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LATIN AMERICA | 02-07-2018 12:54

Regional leaders salute Mexico's new president López Obrador

Mexico's victor reaches out to US President Donald Trump, seeks NAFTA deal, as Latin American leaders – including President Macri – offer congratulations.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador's historic win in Mexico's presidential poll Sunday will put a leftist politician in charge of the second largest Latin American economy for the first time in recent history.

The morning after his crushing election victory, the president-elect thanked US President Donald Trump for a message of congratulations and said would seek to "reach an understanding" with the former reality TV star and businessman. 

López Obrador said in an interview Monday with the Televisa news network that a tweet by Trump on Sunday night "was very respectful. That is what we always want to maintain with the U.S. government, that there be mutual respect."

Trump tweeted Sunday that "I look very much forward to working with him. There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico!"

"We are never going to disrespect the US government, because we want them to respect us," López Obrador said. "At the appropriate moment, we are going to get in touch, to reach an understanding" with the Trump administration.

"We are conscious of the need to maintain good relations with the United States," he added. López Obrador had been compared to Trump for his populist, nationalist rhetoric and sometimes touchy personality — as well as his past scepticism about the trade deal.

But López Obrador said he supports reaching a deal on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Canada. The talks have been stalled over the Trump administration demands for higher US content and a "sunset clause" in the 1994 trade agreement.

López Obrador said he will propose that his own team of experts be included in the talks. The winning candidate said he will make that proposal in a meeting Tuesday with current President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The president elect, commonly known as 'AMLO' told Televisa that he will respect the current team of negotiators, and let them continue representing Mexico until he takes office December 1. He said he wants to have information on what's being discussed and "to help as much as we can."

53 percent

With just over half of votes counted on Monday, López Obrador had about 53.7 percent of the votes, a remarkable margin not seen in the country for more than three decades.

A prominent exit poll predicted his party allies were poised to score big victories too in congressional and governorship races.

López Obrador, who campaigned on vows to transform Mexico and oust the "mafia of power" ruling the country, rode widespread voter anger and discontent with the governing Institutional Revolution Party, or PRI, of President Enrique Peña Nieto and had led opinion polls since the beginning of the campaign.

The PRI, which dominated Mexican politics for nearly the entire 20th century and recaptured the presidency in 2012, was set to suffer heavy losses, not just for the presidency but in other races as well.

In remarks delivered at a hotel in central Mexico City late Sunday, López Obrador called for reconciliation after a polarising campaign and promised profound change but with respect for the law and constitutional order.

López Obrador said individual and property rights would be guaranteed, promised respect for the autonomy of the central Bank of Mexico and said his government will maintain financial and fiscal discipline.

He said contracts obtained under energy reforms passed under President Enrique Peña Nieto will be scrutinised for any corruption or illegality, but otherwise contracts will be honoured. "There will be no confiscation or expropriation of assets. ... Eradicating corruption will be the principal mission," he said.

López Obrador also spoke of reducing Mexican immigration to the United States through economic development. "Mexicans will be able ... to work and be happy where they were born," he said.

Partial vote counts also showed probable gubernatorial wins for allies of López Obrador's Morena party in at least four of eight state races on the ballot plus for the head of government in Mexico City. The central state of Guanajuato was expected to go to a candidate of the conservative National Action Party.

The polling firm Consulta Mitofsky predicted Morena allies would take between 56 and 70 seats in the 128-member Senate and between 256 and 291 spots in the 500-seat lower house.

Regional reaction

Regional leaders rushed to congratulate the new president-elect. "Congratulations to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on becoming the next President of Mexico," US President Donald Trump tweeted. "I look very much forward to working with him. There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico!"

"Canada and Mexico are close friends and longtime partners," tweeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "We share common goals, strong people to people ties, and a mutually beneficial trading relationship that is the envy of the world – reflected in our joint effort to update the North American Free Trade Agreement for the 21st century. Canada is proud of its close links with Mexico, and we will continue to collaborate on issues that matter to citizens from one end of North America to the other."

Venezuela's embattled President Nicolás Maduro also tweeted, saying "I congratulate the Mexican population and its president-elect @lopezobrador_. May the wide avenues of sovereignty and friendship of our populations be opened."

"We are sure that your government will write a new page in the history of Latin American dignity and sovereignty," Bolivian President Evo Morales tweeted. "We want an independent Latin America. The victory of our brother López Obrador pledges the liberation of our nations to build bridges of integration instead of walls of discrimination."

"My compliments to @lopezobrador for his victory in Mexico's presidential election. The friendship between Mexico and Brazil is strong and longstanding. I reaffirm our will to push a closening of ties between our two countries," said Michel Temer, tweeted conservative president of Latin America's largest economy.

Ecuador's President Lenín Moreno tweeted his "best wishes" to Mexicans in congratulating López Obrador, pledging to "continue to strengthen ties and bring hope."

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's outgoing president, tweeted hope that López Obrador would "maintain the excellent relations we have had between our two countries."

"With @lopezobrador_ we will continue to strengthen the deep ties of friendship according to the well-being of our people," tweeted Salvador Sánchez Céren, El Salvador's president.

"I congratulate @lopezobrador_ for his triumph! We will work together to deepen the relations between Mexico and Argentina," tweeted Argentina's President Mauricio Macri.

Previously, the Foreign Ministry had congratulated López Obrador and expressed the "willingness to continue working to deepen the bilateral relationship," ca.ling on the new president to "continue to work together to build a stable, integrated Latin America, based on democracy and respect of human rights."

- TIMES/AFP/AP

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