modest home instead of the presidential residence, and sell the presidential jet. But he clashed with Mexico's business community, with some warning he would pursue Venezuela-style socialist policies.

Seeking to ease those fears, he appointed a team of market-friendly advisers and backpedalled on some of his most controversial proposals.

A native of the southern state of Tabasco, Mr Lopez Obrador got his start in politics in the 1970s with the ruling PRI party. He helped launch a left-wing breakaway, the PRD, in the 1980s.

He made an unsuccessful run for governor of Tabasco in 1994, then leapt to the national political scene when he was elected Mexico City mayor in 2000.

He left the job to run for president in 2006. After a second unsuccessful presidential run in 2012, he spurned the PRD to found his own leftist party, Morena - which appears to be on track to become the dominant force in Mexican politics.

The widower married journalist and writer Beatriz Gutierrez Muller in 2006. He has four sons.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2018, with the headline 'Stubborn, headstrong - and proud of it'. Print Edition | Subscribe