Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, centre, stands on stage during the 58th presidential inauguration event at the central plaza in Mexico City, Mexico, on Saturday, December 1 2018. Picture: ALEJANDRO CEGARRA/BLOOMBERG
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, centre, stands on stage during the 58th presidential inauguration event at the central plaza in Mexico City, Mexico, on Saturday, December 1 2018. Picture: ALEJANDRO CEGARRA/BLOOMBERG

Mexico City — Veteran leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was sworn in as Mexican president on Saturday, promising a radical change of regime in a country struggling with gang violence, chronic poverty and corruption on the doorstep of the US.

Backed by a giant Mexican flag, the 65-year-old took the oath of office in Mexico’s lower house of Congress, saying his administration will overturn what he called the disastrous legacy of decades of “neo-liberal” governments.

“Starting now, transformation is under way, ordered and peaceful, but at the same time radical because we will end the corruption and impunity that impede Mexico’s rebirth,” he said.

The first leftist to take office in Mexico in a generation also tried to reassure business after markets crashed since the July 1 election on worries about his policies, including the abrupt cancellation of a $13bn airport project.

Lopez Obrador reiterated that investments in the country of 130-million people will be safe, and vowed to respect central bank independence.

Saying his government will make savings by stopping losses from the public purse into the “sewer of corruption”, he promised not to raise national debt or taxes.

But in a reference to one of his heroes, the former president Benito Juarez who separated the church and the state in Mexico, Lopez Obrador promised his government will ensure a divide between economic and political power in the country.

He said the government of his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto caused a plunge in oil output by opening the energy industry in Latin America’s second-largest economy to private investment.

Some of the toughest problems Lopez Obrador faces are more severe than when Pena Nieto took office in 2012 vowing to tackle unprecedented violence. Like his predecessor, the new president says security will be his top priority.

More than 25,000 murders, a record, were logged in 2017. But more than 10,000 were registered between July and October, the bloodiest four-month period since modern records began in 1997.

Lopez Obrador enters office with more support than Pena Nieto, according to a November survey by polling firm Consulta Mitofsky published on Friday.

Reflecting his austere manner, Lopez Obrador arrived at Congress in a modest white Volkswagen sedan with little visible security, in contrast to the opulent lifestyles of his predecessors.

In another sign of change, the doors of Pena Nieto’s official Los Pinos residence were thrown open to public visitors on Saturday. Lopez Obrador has said he will save money by living in an apartment in the presidential palace.

Pena Nieto returned to Mexico from a Group of 20 summit in Argentina on Saturday, on the last official flight for his Boeing Dreamliner presidential aircraft, which Lopez Obrador is putting up for sale.

Reuters