Will Mexico have its first female president?

Two female candidates are the top contenders for Mexico’s presidency
Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez

Claudia Shienbaum (left) and Xóchitl Gálvez are the top contenders for the Mexican presidency

Mexico stands on the brink of a defining moment, the countdown begins for president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as he just concluded his fifth year in office, leaving just one year of his tenure. The year 2024 heralds one of Mexico's most momentous electoral processes in recent memory, featuring high-stakes races for 500 congressional seats, 128 senatorial positions, eight state governorships and  the head of government of Mexico City. With a country facing populism, inequalities and crime, the tantalising possibility of Mexico's first ever female president could mark a political and societal turning point.

The governing alliance, dominated by the presidential party Morena, chose the  former head of government of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, as its candidate - for the opposition alliance FAM, Senator Xóchitl Galvez is entering the race, coming to the current political circus quite late and by surprise.

Of the two leading contenders, Xóchitl Galvez is by far the more charismatic and with her personal background of coming from a poor indigenous family, becoming an engineer and then building up her own successful business is a very compelling life story. However, Claudia Sheinbaum has more governing experience, she tackled the problem of crime fairly effectively in Mexico City – in stark contrast to the national scenario – and has the backing of AMLO who remains very popular.

In this short analysis we‘ll examine how the two candidates got elected, which other candidates evolved in the race and which perspectives we see for the outcomes of next year.

Claudia Sheinbaum, AMLO’s appointed successor

The National Regeneration Movement (Morena), AMLO's ruling party, has experienced a meteoric rise. It went from being a NGO in 2011, to obtaining its status as a political party in 2014 to winning the presidency in 2018 along with its allies: the Partido Verde de México (PVEM) or Green Party, and the Partido del Trabajo (PT) or Labor Party. This alliance has also won a majority in Congress, both in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, as well as governorships in 23 out of 32 states by 2023, 22 of which are controlled by Morena. As of this moment, public polls consistently project Morena as the frontrunner in the presidential race.

Morena has become so dominant in the Mexican political landscape that the race for the party's presidential ticket was seen as the key competition, and whoever runs as its candidate will be the next president. AMLO laid down the rules of the selection process to the main contenders, which were:

  • Claudia Sheinbaum, head of government of Mexico City
  • Marcelo Ebrard, secretary of Foreign Affairs
  • Adán Augusto López, secretary of Government and former governor of Tabasco, AMLO ‘s home state and
  • Ricardo Monreal, coordinator of Morena’s senators and former governor of Zacatecas

The agreement was that they should all resign their government positions in order to compete for the Coordinación Nacional de la Defensa de la Cuarta Transformación or the National Coordinator of the 4th Transformation, a position invented to circumvent the legal prohibitions of starting primary elections prior to November this year. The "Fourth Transformation" is a pseudonym for the governing alliance to stress the ambition of transforming Mexico as deeply as the three historical transformations did: the Independence, Revolution and the Reform period.

Besides Morena, the Partido Verde de México (PVEM) and the Partido del Trabajo (PT) are also part of the governing alliance, and their candidates, Manuel Velasco and Gerardo Fernández Noroña, respectively, participated in the primaries.

The nomination process involved an official survey and four "mirror" polls to validate the results, this and other mechanisms were put in place because of the distrust among candidates. The candidates' uncertainty stemmed from the speculation that AMLO would favour Claudia Sheinbaum due to her perceived loyalty, potential to carry on his legacy, and susceptibility to influence, although this remains unverified. Notably, Sheinbaum has never contradicted any of AMLO's statements, while Ebrard and Monreal had not always toed AMLO ‘s line. Both Marcelo Ebrard and Ricardo Monreal have said that the race was unequal, and favouritism towards Sheinbaum was clear.

On September the 6th, the official announcement was made, the nominee of the governing alliance is Claudia Sheinbaum. Mr. Ebrard’s team was not permitted to enter when the voting packages were opened for counting, this opened a conflict between Ebrard and Morena. 

Ebrard has stated he sees no more space for him in Morena, but he will be a candidate. As of this moment, Ebrard has few options: running as the candidate of Movimiento Ciudadano, an opposition party of social democratic orientation that is not part of the opposition alliance; he could retire from political life. The reworking of the nomination process seems impossible right now yet, as of September 11th he challenged the nomination process and its result, and if that does not work he will leave the party, he has also stated that he will start touring with “his own movement”. 

Xóchitl Gálvez the candidate of the FAM

Turning to the opposition, three of the remaining four national parties— the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)—have formed an alliance known as the "Broad Front for Mexico" (FAM). Despite historical rivalries dating back to their respective foundations, in 1929, 1939 and 1989 respectively, they aim to unite against the governing alliance. 

Upon observing the beginning of the governing alliance‘s pre-campaign, the FAM parties also sought ways to jumpstart their candidate selection process. Initially, 33 aspirants registered; however, this should not be perceived as a signal of strength. The opposition had failed to make much of a public impression during the term of the government, and the absence of any strong personality opened the field to all and sundry.

