The End of AMLO’s Presidency Will Leave a Void in Mexico’s Morning

(Bloomberg) -- Most days, he spends hours ranting against conservative elites, obstinate judges and the supposedly corrupt press. On others, he winds through lengthy expressions of his love for baseball and provides history lessons on Mexico’s national heroes.

Most Read from Bloomberg

No matter what, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is there: Behind a podium at Mexico’s presidential palace, where over the last six years his rambling but revolutionary daily press conferences have become an essential part of the nation’s morning routine. And whether he is unveiling popular minimum wage hikes or turning over the stage to a mariachi band, his core message is the same: No one understands the lives of ordinary Mexicans like he does.

Now the regimen is about to change. Mexicans on Sunday elected Claudia Sheinbaum, a protege of the current president who is set to take on the gargantuan task of replacing one of the world’s most popular leaders amid a slowing economy, an ongoing public security crisis and a litany of other challenges.

And yet, replicating the success of the mañanera, as Lopez Obrador’s hours-long daily briefing is known, may be Sheinbaum’s toughest assignment.

“The mañaneras are the most important tool of President Lopez Obrador’s government, and they have become a symbol of this administration,” said Alejandra Soto, a research affiliate at the Center for the Study of Security, Intelligence and Governance at the Autonomous Institute of Technology of Mexico. “It is going to be very difficult for his successor to come and get rid of this very effective tool for exercising power.”

Read More: AMLO Protege Sheinbaum Becomes First Female President in Mexico

The morning mañaneras are more than mere press gatherings. They are a case study in political theater of the present age, a modern version of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside radio chats or Hugo Chavez’s Alo Presidente televised talkshow. AMLO, as the president is known, has held almost 1,500 in his roughly 2,000 days in office; even on his way out, he has staged more press conferences in the past two months than Joe Biden has during his entire time in the White House.

The populist AMLO uses the briefings to command the narrative of the day, celebrate his wins and respond to potential crises that could damage his government. They ensure that in good times and bad, the Mexican political spotlight never strays from him for too long. That has generated questions about whether he will be able to leave the stage when his presidency ends. During his first post-election briefing Monday, AMLO said he may travel alongside Sheinbaum in the coming months but otherwise would consider his “mission accomplished” once he leaves office.

“I helped in the transformation of the country, as many other Mexicans have done. I am not the only one,” he said, adding that he would not impose on Sheinbaum. “I am going to retire with a lot of satisfaction.”

The readymade platform to speak mere hours after the election was evidence of the way the mañanera has helped make AMLO the center of gravity of Mexican politics. The spectacles have often annoyed reporters and occasionally roiled markets — in March 2022, AMLO suddenly blurted out a central bank interest rate decision hours before it was supposed to be publicly announced, raising questions about the monetary authority’s independence. He has gone after judges that have thwarted his efforts to overhaul the election system or make other constitutional changes, and routinely features a segment to highlight so-called “fake news.”

But they have also burnished his everyman, anti-establishment credentials among the ordinary folks that make up his base, and who tune in each day from home, work or while they sit on traffic-snarled highways during the morning rush.

“Not only is it an exercise in communication, it is also an exercise in government propaganda, even entertainment,” said Ernesto Revilla, chief Latin American economist at Citigroup Inc. “And this administration cannot be understood without the phenomenon of the mañaneras.”

AMLO’s official YouTube channel, which broadcasts the mañaneras live, racked up nearly 50 million hours of views last year, according to Streams Charts analytics, making him Latin America’s top Spanish-language streamer. The president often talks about his trips to various small towns and invites local reporters to ask questions about issues important to their readers.

He has even taken the mañanera on the road to other states, and regularly plays up his nationalistic politics. AMLO used one to celebrate the Mexican national team’s victory over the US in the World Baseball Classic, and another to show off a letter he sent the Biden administration warning it not to meddle in Mexican political affairs. In February 2023, he broke the news on where Tesla would build a new plant in Mexico while touting his ability to wring environmental concessions out of CEO Elon Musk.

There is little doubt among political observers that the briefings have contributed to AMLO’s unwavering popularity: He is entering the final months of his presidency with an approval rating of about 60%, a level he has maintained even amid surges in violent crime, economic sluggishness and criticism of his flat-footed response to a hurricane that devastated Acapulco late last year.

“This is part of the same strategy of being close to people, you go to someone and you listen to them,” Soto said. “It is something different that we did not have before in Mexican politics.”

That popularity has extended to Sheinbaum, the former Mexico City mayor and member of AMLO’s Morena party who will now become the country’s first female president. But whether she will use the mañanera to her benefit as AMLO has — or if she will even try — remains an open question.

Read More: AMLO Successor to Inherit Slowing Economy as Mexico Spark Fades

Sheinbaum, who has Ph.D in environmental engineering, is broadly seen as a more technocratic and measured leader than AMLO, who often starts the mañanera by telling listeners to “cheer up” and ends it with a folksy “now let’s have breakfast” sign off. Sheinbaum held regular morning briefings during her time as mayor, but they were neither as long nor as popular as Lopez Obrador’s.

“Claudia Sheinbaum does not have that particular style of communicating that AMLO has, nor that popular charisma,” said Revilla, who like many in the finance industry monitors the briefings because they are a key source of information about the government’s economic policies.

The president-elect who has pledged to continue her mentor’s broader approach to governance is likely to at least try to keep the briefings going — even if they are shorter, more technical and focused on her own political strengths.

The mañanera Mexicans have become so accustomed to, though, may be impossible to replicate without AMLO himself, and seems likely to end with his presidency if he does follow through on promises to retire to a ranch in the southern state of Chiapas.

“AMLO has changed the standards of what will be expected from now on for those who follow him,” Soto said. “But I believe that no one will be able to be like Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.”

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.