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Mexico's new leftist president takes office

December 1, 2018

Mexico's newly sworn-in president has been hailed as a champion of the poor and criticized as an authoritarian radical. His inauguration marks a dramatic political shift, with voters fed up with corruption and crime.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is sworn in
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Estrella

Mexico ushered in a new political era on Saturday when veteran leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was sworn in as the country's next president at a ceremony in the capital.

The 65-year-old former mayor of Mexico City won a landslide victory in the July 1 elections, after two prior unsuccessful bids for the presidency. He became the first leftist to be elected president since Mexico transitioned to a multiparty democracy in 2000, and he is the country's first leftist leader in over 70 years.

Speaking after taking the oath of office, Lopez Obrador criticized the policies of previous "neoliberal" governments, saying they have left a disastrous legacy.

He pledged "a peaceful and orderly transition, but one that is deep and radical."

Lopez Obrador repeated his promise that investments in Mexico would be safe, pledged to respect the independence of the central bank and said he would not raise taxes or the national debt. He noted, however, that his government would ensure a divide between political and economic power in the country.

Expanded inauguration

His inauguration has also been different from those of previous presidents. After taking the oath of office before Congress, he is to hold another ceremony in Mexico City's main square, where a leader of Mexico's indigenous communities will give him a ceremonial wooden staff as a symbol of authority.

The second ceremony is expected to draw a massive crowd of supporters and will be followed by a series of concerts as well as a second speech from Lopez Obrador, also known as "AMLO."

The guest list for the inauguration includes numerous regional leaders — including an invitation to Nicolas Maduro, the president of crisis-torn Venezuela. Mexico's conservative opposition has protested the invitation of Maduro to the ceremonies.

Ivanka Trump, the daughter and adviser to the US president, as well as US Vice President Mike Pence and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn also attended.

Historic shift

Lopez Obrador is inheriting a host of issues from his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto — who is leaving office with historically low approval ratings.

Mexico's new leader will have to contend with widespread corruption, violence fueled by drug cartels, as well as difficult diplomacy with the neighboring United States and its unpredictable president, Donald Trump.

Although Trump and Lopez Obrador have a cordial relationship, the caravan of 6,000 Central American migrants camped on the US-Mexican border could quickly sour relations.

Lopez Obrador has vowed to fight corruption, help those living in poverty and clamp down on business elites — although he has not provided specific plans on how he intends to accomplish those goals.

He has vowed to lead by example and has cut his own salary by 60 percent. In addition, he has announced plans to sell the presidential jet and take commercial flights, to eliminate the presidential security detail and to live at his private home instead of the sprawling presidential residence outside of Mexico City.

Concerns over fiscal policy

While his supporters are enthusiastic, critics and financial markets are not convinced. Despite Lopez Obrador's promises that he will enact fiscally responsible policies, Mexican stocks and the peso have fallen in recent weeks.

After decades of presidents who prioritized free market policies and signed numerous free trade agreements, some are concerned about Lopez Obrador's plans to build more state-owned oil refineries and encourage Mexicans not to buy abroad.

Although it remains to be seen how Lopez Obrador will handle his six-year term, he's promised a presidency like no other in Mexican history.

rs/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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