In the end, the nominee was announced on August 30th, the late and surprising entrant Senator Xóchitl Gálvez will be the FAM's candidate, after top contenders dropped from the race. 

Despite Xóchitl Gálvez 's political experience, it wasn't until June 2023 that she became a potential presidential nominee. Before, she had expressed interest in competing for the head of Government of Mexico City. It was up to the confrontation with AMLO, where she requested a right to reply in his daily morning conferences, which the Mexican president did not grant despite her obtaining a court order granting her the right to respond, that Gálvez came into the spotlight of the opposition and gained a wave of support inside and outside the FAM.

Third-wheeling: What Will Citizen's Movement Do?

Citizen's Movement is a third-party contender; it is neither part of the FAM nor the governing alliance. However, it holds crucial political positions, such as the governorships of Jalisco and Nuevo León, politically and economically two of the most important states in Mexico.

The Citizen's Movement has not made clear its plans leading up to the 2024 presidential election, so we can only speculate on their intentions based on past actions and rumours. Both the FAM and the governing alliance are waiting to see what position MC will take as it could benefit one block or the other.

Several scenarios for Citizen's Movement are currently possible: one of them is nominating its own candidate. There have been rumours their candidate could be the current governor of Nuevo León: Samuel García, or the mayor of that state's capital: Luis Donaldo Colosio, the son of a famous and still prestigious 1994 presidential candidate of the same name who was assassinated during his presidential bid. However, both have denied intentions to participate in the presidential race. Senator Indira Kempis from the same state has made public her desire to run as MC's presidential candidate, yet MC’s president and leader Dante Delgado has said that they will start their nomination process on the legally mandated dates in November. 

There are rumours that MC's true plan since the beginning has been to lure Marecelo Ebrard and have him compete as a presidential candidate under Citizen's Movement, a very plausible scenario now that he has an open conflict  with Morena. One final possibility is that MC will not present a presidential candidate, just as they did in the Mexico State’s gubernatorial election in 2023. The hypothesis is that MC will take a crucial margin of votes out of the FAM potential voters, which will ruin the possibility of having a competing candidate against Morena.

Only one thing remains true for MC, its president has made public that they will not be part of the FAM, an action that was ill-received by Jalisco’s governor, Enrique Alfaro, who made public his discontent with his party’s national leadership. This may be the beginning of an internal fracture of an otherwise upcoming new political party.

An independent Far-right Candidate With Famous Advocates

The legal dates for registering independent presidential candidacies concluded on September 7th. Eduardo Verástegui a former singer, actor, movie producer and right wing activist has registered to compete as an independent candidate.

During the premiere of Mr. Verástegui's latest film "Sound of Freedom," Donald Trump mentioned him as a potential future Mexican president. Furthermore, Verástegui has actively promoted the film and engaged in partnerships or signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) aimed at combating child trafficking, a central theme of the movie. These collaborations have involved prominent figures such as Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele, Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammatei, and Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazil's former president, Jair Bolsonaro.

As if Mr. Verástegui's political affiliations were not indicative enough of his leanings toward the extreme right, he is considering running under the same slogan as Giorgia Meloni, the Italian Prime Minister, which includes the controversial phrase "God, family, and fatherland," associated with fascism. 

Mexico is a country that has deep inequalities that have roots in its colonial past. Yet, since 2018 the divide has been more present with AMLO calling “conservatives”, “fifi” (snot faced), or “two-faced'' to all those he dislikes or those that do not agree with him but mostly middle class or high income people and the press that does not praise his administration. This has fed the polarisation in the country, which in turn might open a space in the political spectrum for an extremist movement.  

Perspectives for the 2024 elections

Morena has a high probability of winning the 2024 elections, the current question on everyone’s mind is: How much of a challenge will the opposition candidates be? In 2018 AMLO won with a 30% difference over his closest competitor. Although in the 2021 midterm elections the difference was not as big as in the 2018 process, and Morena did lose some of the historic left wing strongholds in Mexico City, the turnout for voter participation in presidential elections tends to be higher than the midterms, which makes space for bigger victory margins. 

At this moment, the probability of Mrs. Gálvez winning the 2024 elections is not very high. The FAM has won in 5 out of 23 of the last gubernatorial races since 2018. Yet, one of the most significant state races lost by Morena is Coahuila, where negotiations after the gubernatorial nomination with the losing bidders were unsuccessful and the leftist vote split, this is raising expectations as the scenario might repeat itself in the presidential election. 

There are several questions that remain in the air: how much of a challenge will the opposition candidates be? Will the historic political parties survive or will we see a new generation of politicians? Does the polarised Mexican environment mean that there is space for an extreme/alt-right movement in Mexico? If Mr. Ebrard ends up running under MC’s banner, which of the alliances will be most affected? Will Claudia Sheinbaum become more independent from AMLO when she secures the nomination or if she becomes president? 

There are about nine months left before the presidential polls, and Mexico is known for having surprises in elections. López Obrador lost two presidential bids in a row, yet won by a landslide in 2018 and changed the whole Mexican political party spectrum in the process. Overall, the only thing that we can say for sure is that having two female candidates as the top contenders for Mexico’s presidency is a historic moment.