Popularity sky-high, Mexico’s AMLO marks 100 days in office

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Mexico's President Lopez Obrador arrives with his wife Beatriz Gutierrez, for a speech marking the first 100 days of his presidency [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

Three months into his presidency, Mexico's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has already spent more time facing the press corps than his predecessor did in his entire six-year term.

And the people love it.

Standing at the centre of a stage for his news conferences at 7am every weekday, Lopez Obrador has used the platform to swat at initial scepticism from financial markets and cement his hold on Mexico after a landslide election win last summer.

The president's approval rates are soaring. But if in time things go wrong, he will still be out in front on his own.

Dictating debate much as US President Donald Trump has via Twitter, the news conferences have muscled aside breakfast news programming and reduced other political leaders, including his own cabinet, to bystanders at Lopez Obrador's parade.

"There's nothing between him and the people, not even oxygen," said Jesus Ortega, an erstwhile ally who ran the 2006 presidential campaign that Lopez Obrador lost in a close race.

Now, as his administration reaches the 100-day mark, the president has the highest approval rate on record for the first three months, according to Bloomberg, which said polling began in the 1980s.

'I'll never give up'

The 65-year-old president spoke in front of more than 400 guests in the National Palace on Monday and said his government had met 62 of 100 commitments made during his inauguration speech on December 1.

He also said he will not give up until he achieves what he has labelled as the "fourth transformation of Mexico".

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"I will never give up, I rather die than be a traitor," he added.

"We will continue to build in harmony the fourth transformation, we will continue in that ideal of living in a Republic."

As promised, the veteran leftist has slashed public sector pay, given up presidential perks and launched new welfare programmes, replacing existing social security schemes with more direct transfers.

However, he also admitted he has not managed to improve the security in the country.

"The population of the country is in a state of defenselessness," he said.

"This partially explains, although it doesn't justify, why [we have] only managed to contain the crime, but not significantly decrease it as we wish."

In terms of foreign policy he celebrated what he called his administration's "cordial" relations with the United States.

He said his foreign policy record showed "diplomacy and permanent communication" rather than the "accusatory language" of the past.

"He's doing well," Joel Carrillo, a 52-year-old car valet in Mexico City who supports Lopez Obrador told Reuters news agency. "He's taking away lots of privileges from the politicians."

In his July election, Lopez Obrador triumphed with 53 percent of the vote. Now, as his administration reaches the 100-day mark, the president has the support of almost four out of five Mexicans, according to one recent opinion poll.

"For the moment, he is completely invulnerable and completely indestructible," said Agustin Barrios Gomez, a former politician and board member of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI). "He owns the country."

Achilles' heel

Despite his popularity, diplomats, politicians and members of his own government tend to agree the economy is Lopez Obrador's Achilles' heel.

In his speech he said that "under no circumstances" he would jeopardise macroeconomic stability or issue new debt to finance spending.

"The economy is fortunately under way," Obrador explained.

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"It is growing, slowly, but there is no hint of recession as our conservative adversaries would like or as their analysts predict in bad faith."

The president has pushed consumer confidence to its highest level since at least 2001. But that has yet to translate into tangible gains for the economy.

According to its numbers the government expects a growth of 1.5 to 2.5 percent this year.

However, some challenges have already shown. Car sales dropped in February by over five percent, and by Friday, Mexico's main share index had fallen for 10 consecutive days.

Meanwhile, the latest data for Mexican retail sales and fixed capital investment showed significant declines in December.

Business leaders were also furious when Obrador scrapped a partly-built, $13bn new Mexico City airport and triggered billions of dollars of losses on Mexican markets. The president argued the airport was tainted by corruption.

His steps to undo measures by former president Enrique Pena Nieto aimed at luring private capital to the oil and gas industry have not been well received by all investors. And he has long espoused the belief Mexico must keep its own oil – even if he has yet to entirely rule out continuing the auctions of oil and gas fields that Pena Nieto started.

The problem for Mexico, said Barrios Gomez at COMEXI, is that the rhetoric of Lopez Obrador and his more ideological allies have almost made investment a dirty word.

"When somebody says investment, in their minds they translate it as bourgeoisie getting rich."

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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