Mexico Poised to Elect 1st Female Leader After AMLO Party Pick

(Bloomberg) -- Mexico’s ruling Morena party picked Claudia Sheinbaum, the former mayor of Mexico City, as its candidate to succeed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, seeking to retain power in next year’s general elections.

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A close ally of the president seen as his preferred heir, Sheinbaum beat out five other candidates from the party’s coalition in a nationwide poll of over 12,000 voters to determine the nominee. Even if an expected choice, she is now in position to benefit from Lopez Obrador’s high popularity to launch her presidential campaign ahead of the June 2 vote, where she appears as the early frontrunner.

The polls commissioned by Morena showed that Sheinbaum was first in five surveys with support from 36% to 41% depending on the poll, said party coordinator Alfonso Durazo. Marcelo Ebrard, who was foreign minister until earlier this year, was second-place finisher with support ranging from 25% to 26%. Ebrard earlier Wednesday said the process to pick the nominee was tainted and needs to be redone, casting doubt on how the process would advance.

“There was no incident that affected the final result,” Durazo said. “The process itself is a historic contribution to the democratic advancement of our country.”

The decision is final, he added. Sheinbaum and four other contenders went up on the stage to recognize the results. Ebrard, who did not attend the closing event, said earlier that he’s weighing next steps in the presidential race, without giving details.

Read More: AMLO’s Legacy Faces a Challenge Just as the World Shifts His Way

Sheinbaum, 61, has a long career as a Mexico City official alongside AMLO, as the president is known. She was first environmental secretary when Lopez Obrador ran the country’s capital early this century and oversaw one of Mexico City’s big southern districts before becoming mayor herself in 2018. She is betting the limelight of running Mexico’s biggest city — together with AMLO’s 60% approval rating after five years in power — could pave her way to the presidency.

“The work we’ve been carrying out, all the mobilizations, have strengthened our movement,” she said in the event. “Tomorrow, the electoral process begins. There’s no time to lose.”

She thanked the four contenders who attended the event, but gave a subtle nod to Ebrard, saying “unity is key and the doors are always open.”

“We’re going to win in 2024!” she added.

Female President

With Wednesday’s announcement, Mexico’s presidential race will pit two women against one another, all but guaranteeing the country will have its first female leader next year. The opposition coalition Frente Amplio por Mexico, which includes the three main parties that dominated Mexican politics before Morena’s rise to power, earlier this month chose the outspoken senator Xochitl Galvez as its candidate.

Both coalitions have avoided presenting their representatives as official candidates for the moment given Mexico’s electoral law prevents the start of the official campaigning period until March.

Sheinbaum, who leads Galvez by 17 percentage points in a recent poll by Reforma newspaper, has presented herself as the continuity candidate, repeating almost word-for-word AMLO’s main pledges including stripping the country of corruption, increasing cash transfers to sectors of the population in need of support and improving Mexico’s energy sovereignty.

She is expected to benefit from Mexico’s economic rebound and replicate many of the measures set forth by Lopez Obrador if she is elected, though she has yet to release a platform specifying any new proposals on key issues.

“She’s the candidate who is closest to the president,” said Carlos Perez Ricart, an international relations professor at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City, who sees Sheinbaum winning next year’s election. “The president’s support is simply massive, and he has in favor of him the party structure, the governors, and public opinion.”

Read More: AMLO’s Potential Heir Wants to Succeed Where Even He Failed

Galvez, in the meantime, is trying to capture part of the electorate’s discontent with AMLO’s policy failures, including high levels of insecurity and poor public services. Her background as a successful businesswoman coming from an impoverished town in central Mexico who’s not afraid to talk to the powerful — she has repeatedly attacked AMLO — will be an asset in a race that initially appears in favor of Morena’s electoral machinery.

Read More: Xochitl Galvez to Fight AMLO’s Party for Mexico Presidency

On top of president, Mexicans next year will also pick all Congress’ 128 senators and 500 lower house representatives, along with nine state governors including Mexico City’s, one of the nation’s most prominent political jobs and often a springboard for presidential hopefuls.

--With assistance from Max de Haldevang, Cyntia Barrera Diaz and Alex Vasquez.

(Updates third paragraph with polling data, comments from Sheinbaum)

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