RISK LEVEL: LOW
Mexico is a functioning democracy. It has a federal presidential representative democratic republic based on a congressional system, whereby the President of is both head of state and head of government. The federal government is divided into three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. Suffrage is universal, free, and secret for all Mexican citizens over the age of 18. However, while elections are free and fair, the Mexican government does experience a high level of corruption and infiltration of those working in the interests of drug cartels and criminal gangs.
Following the national elections held in 2018, and after his third bid for the presidency, left-wing president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) came to power on 1 December 2018. He will serve a six-year term, governing as the head of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party coalition. AMLO holds enough seats in both houses in Congress to approve legislation without requiring negotiations with the opposition. This allows the MORENA coalition to pass or modify legislation, however support of smaller parties is required for significant constitutional reforms. AMLO’s chief pledge when voted into power was to eradicate corruption, a commitment that earned him a commanding 53% of the popular vote. He is likely to revise contracts awarded by the previous administration on grounds of corruption.
The widespread nature of drug cartel activity and the resultant capital it produces, an estimated $40 billion a year, has allowed bribery within governmental institutions to become rife in Mexico. Those believed to be involved in corruption and criminal activity include mayors, governors, and top federal law enforcement officials. Previous attempts to prosecute officials for alleged corruption have often failed due to the weakness of cases. AMLO has promised he will eradicate corruption through a “Fourth Transformation” of Mexico. However, the President has been criticised for his choice not to prosecute past corruption offences that took place before he was elected to office. Under increasing pressure from Mexican citizens, it is expected AMLO may reconsider this stance in relation to certain cases. The President has implemented other programmes to help tackle Mexico’s socioeconomic issues, introducing training programmes for unemployed youths, and launching a universal pension scheme. AMLO is the country’s first leftist President, with a history of introducing social-welfare driven policies as the mayor of Mexico City. A similar theme is expected in his approach to governing the country. As AMLO is only five months into his six-year term, many of his progressive socioeconomic and anti-corruption driven policies remain to be seen.
As can be expected, another key concern for the President and his governing party is the matter of improving economic stability in the country. Analysts have stated that AMLO must tread a fine line between keeping markets happy and pursuing liberal policies. In his election campaign, he set out an ambitious target for an annual GDP growth of four per cent. In order to achieve this, AMLO must ensure corporations and investors remain allied with the government. This may be a challenge, as the President will also be expected to work to tackle corporate corruption, thus risking making unpopular market decisions. AMLO has announced plans to invest heavily in public services and lowering taxes in order to stimulate growth, the economic implications of such reforms will develop in due course. In the business sector, there is an elite network of businesspeople who oversee monopolies over key areas, aided by corrupt government insiders. Along with the issue of cartel-related crime and corruption, the contention of anti-corruption within politics and business will therefore present one of AMLO’s biggest legislative challenges in ruling the country.
Internationally, Mexico enjoys a positive relationship with its neighbouring countries of Belize, Guatemala, and the US. The country advocates foreign investment, co-operation, and trade; therefore military conflict is unlikely. The country is heavily dependent on the US, with over 80 per cent of its exports being sent north of the border. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), signed by US President Donald Trump, Canadian prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and previous Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto is currently awaiting ratification to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The new agreement would govern $1.2trillion in annual trade, however there is a possibility of the deal being delayed if the US refuses to scrap steel and aluminium tariff imposed on Mexico.
The pressing political issue of immigration between Mexico and the US is currently a pertinent subject. Public declarations suggest AMLO’s approach to immigration will be largely consistent with his predecessors. He has vowed to pursue a more humanitarian-based approach to the immigration of Central Americans, however possible backlash from the US could prompt the implementation of more conventional immigration policy. There has been criticism over AMLO’s changing approach to immigrants, initially issuing temporary humanitarian visas, followed by an increase in immigrant detentions. Currently, AMLO is cooperating with Trump on the issue of immigration for pragmatic reasons; he wants to see an increase in the number of legal points of entry increased, and has assisted in attempting to prevent migrant caravans from reaching the Mexico-US border. Mexico’s first female ambassador to the United States, Martha Bárcena Coqui, an experienced diplomat, has encouraged cooperation between the two countries on the contentious issue of immigration.
The outcome of reforms and proposals presented by AMLO will remain to be seen in the coming months and years. Reports suggest the president currently enjoys an 86 per cent approval rating, however he faces significant obstacles, such as anti-crime and corruption measures, a struggle for economic stability, and wider international relations with neighbouring countries such as the US.