WHEN Andrés Manuel López Obrador winds up a stump speech in the main square of Jilotepec, a small town in the eastern state of Veracruz, the crowd surges forward. It takes him 15 minutes to pass through the commotion of backslapping, selfies and jabbing microphones to reach the car parked outside the tent where he spoke. The point of the rally is to promote Mr López Obrador’s party, Morena, in municipal elections to be held in Veracruz in June. But his main goal is much bigger: to win Mexico’s presidency on his third attempt, in 2018.
That is a prospect that thrills some Mexicans and terrifies others. A figure of national consequence for more than 20 years, AMLO, as he is often called, has fulminated against privilege, corruption and the political establishment. Sweep away all that, he tells poor Mexicans, and their lives will improve. Many others hear in that message the menace of a charismatic populist who would punish enterprise, weaken institutions and roll back reforms. The biggest worriers view him as a Mexican version of the late Hugo Chávez, an autocrat who wrecked Venezuela’s economy and undermined its democracy.