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Elected by a landslide, can Mexico’s López Obrador deliver on dramatic promises?

Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador beat his two main rivals by double digits in Sunday's election, cementing a strong mandate in a country that has spoken up for change. Nick Schifrin reports from Mexico City about why the public is fed up and looking for new solutions.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After two previous runs for Mexico's top office, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won that prize last night, and won big, beating his two main rivals by double digits and cementing a strong mandate in Mexico.

    AMLO, as he's known, received a congratulatory phone call today from President Trump. The two leaders discussed trade, migration and security.

    Our correspondent Nick Schifrin has been in Mexico for the last 10 days, and he reports tonight from a country that's spoken up for change.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On the streets of Mexico City, they celebrated a victory more than a decade in the making. Supporters of Mexico's president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, hugged strangers and stayed up late to mark his landslide victory and mandate to change the country.

    Thirty-nine-year-old Diana Mercado and 36-year-old Daniel Castillas voted for Obrador and against the establishment politicians they consider corrupt.

  • Diana Mercado (through translator):

    We have had many presidents who have misused the national budget, and now we want resources to be used properly, in favor of the people, not in favor of the few.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In the city's central square, Lopez Obrador, wildly known by his initials AMLO, spoke to tense of thousands and promised to lift up the poor.

  • Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (through translator):

    There will be no divorce between the government and the people. It will be a government of the people, for the people and with the people.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This is the central historic district of Mexico City, and tonight there is a party. I talked to young people who have come out here who say that they now hope for their future.

    I talked to older people without say that they have been sick of the corruption and now hope for their children and their grandchildren's future. But now perhaps comes the hard part. And the campaign turns to government, and they have to fill all their promises.

    When he arrived at a nearby hotel to make his official acceptance speech, the man who has described himself a political savior moderated his tone.

  • Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (through translator):

    The changes will be profound, but they will be carried out in accordance to the rule of law.

    Businessman Alfonso Romo will translate what critics call Lopez Obrador's unrealistic economic politics into policy.

    Is Lopez Obrador a radical?

  • Alfonso Romo:

    No. No, no. And I think you have to see, you have to study Obrador in Mexico City. And he was not a radical.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    AMLO was Mexico City's mayor from 200 to 2005. And even his critics admit he governed pragmatically. But more than 40 percent of Mexicans live below the poverty line, and AMLO has promised them jobs, pensions and scholarships.

  • Alfonso Romo:

    The problems are vast, are enormous, but we have to be disciplined. And the important thing is to change the course of the vote. I'm not trying to do everything in one year. It's not possible.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Can you keep your promises and not raise taxes?

  • Alfonso Romo:

    Absolutely. That is a promise.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Where is the money going to come from?

  • Alfonso Romo:

    From savings and fighting corruption and optimizing expenses.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But many economists doubt AMLO's ambitious promise that cutting corruption will pay for his programs. Romo admit they will have to prioritize.

  • Alfonso Romo:

    You never have enough money. I have — in my businesses, I would love to do many things. I never have enough money, but I do — the key things in order to direct the course of the ship.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The other reassurance AMLO's team wants to provide, coordination with the U.S. will continue.

    Marcos Fastlicht will help run the security policy.

  • Marcos Fastlicht:

    We're looking to work with the U.S. I think we need each other. I think basically we need the technology that we lack and that the U.S. has.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That means on the Mexico-Guatemala border, where Central Americans can easily cross on rafts, increased border checkpoints and surveillance, and on the U.S.-Mexico border, improved checks on people going north and guns going south.

    But the U.S. and Mexico are now led by men who portray themselves as populists protecting their countries from enemies, and that could lead to a clash between Lopez Obrador and Trump.

  • Marcos Fastlicht:

    I hope that it doesn't affect the relationship with the security, because that would be terrible. I think that in order to work 100 percent well on the security issue, things economically have to work out also.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    AMLO will also face the massive challenge of violence. Last year was the most violent in Mexico since the government started tracking homicides. AMLO's promised to curtail the killing, but most experts believe will take a generation.

    People are expecting a lot from him, right?

  • Marcos Fastlicht:

    That is one of the big problems, expectations, expectations. People won't accept any excuses. They want to see results in three, six months. And it's not easy.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In Mexico, there is so much hope and so many problems.

    Take just one voter. Rafael Riveros' sister, brother-in-law and nephew were all murdered by Mexican organized crime.

  • Rafael Riveros (through translator):

    In their honor, we will support this new government. We really want Mexico to be blessed, for the violence to stop, for the corruption to stop.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But those problems are enormous. But for one night, Mexicans celebrated a sweet victory and hoped for a better future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Nick Schifrin joins me now from Mexico City.

    So, Nick, I know they are still in the glow of this big win, but do his supporters believe that he can actually deliver on his promises?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    They are certainly hoping he can deliver, but they didn't vote for him for the specifics of his promises.

    They voted for him because his predecessors in the current government have failed and they are looking for new ideas. And that really goes to show that people are looking for change here.

    Now, how does proceed pose to fix some of the problems? In terms of corruption, he's talked about targeting a mafia in power, running an austere government, lowering senior officials' salaries.

    And in terms of violence, he has talked about low-level amnesty. But his promise, Judy, are vague. And that really shows that Mexicans are fed up and looking for new ideas, rather than some of the old failed ideas of the past. But they have huge expectations.

    And as we just heard in that story, he will have to deliver very quickly. And as many populist politicians have discovered in the past, while winning may be relatively easy, governing is harder.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And also, Nick, we know that there are critics out there saying this is a man with authoritarian tendencies. Is there going to be a check on the power that he has?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In a word, answer, no.

    He's going to control both houses of Congress, many governorships. And this is what one critic says, he has a Death Star. And we simply don't know whether he will use that power for good or for ill, but certainly after he takes power, there will be a lot of Mexicans — more than half this country voted for him — watching to see what he does with that power.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin wrapping up a week of great reporting in Mexico, thank you, Nick.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thanks, Judy.

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