Claudia Sheinbaum gestures to supporters after being declared the winner of the presidential election according to the INE electoral institute's rapid sample count, in the Zocalo plaza in Mexico City, Mexico June 3, 2024. / Photo: Reuters

By William A. Booth

Mexican voters have spoken with a resounding voice, electing Claudia Sheinbaum as the country's first-ever female president, with more than double the vote share of her nearest rival, Xóchitl Gálvez.

Amidst a worrying period of violence towards both candidates and voters - at least 34 candidates were killed this election season - it is important to remember that Mexico has still undertaken a monumental exercise in democracy.

An electorate of around 60 million people have expressed their preference, something to be celebrated. It appears that both Sheinbaum, of Morena, Mexico's governing political party, and her coalition have significantly outperformed polls.

In Mexico City, for instance, Clara Brugada has won for mayor by around a 10 percent margin, even though commentators had been convinced it would be too close to call. It is fitting that as Mexico elects its first female president, the most important sub-national leader will be another woman.

Status quo?

She has indicated that she will continue to steer the political path established by former President Andres Manuel López Obrador (aka AMLO) – after all, this was as much a vote for the party as for the candidate.

And this is a party with concrete achievements over the last six years: a notable reduction in inequality achieved during a period of underwhelming economic growth (which alone makes it very unusual in Latin America); a meaningful expansion of pensions; and perhaps most obviously, the doubling of the minimum wage.

Despite the claims of the opposition, this election was not about communism or class warfare, as least as we know it.

Sheinbaum's victory speech was conciliatory. Though she acknowledged vigorous opposition from some sectors of society, she brought a message of "peace and harmony" and a promise to continue the journey towards a "fair and prosperous Mexico."

In a global context, the New York Times called Sheinbaum's victory an instance in which "populism is ascendent." However, populism is much more a style of politics than an ideology, and Sheinbaum is no AMLO in that regard.

She is fairly serious, much less confrontational than her predecessor, and projects reliability, balance and diligence. These are hardly the archetypes of populism.

Here, I think, we see that populism is being confused with popularity. There are arguments to be made about the concentration of power, and whether a supermajority increases the likelihood that the next Morena government will disregard the opposition.

Equally, though, Sheinbaum can point to her enormous mandate and quite reasonably invoke the will of the people. I would expect some of the rambunctious pugilism so beloved of López Obrador and his most devoted supporters to be dialled down considerably.

Perhaps too some of the natural warmth and connection he found with the electorate; despite the opprobrium of many among the elite and middling sorts, AMLO is genuinely loved by many.

One persistent criticism of AMLO has been the militarisation of the public sphere; this will not, as things stand, change much.

Another has been his embrace of hydrocarbons to guarantee Mexico's sovereignty.

Regardless of the ethics or efficacy of such an approach, this is the area where many see Sheinbaum as likely to strike out on her own path. As a climate scientist, she is painfully aware of what climate change will bring to Mexico, as well as the global south more broadly.

Her plans for Pemex, the lumbering – but patrimonially fundamental - state oil company are ambitious. Rather than the sell-off proposed by the opposition, Sheinbaum wants to oversee a pivot to green energy which benefits the state and the wider population.

Foreign relations

It is harder to know what Morena's victory might mean for Mexican foreign relations. Under López Obrador, Mexico's focus was largely turned inward, and given some of the political battles ahead – particularly if constitutional amendments are planned – this is likely to continue.

However, Sheinbaum may seek to place Mexico within broader regional conversations and alliances. It has been a good 75 years since Mexico last saw itself (at least at a governmental level) as more of a Latin American than a North American country.

Even López Obrador was fairly reticent when it came to regional initiatives. Towards the end of his presidency, though, he joined Colombia and Chile in opposing Israel's war on Gaza. If domestic stability can offer Sheinbaum some space to operate, it would be to Mexico and the rest of Latin America's mutual advantage.

Guatemala, Brazil, Colombia and Chile (among others) are all within Mexico's political ballpark, and in the face of an organised and somewhat millenarian far right, some regional allies would be very beneficial.

This brings us to the relationship with the United States, where much depends on the outcome of the November election. AMLO was not cowed by Trump, but nor did he particularly push back on migration policy.

However, Trump – being the racist, sexist bore he is – may not wish to deal with Sheinbaum on such an equal footing. Immigration has so pervaded the political sphere of the "Colossus of the North" that Biden may act in a functionally similar manner.

Latin America generates around 7 percent of global GDP, but I doubt it occupies even 1 percent of global news bandwidth. Between them, Brazil and Mexico are economically equivalent to India. Were Latin America to begin to act in concert - and Mexico is a crucial component here - the new, multipolar reality would be an opportunity for the region, as opposed to yet another obstacle.

Dr. William A. Booth is a Lecturer in Latin American History at University College London. He is currently finishing a book on the left in Latin America during the early Cold War. These are personal views and do not reflect the views of the university or of his department.

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