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La Semana: Sunday, Sep 24
The week in presidential predictions
Welcome to the Sunday edition of The Mexpatriate, and a special welcome to new subscribers who have found me through Mexico News Daily.
I am pleased to announce here that I am now the executive editor of the publication, which is the premier source of English-language news in Mexico. I will continue to write this weekly missive (sometimes more frequently) and hope you follow MND to see fresh content from our editorial and writing team.
In tonight’s newsletter:
Who will be Mexico’s next president(a)?
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Who will be Mexico’s next president(a)?
“The will of the country has decided that you will be the party’s candidate!”
These were the words heard by the “chosen one”, accompanied by serenading mariachis, when given the official nod as the next PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) candidate throughout the party’s hegemonic rule for seventy years. The elections themselves were merely a ceremonial act in the passing of the torch from the outgoing president to his heir.
This mechanism for the peaceful transfer of power, characterized by tacit rules, secular rituals and acrobatic word-play, brought stability to a country that in the 19th and early 20th centuries had known only assasinations and uprisings as tools for selecting leaders. This political process—“a difficult and high-stakes game of riddles”—evolved over the decades but in simplest terms, the president was the kingmaker and began to make his inclinations known by the fourth year of his term, when aspiring candidates would begin cautiously jostling for favor, awaiting the “destape” of “el tapado”, the “covered one”, whose revelation (traditionally in year five of the term) anointed him the next president of Mexico. In the 1970s, the term “corcholatas” (bottle caps) was coined to refer to the favored pre-candidates. But in case this seems too straightforward, “el tapado” may not be one of the original “corcholatas”. It’s “Mexico: The Board Game”—just play as you would chess, poker and Risk, but all at once.
Here we are in 2022, in the third presidency since the PRI lost its grip, and the rules of the game have changed. Or have they? In July 2021, AMLO first casually dropped the names of those who could continue with Morena’s “cuarta transformación”, a full three years before the next presidential election in 2024. This makes a very long runway before the campaigns officially take off.
Claudia Sheinbaum, the head of government of Mexico City, and Marcelo Ebrard, foreign minister, were on the list and have been cheekily campaigning ever since. The third “corcholata” was a latecomer: Adán Augusto López, the minister of the interior appointed in August 2021. A tabasqueño like AMLO, López has a long history with the president and is often referred to as his “right hand”. López has kept a lower profile than the other two morenistas, both of whom have been busy accumulating likes and cringes on TikTok; Sheinbaum even made a video where she pins a bottle cap with the name “Claudia” to her blazer. AMLO, whose political career began in the PRI, has dismissed comparisons to the power plays of old and stated that his favorite “corcholata” will be the one chosen by “the people”.
On September 19, while the earth shook and the country experienced PTSD, the results of the National Congress of Morena held the weekend before showed a party that is trying to close ranks and reduce dissent. Morena has been more a social movement than a political party since it was founded by AMLO in 2017, noted for its internal divisions and lack of organization. While its meteoric rise to power across the country (22 states now have Morena or Morena-coalition governors) has led to inevitable comparisons with the PRI’s former dominance, it still lacks the solid infrastructure the PRI was known for. Morena leader Mario Delgado stated in an intervew that “if we stay united, we will win the election in 2024…there should be a brotherly contest [amongst Morena candidates], we are not adversaries but compatriots in an historic struggle. The most important thing is the project must transcend for the generations to come.”
The pundits in the stands watching the morenista match play out have placed their bets on Sheinbaum as “the candidate”. She has long been considered AMLO’s favorite and has consolidated power in the appointments to the party’s national council. According to reporting by El Economista, two-thirds of the members are on team Claudia. In polls published by Reforma newspaper on September 2, if the election were held now, Sheinbaum would be the most competitive Morena candidate in three possible scenarios against the opposition, with 43% of the vote (Ebrard got 39% and López 27%).
This puts Sheinbaum on a promising path towards becoming the first female president of Mexico, after making history as Mexico City’s first Jewish and female mayor. She is also the first prominent political figure on the left who was never a member of the PRI. Sheinbaum’s political presence is far less gregarious than López Obrador’s, and while he projects a lack of artifice bordering on bumbling, she can appear stiff; “she has been shaping a metallic style of politics, precise, cool-headed in the face of difficult problems,” in the words of journalist Guillermo Osorno. Sheinbaum has a doctorate in energy engineering and is the daughter of two scientists, both second-generation Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe.
“We have a great responsibility because in this country, where machismo has characterized our history, being a woman mayor or congresswoman is carrying on the legacy of our mothers and grandmothers who fought for us,” said Sheinbaum in a speech at the inaugural forum of Ibero-amerian elected female politicians held last week in her city. Attendants cried “‘¡presidenta!” as they applauded her. Mexico has nine female governors today, the most in its history to date.
Even US ambassador Ken Salazar referred to Sheinbaum as “presidenta” during a joint press conference last week, which he quickly dismissed as a language slip-up, since he “does not get involved in Mexican politics”. The gaffe caused Sheinbaum to raise her eyebrows and smile.
Stay tuned for follow-up on the “corcholatas” and on the other women who may oppose Morena in the 2024 election.