SHOULD Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the front-runner in Mexico's presidential race, emerge victorious on Sunday, it could usher in a form of Latin American leftism as yet unseen: messianic populism. Mexico's fragile democracy could become its first casualty.
Outside of Mexico, people ask which Latin American leader Mr. López Obrador most resembles: Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia or Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. The truth is that he's not like any of them. He does not have the military stamp of Comandante Chávez or the indigenist roots of Mr. Morales. Nor is he a born compromiser like Mr. Lula who, as some Brazilians say, seems to "know the value of 10 percent." Mr. López Obrador is different: he always strives for 100 percent. And he has higher models to emulate.
Earlier this year an interviewer asked him what religion he followed. "I'm Catholic, fundamentally Christian," Mr. López Obrador responded. "The life and work of Jesus fill me with passion. He, too, was persecuted in his time, spied on by the powerful of his era, and he was crucified."...
His platform is full of unrealizable initiatives: a microcredit program (a very promising project) but for a whopping eight million people (consider that the successful Grameen Bank of Bangladesh has taken on fewer than six million borrowers since 1976); bullet trains from Mexico City to the northern border (which would not only be expensive, but also face competition from low-cost airlines).
Yeah, microcredit won't work for 8 million people!
That dern liberal media again...
Here's what Tom Hayden says:
Apocalyptic scenarios are never to be ruled out in Mexico. If Lopez Obrador wins by a close margin and sectors of the elite and armed forces refuse to accept defeat, much of Mexico might become like Oaxaca and San Salvador Atenco, with people pouring into the streets in a prolonged confrontation.
An even darker projection, commonly if privately expressed by many Mexicans, is that Lopez Obrador will be assassinated if he comes close to the ring of power. Luis Donaldo Colosio, a presidential candidate in 1994, was assassinated in broad daylight. That election ushered in the NAFTA era and the simultaneous Zapatista uprising.
If the supporters of Lopez Obrador sense that the election is stolen from them, they will not go quietly like Al Gore’s Democratic Party in 2000. It is accepted across Mexico that the 1988 presidential election was crudely stolen from the then-PRD candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, son of Lazaro Cardenas. At that time, the lack of popular organization and fears of a massacre led the PRD candidate to accept the fraudulent outcome. “Not this time,” I was told. “The people won’t let this election be stolen.” The street demand to defend the vote could bridge the differences, at least temporarily, with the Zapatistas.
Indeed, a fusion of popular mobilization and electoral politics has saved Lopez Obrador before. In 1998, his campaigners blocked roads and oil fields after he lost a gubernatorial race in Tabasco described as “fraud-ridden” by the New York Times (March 16, 2005). Only last year, the major parties tried to force him off the ballot by indicting him on a spurious corruption charge involving the construction of a road to a private hospital. Presidential candidates are disqualified if they are indicted. So Lopez Obrador’s destiny was in doubt until hundreds of thousands of people rallied in the streets. Lopez Obrador announced he would go to jail rather than submit, leaving his enemies to ponder the prospect of 1 million Mexicans marching on his prison site. The charges went away.
This fusion of direct action and constitutional politics makes this a unique campaign in a country long ruled from the top down by chicanery and fraud. It appears that mass mobilization is necessary to make electoral politics work at all, and to defend the vote even when politics succeed.
Close supporters of Lopez Obrador dismiss these extreme scenarios, not wanting to increase tensions any further. They insist that their candidate will win decisively by peaceful means. They also are quick to reject any allegations that they are closet chavistas or fidelistas. Having an electoral strategy by itself separates them from the Zapatistas. While naturally part of the progressive trend now sweeping Latin America, they insist on a unique Mexican identity in the tradition of Morelos, Juarez, Zapata, Madero and, perhaps most of all, Cardenas. That tradition alone always has constituted a challenge to the United States.