On June 2, 2024, two women will fight for the presidency of Mexico. Claudia Sheinbaum, the former mayor of the capital, has won the primaries held by Morena, the left-wing party that is currently in government. Just days earlier, Xóchitl Gálvez had emerged victorious from a similar process within the opposition Broad Front for Mexico, a political alliance that brings together diverse political groups: the conservative National Action Party (PAN), which has a majority presence in the coalition, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is going through a deep existential crisis, and the small progressive Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
And so, even though the elections are almost a year away, the country where folklore extols macho virtues is already thinking that it will be a woman who takes charge of its destiny in the next six-year term.
Outside of these two political blocs, there is only a third group of any relevance, the Citizen Movement, but it lacks the capacity to win on its own and has not yet decided whether to run by itself or join the opposition coalition, and this kind of hesitation has plunged the party into a severe crisis before even getting off the ground. Driven by the popularity of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the most charismatic president in recent decades, Morena has the upper hand in the polls, but the possible departure of Marcelo Ebrard, who served as foreign secretary until June and is unhappy with the process that gave him second spot at the primaries, could subtract votes for the presidency and seats in the legislative branch, which will be voted upon on the same day. Meanwhile, the opposition keeps courting the third party, aware that only the sum of all opposition forces would allow them to win the National Palace.
It is still too early to predict the result, so Mexico is for now concentrating on the upcoming battle between Sheinbaum, 61, and Gálvez, 60. The candidates couldn’t be more different. The Morena representative is a scientist by trade, and comes across as earnest, measured and reserved. Gálvez, a senator for PAN, is a force of nature, a funny, outspoken and daring tech entrepreneur who is so self-confident that she once showed up in the Senate dressed as a dinosaur; at other times she has chained herself to tables and chairs in political protest, and surrounded herself with cameras as she knocked on the door of the National Palace. Gálvez is the polar opposite of the former mayor, who does not usually lose her cool and is extremely careful in her public speeches. There was a memorable day during the campaign when Sheinbaum lost her temper with a reporter, a fact that was notable because no one is used to it. Claudia is shy, Xóchitl is cheeky. At the polls, the former could profit from her institutional image; the latter has enjoyed unexpected popularity in just a few weeks thanks to her fresh approach. And since both of them like to wear elaborate traditional Mexican outfits, the campaign is set to be a colorful one.
In a country as traditionally patriarchal as Mexico, it is no small achievement to have two women in the running to become president. The polls point to Mexico seating a woman in the powerful presidential chair for the first time in its history, thus joining a club to which many Western countries are far from belonging. When Sheinbaum was first mentioned by political pundits as the person who could succeed López Obrador, the first question from journalists was: Is Mexico ready to have a female president? Mexican history has some renowned heroines to draw upon, including “Adelita” revolutionaries and Mother Courage types, but positions of power have always fallen to men, or at least that was the case until this political term, during which forward-looking policies introduced gender parity. The cabinets of López Obrador, which are not exactly distinguished by their feminism, have nevertheless had their fair share of women of high professional and political reputation, although these women have not always been able to comfortably express their opinions. Whether the presence of a woman at the top of the chain of command will definitively change things is still one of the many unknowns that are opening up in this new period.
López Obrador, according to a majority of public opinion, has been the chief supporter of Claudia Sheinbaum. The candidate has not veered from the doctrine of the party and its president. Neither have the other candidates to succeed him, but she has been saddled with the image of blind obedience and discipline before the boss. “If I were a man, they wouldn’t say that about the favorite,” she has often protested. The Morena candidate comes from a wealthy and enlightened middle class of Jewish descent. She has a PhD in physics from Mexico’s UNAM university, completed her studies in the United States and has a brilliant and extensive resume. In 2007, she participated in the UN Group of Experts on Climate Change, an initiative that received the Nobel Peace Prize. The former mayor already knows what it is to govern a city of nine million people surrounded by a large periphery that is mostly managed from the capital. In this capacity she has shown her educational achievements in mobility and in the management of the Covid pandemic, with greater success than her colleagues in the federal government.
The opposition leader has also had to defend her status as a free and independent woman. “No one has nominated me,” she replied to López Obrador to combat his accusations that the business community was behind her candidacy. She even took him before the electoral court that settles cases of political gender violence. Despite representing a conservative party, the senator has positioned herself on the side of great feminist causes, such as the right to abortion. She had a violent and abusive father, according to her own account, and one of her sisters is in jail over a kidnapping case. She raised her nieces, now engineers. She spent her childhood in her hometown of Tepatepec, and is very familiar with the working classes. Her path was not free of difficulties, but these days she is an engineer and owner of a technology company for smart buildings. There are those who say that she is more left-wing than right-wing, although her opponent, Sheinbaum, undoubtedly places her on the right. In any case, Gálvez strives to show a diverse profile that does not fully align with any of the parties she represents. She needs them as a platform, but knows that both the PAN and the PRI are very damaged by their political past of corruption. “Let me be,” has been her message to them.
It’s easy to guess that in this race both women will have to combat sexist comments and ancestral attitudes, but it will help that they are both women. If everything follows the current script, and that is a lot to expect in politics, it is “time for women in Mexico,” as Sheinbaum says. Whoever comes to power will have to hold tight to the reins of a country that continues to lead poverty and violence statistics, a combination that results in 100,000 deaths a year. Who wants to be president with that scenario? Gálvez once settled the issue: “There’s no other way to say it; it takes ovaries.”
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