Andr√©s Manuel L√≥pez Obrador, who on Sunday was elected in a landslide to be Mexico‚Äôs next president, is a product of the political left, but his victory is part of the global story of rising populist leaders. Like many of them, including President Donald Trump, L√≥pez Obrador promises to overturn the reigning political establishment, says he alone is capable of delivering on his far-fetched promises, and assails the media, courts, civil society groups and all others who might check his personal power.
Like other populists, the incoming Mexican leader also has been vague and occasionally contradictory about the specific policies he may pursue, even while insisting he will bring about a ‚Äútransformation‚ÄĚ comparable to Mexico‚Äôs achievement of independence. In that, he is sure to fail; the question is how much damage he may do to the democratic system that enabled him to gain power.
L√≥pez Obrador has vowed to ‚Äúeliminate, not reduce,‚ÄĚ corruption, though he has not said how he would do it, other than by setting a good personal example. Similarly, he has not explained how he would bring down the soaring murder rate, though he has hinted at legalizing some narcotics.
He has promised tens of billions of dollars in new spending on social programs while claiming he will not add to Mexico‚Äôs debt. He is no more likely to pull that off than was Trump in pledging to cut taxes without increasing the budget deficit.
Other governments, especially in Latin America, should guard against any steps by L√≥pez Obrador to erode democratic institutions and media freedoms. Though he may prove pragmatic in office, the new president has made Mexicans some very large promises.
That raises the question of what he and his followers will do once it becomes clear that he cannot deliver.