Mexico president turns on middle class after election blow

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has lashed out at middle-class voters he calls selfish and unscrupulous after losing support in the capital — traditionally a bastion of his party.

Lopez Obrador’s Morena party lost its absolute majority in the lower house of Congress in June 6 legislative elections, as well as mayoralties in four of the 11 districts it controlled in Mexico City.

It was a bitter blow for the leftist leader, who had built up strong support in the megacity that he ran as mayor from 2000 to 2005.

Lopez Obrador has blamed the setback on “the dirty war and bombardment of lies” by his opponents.

“Part of the middle class has always been very individualistic, turns its back on others, is aspirational, wants to be like those above and climb as high as possible, with no scruples,” he said.

Unsurprisingly his comments have not gone down well with their intended targets.

Bashing people for having aspirations is “stupid,” said Manuel Silva, a 46-year-old former civil servant turned independent consultant.

“All Mexicans have the right and the desire to make more of themselves,” he said.

Silva lost his job after 13 years as a public servant as a result of Lopez Obrador’s austerity drive targeting what the president has called a “golden bureaucracy.”

Analysts estimate it will eliminate 226,000 government jobs.

– High approval rating –

Although he did not vote for Lopez Obrador in the 2018 elections that brought him to power, Silva said that some former colleagues and relatives who supported him now regret it.

His government has faced criticism from opponents for its handling of the pandemic and public anger over a metro rail disaster that killed 26 people in the capital in May.

But the 67-year-old remains popular with many Mexicans, particularly working-class voters.

Lopez Obrador enjoys a public approval rating of more than 60 percent, according to polling firm Oraculus.

Even so, the president cannot turn his back on his traditional support base in the capital because “Obradorism was born from it,” said prominent political columnist Julio Hernandez Lopez, better known by his pen name Julio Astillero.

Lopez Obrador won the presidency in 2018 with 53.2 percent of the vote, helped by solid support in Mexico City.

This week, in an apparent softening of his tone, he said that he wanted to build a middle class that is “more humane, fraternal and supportive.”

“Of course, we must improve ourselves, but not become selfish and aspire to be snobs.”

Hernandez Lopez characterizes the middle-class voter as “enlightened and critical,” but also ready to complain when they suffer financially.

In terms of income, middle-class Mexicans lag their peers in the rest of the 38-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

A middle-class Mexican earns $3,800-$10,000 a year, compared with an average of $23,000 across those OECD states for which data was available, according to a report released in 2019.

Around 45 percent of Mexicans are middle class, compared with an average of 61 percent across the club of mostly developed nations.

– ‘Too offensive’ –

Bureaucrats are not the only ones in the president’s sights — academics, NGO workers and activists have also come under fire.

The president’s discourse has been “too offensive” to public opinion makers such as feminists, environmentalists and scientists, said Hernandez Lopez.

Sofia, a feminist who did not want to be identified, said she had voted for Lopez Obrador in the past and was “totally disappointed.”

The president seeks to portray feminism as a political weapon used against his government and has not had “a convincing or sensitive response for us,” she said.

Lopez Obrador says the feminist movement has been manipulated by his right-wing opponents.

He could pay a political price for his combative stance towards the middle class, said analyst Macario Schettino.

“It’s not a good idea to attack people who work long hours to improve their situation,” he said. “I think it will cost him.”

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