La Semana: ¡Presidenta!
"There is no democracy without parties, but there are parties without democracy"
Welcome to a Sunday edition of The Mexpatriate.
There is one topic—other than a display of “alien” bodies in a congressional hearing that even made ufologists cringe—that has consumed the national conversation since Morena announced its candidate polling results on Sept. 6, catapulting Mexico into world headlines. For the first time, two women—Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez— will represent the major parties in a Mexican presidential election.
On Oct. 17, Mexico will mark the 70th anniversary of women’s suffrage, which means that merely a decade before Sheinbaum and Gálvez were born, women still didn’t have the vote in Mexico.
Sheinbaum and Gálvez are not only two competitive female candidates, they represent a new era in Mexican politics. Neither one was ever a member of the PRI, and this is also the first time in Mexico’s modern history that the PRI is not putting forward a candidate for president (Gálvez is a PAN senator representing the PAN-PRI-PRD coalition). While Sheinbaum was the only woman in the running for Morena, Gálvez’s main rival was another woman, PRI senator Beatriz Paredes. Meanwhile, Mexico’s Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Public Security and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court are also all women, as are 10 state governors. In a country notorious for chauvinism, this is a remarkable achievement.
The Mexpatriate hit an important milestone this week, surpassing 1,000 subscribers. I am humbled and to be honest, mildly shocked, to have reached this number. I know I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of what I can do on Substack, and I look forward to expanding in the near future.
Thank you for reading and for sharing my work, and for motivating me to keep writing.
Yes, it’s Claudia
When Morena announced the results of its 2024 candidate selection polling— Claudia Sheinbaum won with an average of 39.4% support across five polls—no one was surprised, even though the runner-up, Marcelo Ebrard, did cry foul.
Sheinbaum has held a consistent lead in the polls throughout not only the candidate selection period, but for many months prior to it. She is widely viewed as President López Obrador’s favorite, the most closely aligned with his policies, even though her style stands in striking contrast. While AMLO’s demeanor is warm and grandiose, Sheinbaum’s is cool and measured.
Sheinbaum also has family pedigree in leftist political activism—both her parents are scientists, and both were closely involved in the student protest movements in the 1960s. Sheinbaum is a scientist too, with a doctorate in energy engineering. She served as Secretary of the Environment during AMLO’s term as head of government (aka mayor) of Mexico City, and then she became the capital’s first female and first Jewish mayor in 2018.
Prior to the polling result announcement, Marcelo Ebrard launched a series of accusations against the Morena party leadership. Based on “incidents” and “inconsistencies” that he alleges occurred during the polling process, he called on the party to repeat it. In a video posted to his social media, Ebrard said his representatives had been forcibly prevented by police from entering part of the building where poll ballots were counted, and said that Morena is “everyday becoming more like the PRI”.
Ebrard’s accusations have somewhat eclipsed Claudia’s victory and seem like a bookend to his splashy start at the beginning of the process in June, when he was the first to resign and declare his intentions. He was the only candidate who didn’t attend the Morena coronation proceedings—the rest of Sheinbaum’s male competitors declared their solidarity with Sheinbaum, even if they looked like they’d just swallowed a bitter pill.
The next day, President López Obrador handed over the baton of command—yes, it’s a real staff with ribbons—of his “fourth transformation” to Sheinbaum. To AMLO, the ceremony symbolized the transfer of his leadership, not as president of Mexico, but as the founder of a movement. Sheinbaum has promised “continuation of change,” and swore to build a “fairer, more fraternal” Mexico. She also described her PAN-PRI-PRD opponents as the “living image of corruption.”
Xóchitl Gálvez criticized the president for handing over an “imperial scepter” to Sheinbaum, and after two opposition lawmakers complained to the National Electoral Institute (INE), AMLO was ordered to remove content published about the ceremony, alleging possible misuse of public funds.
The federal electoral process 2023-24 officially started on Sept. 7, with formal pre-campaigns set to begin Nov. 5. The presidency is one of many positions up for grabs in 2024: nine federal entities will elect new governors (including Mexico City), and 128 senators’ and 500 deputies’ seats will be contested. Will Morena continue to dominate and assure its executive and legislative agendas for years to come?
The Ebrard question
As of today, Ebrard’s game plan is a tough one to decipher. He stated last week that if Morena does not take his accusations seriously (he issued an official challenge last Sunday), then he will leave the party. Sheinbaum and AMLO have both said they hope Ebrard decides to stick with the 4T, while Sheinbaum handed out positions in her campaign to the other frustrated aspirants.
Some speculate that Ebrard is using this as a tough negotiation tactic, though he claims he’s not interested in being given a position just to make him go away. He has also leveled some serious accusations at party leaders, calling them “cowards.” He must know that Morena has no intention of repeating its candidate selection process, so it seems likely he is seriously considering splitting from the party. But where will he go?
Rumors are flying of a possible candidacy for Movimiento Ciudadano (MC), which has yet to announce its choice for 2024. Ebrard could make a solid candidate for the social-democratic party, but has little prospect of a win: a recent El País poll shows MC garnering 19% of voter support, against Sheinbaum’s 53% and Gálvez’s 28%. Xóchitl Gálvez has hinted that Ebrard would be welcome to join the Frente Amplio por México coalition (in what position is unclear), but that would be quite an acrobatic feat of chapulineo (grasshoppering).
While Morena’s internal polling process for candidate selection was explicitly designed to avoid confrontation and division—no debates between candidates, no “insults between colleagues”—and Ebrard agreed to the rules (including to not challenge the final decision), it seems rancor was unavoidable. The opposition has jumped on this lack of unity as a sign of weakness, following its own less contentious process (though also, an equally undemocratic one that relied on polls, not votes). But this could just be a symptom of the asymmetry between Morena and the opposition going into 2024: if the Frente Amplio hoped to gain even the slightest bump of momentum against Morena, it had to smother any internal divisions quickly.
Both internal processes make clear the improvisational nature of Mexico’s democratic party politics. The machinations that led to the infamous “dedazo”—the PRI candidate selection method for 70 years—helped Mexico bring violent transfers of power to an end. Replacing this top-down, opaque system with a more democratic and transparent one has been a struggle for the country’s parties post-2000. Some have flirted with primary elections, as are held in the U.S., but have gradually backed away from this option in favor of polling, which is less complicated to manage than an internal electoral process, but is undeniably flawed. “The citizen is reduced to the role of a respondent in an opinion study; he or she loses the agency of having a vote,” wrote analyst Carlos Pérez Ricart in a recent column, which he astutely notes also “erodes the winner’s responsibility; strictly speaking, there is no electorate to respond to.”
Ebrard has said he will start another tour of the country starting Sept. 18, to “formalize our national political movement,” but it’s not at all clear what movement he’s organizing. More on this to come in next week’s edition.