Just hours after winning the presidency on July 1, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador repeated his campaign promise to tens of thousands of jubilant supporters packing Mexico City's Zocalo square: "Eradicating corruption and impunity will be the principal mission of the new government."
On a platform of tackling his country's deep-rooted practices of bribes, kickbacks, and cronyism head on, the 64-year-old left-wing politician won 53% of votes in a massive turnout. His party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), won a majority in both houses of congress.
High-profile corruption scandals in recent years infuriated many Mexicans. President Enrique Pena Nieto was embroiled in accusations of conflict of interest from his wife's purchase of a $7 million home from a government contractor. He and his wife were cleared of the allegations.
An independent investigation revealed a so-called Master Fraud, finding that $450 million in federal funds were diverted from 11 government agencies to 186 phantom businesses during 2013 and 2014. The money ended up in the pockets of government officials, according to Animal Politico and Mexicanos Contra la Corrupcion e Impunidad, the online newspaper and advocacy group that uncovered the scam.
Despite his mandate for change, doubts persist about how AMLO, as the president-elect is known, plans to combat corruption and how much he can achieve.
Mexico ranks 135 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International corruption index. Unethical practices were estimated to cause annual losses to the economy equivalent to about 5% of GDP, or $53 billion during 2015, according to the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.
Lopez Obrador long promised to attack corruption by cutting privileges of government officials, including high salaries, and his initiative was soon approved by the Congress. On September 13, the lower house approved a ceiling on government salaries of $5,700 per month, the amount that AMLO proposed, which is less than half the salary of Peha Nieto.
He will also promote legislation that would create harsher penalties for graft and will intensify the pursuit of criminals who steal fuel from Pemex pipelines.
The administration, which takes office December 1, plans to tighten control of government contracts, which were valued at more than $30 billion in 2017. AMLO has pledged to take the awarding of contracts out of the hands of federal agencies and centralize the process in the finance ministry. But...