Mexico’s ruling party on Wednesday appointed former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum as its presidential candidate for 2024, all but guaranteeing that the country’s next leader will be the first woman to hold the office.
Sheinbaum is running against Sen. Xóchitl Gálvez, whose surprise entry into the opposition primaries galvanized and united a motley group of civil society organizations and political parties that were once bitter rivals.
Gálvez on Sunday was formally appointed as the opposition’s unity candidate in a massive rally at Mexico City’s “angel of independence,” a central monument that’s often served as an alternate focal point to the officialist symbolism of the city’s main square and National Palace.
The ruling party, Morena, was built around the figure of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and shook the Mexican political system with a landslide takeover of the executive and legislative branches in 2018.
López Obrador, who is constitutionally barred from seeking reelection, is also legally constrained from influencing the electoral process, but he has made his presence felt in both the Morena and opposition primaries.
Morena’s primary was built around a “public consult” – a poll – with results announced late Wednesday.
The party’s two major contenders were Sheinbaum and former Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, though Sheinbaum was generally perceived as López Obrador’s favorite, with Ebrard denouncing what he called an uneven playing field throughout the process.
Though López Obrador was careful not to explicitly weigh in on the Morena primary, which also included a few minor candidates, two of his brothers were key players, one endorsing Sheinbaum and the other Ebrard.
López Obrador has often relied on Morena’s public polling structure to determine high-level decisions, such as the construction of an airport or the closure of a U.S.-owned beer plant. In every case, the polls have yielded the result López Obrador is known to support.
Ebrard’s supporters accused Sheinbaum of using social programs to illicitly bolster her campaign, as well as of under-reporting exorbitant campaign spending.
Ebrard on Wednesday called for a re-do of Morena’s presidential polls before the result was announced, and he accused the party of using police to prevent his supporters from personally observing the ballot count.
On Wednesday, Gálvez reacted to the split in Morena by cheering on Ebrard from the Senate, telling him to “hold on.”
“It’s not convenient for me: I’m going to get my own. I’m going to go to the street, to wherever I need to get. I’m not thinking about who breaks [off], who is divided,” said Gálvez, according to local papers.
“I just saw that Marcelo said the process had to be re-done and that’s why I cheered him on.”
Ebrard said late Wednesday he would announce his future plans on Monday; third-party and independent bids are widely seen as long shots.
Though Ebrard lambasted party leaders, he has been careful not to single out the president as putting his thumb on the scale.
López Obrador was, however, instrumental in the opposition’s internal process.
In 2022, he accused Gálvez, a senator, of giving a speech in opposition to government cash transfers to alleviate poverty.
Gálvez, at the time seen as a leading contender to run for mayor of Mexico City, called out the president, who she said distorted her speech, in which she said she supported the cash transfers but argued they were ineffective without educational programs.
In June, Gálvez showed up at the doors of the National Palace, the seat of government where López Obrador lives and works, and demanded a right of reply during the president’s daily hours-long broadcast.
The doors to the National Palace were shut in her face, Gálvez made a series of viral videos about the issue and her campaign took off.
For weeks, López Obrador harangued Gálvez at his daily briefings, at one point even violating a court-imposed gag order.
Gálvez capitalized on the presidential spotlight, jumping into the previously lackluster opposition presidential primary.
The opposition primary field quickly dwindled after Gálvez entered the race, until only she and Sen. Beatriz Paredes – a seasoned political operator – were left days ahead of a final poll.
Amid public polling showing a clear advantage for Gálvez and the potential for Morena activists to attempt to disrupt the final opposition poll, Paredes declined in favor of Gálvez.
The opposition coalition was formed as a last-ditch effort by older parties to compete with Morena’s powerful political operation, based on López Obrador’s popularity and his government’s penchant for on-the-fly electoral reforms.
Though the courts limited how far López Obrador was able to take his reforms, Gálvez and the opposition still face an uphill battle against Morena’s political machinery.
The three parties in the opposition alliance had at one point set their goals for 2024 at keeping Morena from running the table to win a constitutional majority, but now face the challenge of mounting a competitive run toward the June 2 elections.
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