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First leftist sworn in as Mexico's president in decades

Dec. 1 (UPI) — Andres Manuel López Obrador, 65, known as AMLO, was sworn in as Mexico’s president Saturday.

The 65-year-old starting his six-year term took 53 percent of the vote in a three-way race, allowing him to become the first leftist president since Mexico went from a one-party authoritarian state to a full democracy in 2000.

López Obrador also became the first winning candidate to obtain more than half the country’s vote when he won the election in July. He ran on a campaign that promised to stop corruption and reduce poverty. And his win was accompanied by his party also gaining a majority in Congress.

He ran three times before securing the historic landslide presidential victory.

“Today we don’t only begin a new government, today we begin a change of our political regime,” he said in a speech moments after the swearing-in ceremony Saturday. “Starting from now, we will carry out a peaceful, steady political transformation. But it will also be profound and radical.”

López Obrador has a 66 percent approval rating in contrast to outgoing president, Enrique Pena Nieto, who had a 26 percent approval rating with five days left in office, the newspaper El Financiero reported.

Nieto’s administration was fraught with corruption scandals and homicide rates that reached record highs, as the “war on drugs” claimed over 200,000 lives and left over 37,000 people missing.

The election of a leftist “is a historic, very important change for Mexico, and it’s very healthy in a country with the grotesque inequalities that we have,” said Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez, a prominent political scientist who teaches at the Tecnologico de Monterrey university.

López Obrador promised to maintain budget constraints while helping the poor, and cutting perks for senior officials. In particular, he declined to occupy Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, which he said would be turned into a public park.

Though his campaign promises are radical, analysts said they’re unsure if he’ll govern as a centrist as he did as mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005 or opt for a more autocratic populist route.

He has criticized democratic institutions like the courts and the press.

“It has become abundantly clear that AMLO’s number one priority is to consolidate power,” Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center, wrote in a recent issue of Americas Quarterly. “The language he used during the election campaign and the transition period suggest that he sees Mexico as broken and bleeding, and that democratization and devolution of power to the states have weakened the government’s ability to bring order to the country.”

López Obrador has denied seeking to rule as a strongman.

He promised during his campaign to curb crime and return soldiers home.

“I understand you can’t fight violence with more violence; to put out fire with fire,” he said.

López Obrador compared himself to President Donald Trump after he won the election in July.

“It encourages me that we both know how to keep our pledges, and … have managed to put our voters and citizens at the center, displacing the establishment,” López Obrador wrote to Trump.

Still, their relationship has been strained over Trump’s insistence on the border wall.

Meanwhile, over 6,000 migrants, traveling mainly from Honduras since October, have been waiting in Tijuana, near San Diego, to be granted U.S. asylum.

“Tijuana is a time-bomb,” Carlos Bravo, political analyst and professor at CIDE research centre, told Al Jazeera.

“There’s a humanitarian crisis waiting to explode any moment now, and that will demand positioning, actions and discourse from Obrador.”

Obrador said during his campaign he would not “do the dirty work of foreign governments,” by deterring the Central American migrants, but his transition team recently made a concession, indicating a willingness to host them as they await asylum interviews in the United States.

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