STORY INLINE POST
On June 4, Mexico’s ruling party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), scored another key victory at the gubernatorial level, when its candidate, Delfina Gómez, a former teacher and Minister of Education with close ties to Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), romped to victory in the State of Mexico (Edomex). Gómez defeated Alejandra del Moral, the gubernatorial candidate of the opposition alliance Va por Mexico formed by the PRI, PAN, and PRD, by 53% to 45%. Anyone who has been paying attention to Mexico’s political landscape would not be surprised by Gómez’s victory. Morena’s triumph must be interpreted as part of a trend of Morena and AMLO consolidating their power at the subnational level, which will substantially help Morena’s presidential candidate in 2024. Thus, with the gubernatorial elections behind us and Morena expanding its clout over the country’s polity, it is important to address the following: Is Mexico ready for its first female president? I would argue that yes, it is.
After the results in Edomex, if I were to bet on who will win next year’s presidential elections, I would put my money on Mexico City Mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum. Between her and the rest of Morena’s candidates, of whom the biggest threat is Marcelo Ebrard, the now former foreign minister, and a towering political figure by his own merits, it looks like Sheinbaum is AMLO’s favorite as well as of other key figures within the corridors of Morena’s power. Sheinbaum was also vindicated in Edomex’s election, as she took a leading role spearheading Morena’s voters and structure toward Gómez’s victory. This was a positive outcome for her after the electoral debacle she suffered in the 2021 elections in Mexico City’s mayoral races, where the opposition coalesced under the umbrella Va por Mexico, won 8 out of 16 mayorships.
Sheinbaum, if selected as the candidate of the ruling party, will be able to overcome many of the electoral “stigmas” that her opponents want to pin on her. Mexico City’s mayor might not have AMLO’s political gravitas nor the passion he unleashes among the “4th transformation” supporters, but her serenity and pragmatism coupled with her loyalty and closeness with Morena’s leader will help to offset her lack of retail politics. That might be enough to carry her over the victory line within Morena’s primaries. Also, as the Edomex elections showcased, the so-called “hurdle” of being a woman to be elected to a top job in Mexico was debunked when Gómez became the governor-elect and dethroned the PRI, which had ruled for almost 100 years in the largest electorate in Mexico. That was a real-time lab experiment that Morena effectively performed ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Despite the economic fallout of the pandemic, its handling by the López Obrador administration, and slow recovery (only by mid-2022 had Mexico recovered its pre-pandemic levels in terms of GDP), Morena looks stronger than the opposition. Indeed, since 2018, in most of the elections, AMLO and his party have routed the opposition. A potential Sheinbaum candidacy will bode well given Morena’s track record, particularly since her bid will be portrayed as a historical event where a female could be elected to the presidency in the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country.
In a nutshell, here are the three reasons why Morena and its candidate will win next year’s presidential election:
(i) The opposition is yet to find a candidate who would represent the wishes of the anti-Morena and anti-Obrador voters. In other words, the PAN, PRI, and PRD, instead of streamlining their platforms and rallying around one candidate early in the electoral season, are trying to attack the government from different flanks but without many gains with the electorate;
(ii) Morena’s narrative led by AMLO continues to be effective as it has kept the ruling party’s electoral base fired up against the opposition, which will help to consolidate the party around AMLO’s favorite corcholata (presidential candidate);
(iii) Mexico’s economic outlook does not look bleak in the short- to medium-term. Coupled with the expansion of AMLO’s political grip on Mexico’s key institutions and Morena’s domination at the subnational level, it is all but certain to put the opposition in an uncomfortable position of dealing with a well-oiled political machine amid an economic context unlikely to dent the current edge Morena’s presidential candidates have over the opposition.
Against this backdrop, in the showdown between Ebrard and Sheinbaum (which is the real competition inside AMLO’s party) all bets might be off in a scenario where the former foreign minister chooses to leave the 4th transformation to run on the opposition ticket. Yet, if Ebrard, who is a savvy political operator who knows better than anyone Mexico’s levers of power, does not comply with a result that does not favor him, even though he might gain some momentum by breaking with AMLO and joining the opposition platform, it might not be enough to carry him in the general election. For Ebrard to win in the general election, and for that matter any candidate from Morena’s rank and file who decides to embrace the opposition camp, AMLO’s supporters must be deeply divided and unhappy, and a significant portion of them must either not show up to vote or decide to cast their votes in favor of the opposition. But, as we mentioned above, AMLO and Morena have been able to keep their base unified and fired up against the “conservative and neoliberal” opposition, in great measure thanks to AMLO’s masterful domain of the national narrative. Electoral politics is all about the narrative that seduces the electorate. On this front, the government apparatus, and its main spokesperson, AMLO, have been able to defeat the opposition at every turn.
Wishful thinking is not a good adviser to assess the realities of power, and currently in Mexico, the name of the game is who will be Morena’s candidate, and thus, likely to be Mexico’s next president.
By trouncing the Va por Mexico alliance in Mexico’s most populous state, AMLO has put the opposition on notice that unless they shift their narrative and streamline their presidential candidate selection, they will be soundly defeated in 2024, regardless of who ends up being Morena’s presidential candidate. For the latter, it looks like it will be Claudia Sheinbaum, unless of course the main elector (not Morena’s base but AMLO) decides she is a “wild card” that could jeopardize the consolidation of power of the 4th transformation. I have not addressed Sheinbaum’s policy platform or track record as Mexico City’s mayor, that will be the subject of another article. But I would invite everyone to watch Sheinbaum’s June 12 interview with SinEmbargo, and the interesting things she said, but most importantly, what she did not say throughout the interview, such as how she will walk the tightrope of Mexico’s energy sector. My key takeaway from the interview: Sheinbaum knows how to hold her cards, a feature that in the primary and general elections will serve her well.