Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador marks two years in office Tuesday faced with a soaring coronavirus death toll and economic crisis that have had little obvious impact on his popularity.
The leftist leader known as AMLO came to power on December 1, 2018 promising to “transform” the country after sweeping aside the two political parties that had ruled for decades.
The former Mexico City mayor’s first year in office was dominated by his pro-austerity, anti-graft crusade, as well as concerns over a stagnant economy and violent crime.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which the 67-year-old this week described as the biggest challenge of his second year by far.
The World Health Organization warned Monday that Mexico was “in bad shape” after a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
The Latin American nation has officially registered nearly 106,000 coronavirus fatalities — the world’s fourth-highest toll — and more than 1.1 million infections.
Lopez Obrador, who holds a press conference every weekday, is rarely seen wearing a mask and has been accused of not doing enough to promote their use.
While anti-government protesters have demanded he resign over his handling of the pandemic, that criticism does not appear to have had a significant impact on his popularity.
– ‘Religious devotion’ –
Lopez Obrador enjoyed an approval rating of around 58 percent in November, according to the consultancy firm Mitofsky.
That was the highest so far in 2020 and broadly comparable to a year ago, before the pandemic struck, though far below a peak of more than 80 percent seen early in his presidency.
“There are a lot of people who voted for Lopez Obrador who had high hopes and are sorry they did,” political analyst Jose Antonio Crespo told AFP.
“However, there are many who continue to believe in him, almost out of religious devotion, and for whom Lopez Obrador’s word is sacred.”
Paola Perez, a 42-year-old worker in the tourism sector, said she had voted for the anti-establishment leftist because she was fed up with the long-dominant political parties.
Now she regrets her decision.
“I didn’t expect Lopez Obrador to be our savior but I never thought he would make decisions like canceling the airport,” she said, referring to the axing of a partially finished aviation hub for Mexico City due to alleged corruption.
Grocery store owner Trinidad Gomez, however, said she still supports the president.
“I think we have to keep the faith,” the 54-year-old said, adding that the pandemic had made it harder to govern.
– Long-term ‘scarring’ –
Lopez Obrador’s dilemma has been that tough lockdown measures are devastating for the country’s many workers eking out a living in the informal sector.
Mexico’s economy suffered a 17 percent plunge in the second quarter of 2020 from the previous quarter after the government introduced pandemic control measures.
Gross domestic product (GDP) rebounded 12.1 percent in the July-September period as the economy began to reopen.
The central bank forecasts that the economy will contract by up to 9.3 percent this year.
Some analysts have criticized Lopez Obrador for not doing more to boost the economy with fiscal stimulus.
The president says his priority is helping ordinary Mexicans with social aid and loans while avoiding racking up national debt.
Lopez Obrador’s response to the pandemic “has been counterintuitive and slightly surprising,” said Nikhil Sanghani, an analyst with the consultancy firm Capital Economics.
He said the leftist leader’s response has caused the economic slump to be more severe in Mexico than in Brazil, where the International Monetary Fund expects a contraction this year of just over five percent.
“This is likely to weigh on Mexico’s economic recovery in the coming quarters, and raises the risk of long-term economic scarring from higher business closures and unemployment,” he argued.
Violence also remains a huge challenge for Lopez Obrador, with the country seeing 29,182 murders between January and October, according to the government, which largely blames organized crime.