News | Political Parties / Election Analyses - Mexico / Central America / Cuba Left-Wing Landslide in Mexico

After Claudia Sheinbaum’s electoral victory, a woman is set to govern the country for the first time



Gerold Schmidt,

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo thanks her supporters after winning the Mexican presidential election, 3 June 2024. Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Press Wire

Election polls got it right this time: Claudia Sheinbaum, former mayor of Mexico City and candidate for the ruling centre-left party National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), decisively won the presidential election on 2 June. Sheinbaum, who will succeed the charismatic President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on 1 October 2024, will be the first woman to govern the country. Elected for six years, Sheinbaum, unlike her predecessor, could even preside over a two-thirds majority in Congress.

Gerold Schmidt directs the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Mexico City Office.

Although not all votes had been counted by Monday evening German time, Sheinbaum is likely to end up with around 60 percent of the vote. Xóchitl Gálvez, her most important opponent, comes in at just 28 percent. Gálvez, candidate for the conservative and liberal economic coalition, which also incorporates the National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), announced her supposed victory immediately after the polls closed. Of the 60 percent of the almost 100 million Mexicans who exercised their right to vote, a clear majority took a different view.

Sheinbaum achieved a true landslide victory particularly in the poorer states in the south of the country. But even in the richer and more conservative north, she was ahead of her rival nearly everywhere. MORENA’s results are rounded off by their narrow but clear victory in Mexico City’s mayoral election. At the expense of their federal election campaign, the opposition had put all their energy over the last few weeks into preventing the candidate from Sheinbaum’s party, feminist and explicitly left-wing mayoral candidate Clara Brugada, from winning. Brugada is a nightmare to parts of the middle and upper classes, as she draws on the diverse popular movements of the metropolis.

The newly elected president’s governing power will depend heavily on the final majority in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. In an alliance with MORENA’s junior partners from the Labor Party (PT) and the Mexican Green Party (PVEM), Sheinbaum has a two-thirds majority in the Chamber of Deputies according to the latest count; whether this will be possible in the Senate as well is still up in the air. If the governing coalition wins a two-thirds majority in both chambers, it will be able to push through constitutional amendments without negotiating with the opposition. If not, the social democratic opposition party Citizens’ Movement (MC) would probably play a key role in passing far-reaching reforms.

Claudia Sheinbaum essentially wants to continue the policies of her predecessor. However, she faces a number of challenges and difficult decisions.

The presidential election and the election in the capital have pushed the simultaneous gubernatorial elections in eight states into the background. But MORENA made gains in those elections as well. Just ten years after its founding, the party has become the country’s unmistakably dominant political force.

The clarity of this election result, however, also harbours the potential for deception. For one thing, many people likely saw their vote as a vote against the opposition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez, far from impressive with her showy superficiality, and not as an enthusiastic “yes” to the austere Claudia Sheinbaum. In addition, the election was a referendum on sitting president López Obrador. His campaign slogan was “The poor first”, and his government’s social programmes have indeed reached a large proportion of the marginalized population. After a series of neoliberal-oriented PRI and PAN governments, these segments of the population finally felt that they were being seen and taken seriously again.

From Social Programmes to the Military

Claudia Sheinbaum essentially wants to continue the policies of her predecessor. However, she faces a number of challenges and difficult decisions. In concrete terms, continuity in social policy means continuing and expanding existing social programmes for lower income groups, yet it is questionable whether there will be sufficient money. Perhaps the only thing that could generate sufficient revenue would be a radical tax reform with highly progressive tax rates, which would siphon off part of the wealth of the elites. To achieve this, Sheinbaum would have to enter into open conflict with the Mexican economy; whether she is willing to do so remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however: if she disappoints the hopes of the poor segments of the population for more social justice, she could quickly lose their support.

Despite the AMLO government’s (highly charitable) social programmes, and its increase of the minimum wage by 110 percent in real terms, extreme poverty in Mexico has remained virtually unchanged at around 7 percent. Income poverty, on the other hand, has fallen significantly, from just under 50 percent to 43.5 percent. Yet this means that 56 million Mexicans are still unable to live on their income from work alone. The AMLO government did not achieve a structural change in Mexico’s often exploitative working conditions during his term from 2018 to 2024.

