Five things to know about Mexico's outgoing president

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador waves the national flag during Independence Day celebrations (PEDRO PARDO)
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador waves the national flag during Independence Day celebrations (PEDRO PARDO)

Mexico's outgoing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a veteran leftist and self-proclaimed anti-corruption fighter who remains widely popular after nearly six years in office.

On Sunday, the country of 129 million will choose his successor.

Here are five things to know about the 70-year-old, who is preparing to retire in October.

- 'Political animal' -

The silver-haired anti-establishment politician widely known as "AMLO" won a landslide election victory in 2018 in a country fed up with corruption, crime and poverty.

A former protest leader and Mexico City mayor, he gave up the presidential mansion and jet, promising a "radical transformation" of the country.

Today, Lopez Obrador has an approval rating of 66 percent, according to a poll average from research firm Oraculus.

He is one of Mexico's most divisive political figures: his critics hate him as fervently as his fans -- known as AMLOvers -- adore him.

Lopez Obrador has authored 20 books on politics, has 4.33 million YouTube subscribers and has given nearly 1,400 weekday news conferences jokingly known as "The AMLO Show."

"He's a political animal," said Pamela Starr, a professor at the University of Southern California.

- 'Hugs not bullets' -

Lopez Obrador has prioritized addressing the root causes of crime such as poverty and inequality -- a policy that he calls "hugs not bullets."

"Evil must be confronted by doing good," he said.

Despite his efforts, Mexico's homicide rate has remained above 23 per 100,000 inhabitants during Lopez Obrador's presidency.

Powerful cartels are involved not just in drug trafficking but also people smuggling, extortion and fuel theft.

Lopez Obrador faced criticism in 2020 when he shook hands with the mother of notorious drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman while on tour.

He later said that the elderly woman "deserves all my respect regardless of who her son is."

- Poverty fighter -

With a degree in political science, Lopez Obrador owes much of his popularity to social welfare programs including aid for the elderly, young people and the disabled.

The number of people living in poverty in Mexico fell by 8.9 million, to 46.8 million, between 2020 and 2022, according to official figures.

The percentage of the population in poverty dropped to 36.3 percent, from 43.9 percent, the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy said.

- Sharp tongue -

Lopez Obrador has used his press conferences to hit out at rival politicians, the Supreme Court, environmental activists, women's rights campaigners and the media.

Critics accuse him of having authoritarian tendencies. He calls his conservative opponents the "mafia of power."

When it comes to US relations, however, Lopez Obrador has shown a pragmatic streak dealing with issues such as drug trafficking, migration and trade.

He has maintained cordial relations with both US President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump, who called the Mexican leader "a friend of mine."

- Retirement plans -

A baseball lover, Lopez Obrador has promised that in October he will retire from politics and go to "La Chingada," his ranch in the south.

The name is a joke since it roughly translates as "go to hell."

"One should not be attached to power or money," Lopez Obrador said.

The politician, who hails from the southeastern state of Tabasco, has a history of heart problems and hypertension.

Following the death of his first wife in 2003, Lopez Obrador married journalist and writer Beatriz Gutierrez Muller in 2006.

He has four sons.

bur-axm-dr/dw