Mex­ico searches for its own Macron

The French pres­i­dent’s style has wooed Mex­i­cans look­ing ahead to 2018 vote, says David Agren

The Guardian Weekly - - Weekly Review - Seek­ing cen­tre ground … En­rique Peña Ni­eto, left, with Em­manuel Macron

When Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto met his French coun­ter­part, Em­manuel Macron, in Paris ear­lier this month to talk cli­mate, trade and mi­gra­tion, the re­ac­tion back home was gush­ing. “There’s chem­istry be­tween Peña Ni­eto and Macron,” read a head­line in the Crónica news­pa­per, which fol­lowed sev­eral weeks dur­ing which Mex­ico’s chat­ter­ing classes fawned over the French leader.

“Dear Em­manuel Macron,” wrote au­thor Guadalupe Loaeza in a re­cent (and oft-mocked) Re­forma news­pa­per col­umn, “I could not let an­other day pass with­out telling you that my coun­try, Mex­ico, is ea­gerly try­ing to find a ‘Macron’ for the 2018 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.”

In­deed, no fewer than five prob­a­ble pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have been named the “Mex­i­can Macron”, the man who will sup­pos­edly unite the coun­try, fend off pop­ulism and im­pose prag­matic, cen­trist rule. Amid wide­spread anger at Peña Ni­eto – whose ap­proval rat­ing wal­lows in the teens – and the en­dem­i­cally cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal class in gen­eral, Mex­ico’s po­lit­i­cal and so­cial elite see such a mythic fig­ure as the way to stave off anti-estab­lish­ment left­wing can­di­date An­drés Manuel López Obrador.

“The ex­cite­ment about a ‘Macron Mex­i­cano’ is not about change. It’s about the elites try­ing to find a rea­son­able pro­file to main­tain things as they are,” said José Merino, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor and the di­rec­tor of data anal­y­sis firm Data4 in Mex­ico City. This is “the search for a Mex­i­can apo­lit­i­cal tech­no­crat that due to his bi­og­ra­phy will solve ev­ery­thing, even un­der the same cir­cum­stances”.

The search is so fevered that it em­braces can­di­dates who seem­ingly have lit­tle in com­mon. Some are in­de­pen­dents. Some are par­ti­sans. Some are con­tro­ver­sial and close to the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion – such as for­eign min­is­ter Luis Vide­garay, who in­vited pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to the pres­i­den­tial palace for an ill-fated ap­pear­ance. Most are hardly fresh faces at all.

But the Macron tem­plate ap­pears too at­trac­tive to pass up, even for the estab­lish­ment ti­tan of Mex­i­can pol­i­tics, the In­sti­tu­tional Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party, or PRI. Sev­eral of the would-be Macrons come from the PRI, which has pre­vi­ously tried run­ning young, sup­pos­edly re­form-minded politi­cians – only to end up with a batch of gov­er­nors con­fronting graft charges.

“The PRI has ba­si­cally set­tled on that strat­egy of pre­sen­ta­tion,” said Fed­erico Estévez, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Au­tonomous Tech­no­log­i­cal In­sti­tute of Mex­ico. “It’s go­ing to be some­body who stakes out a very nor­mal po­si­tion for a Mex­i­can politi­cian with re­spect to the world, which is open, lib­eral in­ter­na­tional, free trade, all of that, with a few rhetor­i­cal tricks to makes sure you know this per­son is ac­tu­ally Mex­i­can.

“The rest of it is [rais­ing the] fears of the worst,” said Estévez – mean­ing at­tacks on López Obrador. “It’s all neg­a­tive.”

The elites’ vil­lain, López Obrador, is a for­mer mayor of Mex­ico City and peren­nial pres­i­den­tial hope­ful. His op­po­nents have branded him “pop­ulist” and “mes­sianic”, of­ten mak­ing dark com­par­isons to Venezuela’s late so­cial­ist leader Hugo Chávez. Yet some ob­servers see an irony at play, with his op­po­nents seek­ing their own mes­siah rather than strength­en­ing institutions or the rule of law.

“It’s ironic that the de­fend­ers of the idea [of a Mex­i­can Macron] place so much faith in a sin­gle man – a nonex­is­tent man – when they crit­i­cise that same thing about [López Obrador] and his fol­low­ers,” Merino said.

Most ob­servers, in fact, don’t see any Macrons in Mex­i­can pol­i­tics.

“It’s a po­lit­i­cal fan­tasy. There is no­body even close to that sort of fig­ure on the Mex­i­can po­lit­i­cal land­scape, with that sort of as­cend­ing ca­reer, that in­tel­lec­tual fire­power, that me­dia ta­lent,” said Car­los Bravo Regi­dor, a pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tre for Re­search and Teach­ing of Eco­nom­ics, which is based in Mex­ico City.

The Mex­i­can Macron idea is thought to have started with for­mer Mex­i­can for­eign min­is­ter Jorge Cas­tañeda, a long­time pro­po­nent of in­de­pen­dent can­di­da­cies. In a May in­ter­view with the Tele­visa net­work, Cas­tañeda touted sen­a­tor Ar­mando Ríos Piter – who has an­nounced plans to run for pres­i­dent as an in­de­pen­dent and has drawn Cas­tañeda’s en­dorse­ment – as a Macron-like politi­cian. He “has a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties with Macron: age, fresh­ness [and] an abil­ity to pull in peo­ple from the left, cen­tre and even the cen­tre-right”, Cas­tañeda said. Like in France, “there are con­di­tions for an in­de­pen­dent, anti-party can­di­dacy in Mex­ico”.

Ríos Piter, a 44-year-old from the south­ern state of Guer­rero who re­cently aban­doned the left­wing Demo­cratic Revo­lu­tion party, played down the com­par­isons to Macron – sort of. He told news out­let Nación321 that the wide­spread dis­sat­is­fac­tion in Mex­ico was “very sim­i­lar to what hap­pened in France re­cently”, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for an in­de­pen­dent to win the pres­i­dency.

When asked if he was the Mex­i­can Macron, though, he in­stead fired back at his po­ten­tial ri­vals. “Who would be Marine Le Pen in Mex­ico?” he re­sponded. “I think all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties are Marine Le Pen.”

‘It’s a po­lit­i­cal fan­tasy. There’s no­body even close to that sort of fig­ure on the Mex­i­can land­scape’

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