The ruling party described this ceremony as a handover ceremony. But the opposition castigated it as a “passing of the scepter”.
Constitutionally barred from running for office, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sought last month to show, in a very public manner, that presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum had his blessing. He therefore handed over the baton to his hoped-for successor, during a ceremony in front of a restaurant in Mexico City, not far from the National Palace, seat of the country’s executive power.
Sheinbaum, the 61-year-old former mayor of Mexico City and longtime political ally of Lopez Obrador, hit all the right notes in thanking him. Accepting the baton with the presidential nomination of the left-wing Morena party, Sheinbaum said she would take “full responsibility for continuing the course marked by our people, that of the transformation initiated by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.”
When Mexicans go to the polls next June, they will choose between two women for president – a first in the country’s history. Just four days before Morena nominated Sheinbaum, Mexico’s opposition Broad Front coalition chose another formidable candidate, former senator Xochitl Gálvez of the conservative PAN party.
This is not the first time Mexico has seen women run for president; before Sheinbaum and Gálvez, there were six other women presidential candidates. But with both major political parties nominating women, this is the first time it has all but been a given that starting in December 2024, Mexico, a country once known for its machismo, will be led by a woman.
Yet some critics say the shadow of outgoing Lopez Obrador hangs over the competition.
Meet the Candidates: Sheinbaum and Galvez
Gálvez’s rise in Mexican politics was meteoric; This spring, she declared that she was not even the favorite of the PRI, PAN and PRD, the parties that now form the Broad Front coalition. It was a public spat with Lopez Obrador himself – who regularly attacked her as a “wimp”, a “puppet” and an “employee of the oligarchy” during press conferences – that led to her finally propelled into the spotlight.
In June, Gálvez went viral when she attempted to enter the National Palace with a court order granting her the right to respond to the president, after successfully suing López Obrador. “It’s not a spectacle,” she told reporters at the gates of the National Palace. “The law is the law, period.”
The daughter of an indigenous father and a mixed-race mother, Gálvez served as the top indigenous affairs official under former President Vicente Fox before becoming a senator. Unfiltered and irreverent, she described herself in an interview with CNN en Español as “an all-terrain, 4-by-4 kind of woman.”
In some ways it seems progressive. Gálvez has advocated to the Mexican Congress for the rights and welfare of indigenous groups and Afro-Mexicans and, at a regional forum earlier this year in Monterrey, said oil-rich Mexico should turn to renewable energies. “We didn’t do it because we are fools,” Gálvez said unapologetically.
She also said the left-wing Lopez Obrador party’s pensions for all elderly people should be maintained and proposes what she calls a “universal social protection system” consisting of social programs for much of the middle and lower classes.
But when it comes to security and the fight against organized crime, Gálvez’s three-pronged plan is muscular, based on what she describes as “intelligence, heart and toughness”: strengthening the police local and national and provide access to intelligence, defend and protect victims, and respect the rule of law.
Macario Schettino, a political analyst and professor of social sciences at ITESM, a renowned Mexican university, calls Gálvez’s political momentum impressive, considering that only a few months ago she was not even considered a candidate with a national profile. “It has only just started to establish itself in political terms and it has already seen great growth. Many people in Mexico still don’t know about it. She will gain … popularity,” Schettino said, “while Claudia Sheinbaum can no longer move from where she is because she is already known to most Mexicans.”
Sheinbaum, a physicist with a doctorate in environmental engineering, would also be the first president of Jewish descent if she wins, although she rarely speaks publicly about her personal background and has governed as a left-wing secularist.
She is currently leading in most polls and will be a formidable opponent to beat. Not only does Sheinbaum have the full support of the ruling party, but she was also long in the spotlight as mayor of Mexico’s most important city for the past five years, until she resigned in June to run to the presidency.
In politics, Sheinbaum has pledged to continue many of Lopez Obrador’s policies and programs, including a pension for all seniors, scholarships for more than 12 million students, and free fertilizer for small farm owners. But the high-profile former mayor rejects criticism of her close political alignment with the president. “Of course we are not a copy (of the president),” she said in July.
However, she does not hesitate to praise the principles they share: “For the good of all, let us give priority to the poor. There cannot be a rich government if the people are poor. Power is only a virtue when it is used in the service of the people,” Sheinbaum said, echoing the same campaign slogans Lopez Obrador has used for years.
Schettino believes the popular Lopez Obrador sees Sheinbaum as his extension of power. He points to the roots of their Morena party in the authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party that governed Mexico for more than seven decades until 2000, known as “The Dinosaur,” and in the Democratic Revolution Party that is from.
In 2012, Lopez Obrador created Morena as a political party. Schettino now describes the party as a “tyrannosaurus” under the influence of Lopez Obrador – representing what he says is the current leader’s desire for a successor who closely follows his own agenda. “President López Obrador, a dinosaur who is not only a dinosaur, but also has the vocation of a tyrant. He doesn’t want to go there. He wants to stay in power,” Schettino said.
“I believe he built Claudia’s candidacy,” Schettino said.
López Obrador, however, has repeatedly rejected accusations of authoritarian tendencies or preference for a candidate he can control. Earlier this year, Lopez Obrador denied having favorites among his party’s candidates or lobbying for one candidate or another behind the scenes.
He also said he was going to “completely retire” after his six-year term ends. “I am retiring, I will no longer participate in any public events, of course. I will not accept any position, I do not want to be anyone’s advisor and even less act as a leader. I’m not going to have relationships with politicians. “I’m not going to talk about politics,” the president awning press in February.