The enormous increase in the influence of the Mexican military in a wide range of civilian areas under AMLO is a difficult legacy. From the controversial Tren Maya on the Yucatán Peninsula to airports, ports, and its own airline, to the “Interoceanic Corridor” infrastructure and transportation project (a train line linking the Atlantic and Pacific coasts) and the construction of branch offices of the new state-owned “Bank of Welfare” — the army is involved everywhere, sometimes in a supervisory role, sometimes as the direct operator.

The National Guard created under the incumbent president is effectively an extension of the military. AMLO has always cited discipline and efficiency as arguments for his great trust in the military. Driving back the influence of the military in the short term seems nearly impossible. Holding the military accountable for their suspected involvement in crimes such as the disappearance of the 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa almost ten years ago will likely prove even more difficult. López Obrador has already failed there.

Drug Cartels, Human Rights, and Energy Policy

The human rights situation in Mexico has barely improved in most regions. Even under AMLO, more than 30,000 people have been murdered every year. The murders are mainly linked to conflicts between drug cartels and other forms of organized crime. Many human rights defenders, environmentalists, journalists, small-scale farmers, and indigenous local leaders have been killed; countless others must fear for their lives on a daily basis. Around 100,000 people are considered “disappeared” in Mexico. Sheinbaum will have to show us whether she is more sensitive to the issue than López Obrador, for even if the attacks on the victims do not originate from the state itself, the government has been unwilling or unable to offer sufficient protection to those in jeopardy in recent years. And it is difficult to see how the power of the drug cartels could be broken, or even contained.

With her election victory, Claudia Sheinbaum has put the conservative opposition in its place for the time being.

At first glance, energy policy looks like an easier task for the new government. Sheinbaum is a recognized scientist with a doctorate in energy technology and physics, and is most likely to succeed in setting her own priorities in environmental and energy policy. Her predecessor favoured fossil fuels and rescuing the state oil company, Pemex; Sheinbaum is more open-minded towards renewable energy. She has repeatedly emphasized, however, that such projects must be implemented in a socially responsible manner, for in the past, large-scale wind farms in particular have robbed people of their land rights. The electricity produced went to private companies, while local communities received no benefit from the renewable energy.

The issue of a just transition to renewable energy is closely linked to climate change, which is also becoming increasingly noticeable in Mexico. In the first half of 2024, the capital and many other parts of the country set heat records. Lack of rainfall is leading to historic lows in reservoirs, sharply declining harvests, and growing problems in supplying drinking water.

Difficult Relations with the US

And then there is Mexico’s geopolitical situation. Like her predecessor, the newly elected president will continue to focus on economic ties with the US and a relationship with its great northern neighbour that is as conflict-free as possible. Mexico is the most important trading partner of the US, ahead of China and Canada. As part of what is termed “nearshoring”, increasing numbers of US and other international corporations are currently relocating their production to northern Mexico. This promotes macroeconomic stability in the short and medium term; remittances from Mexicans living in the US to their families provide additional support to the local economy. However, the uncertain outcome of the US election in November of this year means political and economic uncertainty for Mexico’s future relations with its powerful northern neighbour.

The issue of migration, too, remains unresolved. Mexico is de facto playing the role of a detention centre for the US, but the country is reaching the limits of its capacity. The situation could escalate further under a Trump administration. So far, Sheinbaum has reacted cautiously to Donald Trump’s aggressive, threatening rhetoric against the predominantly Central American migrants. If he wins the election, however, she will hardly be able to avoid a confrontation.

The coming months will show whether Claudia Sheinbaum has the will to step out of her predecessor’s shadow. The composition of her Cabinet will provide the first clues as to whether her government will move towards the centre or venture a far-reaching social restructuring of Mexican society.

With her election victory, Claudia Sheinbaum has put the conservative opposition in its place for the time being. She has won a strong mandate. The exciting question over the months and years to come will be what she is able to do with it.

Translated by Anna Dinwoodie for Gegensatz Translation Collective.