MEXICO CITY – Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador left the country’s national palace on Tuesday in the front passenger seat of a white Volkswagen Jetta, swarmed by hundreds of jubilant supporters including one waving a live rooster.
There was not a bodyguard in sight.
Since claiming victory on Sunday, the leftist politician has promised transformative change for Mexico. That includes ambitious plans to stem the corruption and violence that have become the status quo, though Lopez Obrador has yet to provide details.
Lopez Obrador’s approach to security is one of the first signs of how he is breaking from the mold of the typical Mexican presidency.
His plan to travel without armed guards has sparked worry in some quarters about his safety on the heels of Mexico’s deadliest year since modern records began.
“The people will protect me. … He who fights for justice has nothing to fear,” Lopez Obrador said after meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto, who he said offered federal protection.
“You’ll all be watching out for me,” he told a large hall packed with press during a lively, 35-minute back-and-forth that sharply contrasted with Pena Nieto’s brief, tightly controlled appearances.
Some audience members were skeptical.
“This is the institution of the presidency of the republic, this isn’t just one person,” a journalist said, asking Lopez Obrador if he would change his strategy.
“We’re just reporters,” another called out.
Since Sunday, Lopez Obrador’s every move has been broadcast live, with journalists and supporters forming a slow-moving convoy around the 64-year-old, who has pledged to shed various trappings of power including the presidential residence and plane, while earning half of Pena Nieto’s salary.
At one point, Lopez Obrador’s Jetta, which often snaked through Mexico City with the windows down, knocked a member of the posse off his motorcycle while making a right turn. The man appeared unhurt.
Close-to-the-people campaigning has been the style of the former Mexico City mayor for 13 years during two prior presidential bids, taking him to the most remote and dangerous pockets of Mexico.
Even in recent months, despite a surge of politician killings, Lopez Obrador has ventured into drug-cartel strongholds rarely visited by Pena Nieto, such as Chilapa and Reynosa.
Mexico is on track to register even more murders this year than in 2017, according to government data, and Lopez Obrador’s vows to curb violence appealed to many voters frustrated with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s inability to stem the bloodshed.
But Lopez Obrador’s new status may compel him to make some compromises, said Vicente Sanchez, a professor of public administration at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana.
“He should understand the risk, and that once he’s elected, he doesn’t owe it to himself, but to the country,” Sanchez said. “He has too much desire to go down in history as an austere figure, close to the people.”