Mexico Ruling Party Picks Presidential Candidate: What to Watch

Mexico’s ruling party will unveil its candidate to fight for the country’s presidency on Wednesday, a key step in the process to elect the successor to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador next year.

(Bloomberg) — Mexico’s ruling party will unveil its candidate to fight for the country’s presidency on Wednesday, a key step in the process to elect the successor to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador next year.

The ruling coalition, led by Lopez Obrador’s Morena party, is choosing between a slate of six candidates with energy engineer and former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, 61, seen as the frontrunner and the president’s favorite.

Whoever is chosen will go up against Senator Xochitl Galvez, who is representing a coalition of three opposition parties including the business-friendly PAN and the PRI, which governed Mexico for most of the 20th century. With an informal communication style and a self-made businesswoman aura, Galvez has shaken a race that has always seemed to be Morena’s to lose.

At stake is not only the destiny of a $1.7 trillion economy — Latin America’s second largest and the biggest trading partner of the US — but also the political legacy of Lopez Obrador, who in his five years in power sought to reshape Mexico’s public life around his nationalist, statist view.

AMLO, as the president is popularly known, is not eligible to run for a second term. 

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

The June 2 general election will therefore be a choice between the continuity of AMLO’s policies — including universal-style social programs, an energy sector dominated by state-owned companies and government austerity — and an opposition that will try to harness part of the population’s discontent with the administration’s shortcomings, such as high levels of insecurity and poor public services.

Here’s what to expect:

Ruling Coalition

Sheinbaum’s main challenger is former Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, 63, a career politician who’s among the most business-friendly figures within AMLO’s leftist party. Other presidential hopefuls include the one-time Interior Minister Adan Augusto Lopez, who was seen as a possible dark-horse candidate earlier in the race; former senate majority leader Ricardo Monreal; and two candidates from allied parties, Gerardo Fernandez Noroña and Manuel Velasco.

Despite electoral rules preventing formal campaigns at this stage, participants have been touring the country in past months to improve their standings and rally support. That hasn’t changed the fact Sheinbaum remains ahead in polls and Ebrard has not managed to close the gap, increasing the perception that she has the momentum.

Morena, which was founded just 12 years ago and has consistently followed AMLO’s directives, established a convoluted set of rules to decide on its candidate while minimizing the possibility of internal infighting. Candidates were asked not to debate proposals among themselves to avoid giving arguments to the party’s rivals, according to AMLO.

The candidate will be decided by a poll of over 12,000 people across Mexico taken in recent days instead of through a regular primary election. Whoever comes on top of the survey will lead the party into the election.

Read More: Mexico Ruling Party to Poll 12,500 to Pick Presidential Nominee

Opposition’s Choice

Despite being part of the discredited political establishment in the eyes of many Mexicans, the PAN and PRI have joined forces in the coalition known as the Frente Amplio Por Mexico, an attempt to revive their fortunes in the face of AMLO’s popularity and Morena’s electoral strength. The parties reacted quickly to Morena’s early candidacy process by agreeing in late June on a common strategy, which led to Galvez’s selection as presidential candidate in late August.

Senator Galvez, 60, who has garnered attention through high-profile stuns such as dressing as a masked traditional Lucha Libre wrestler, belongs to the PAN, which already governed Mexico between 2000 and 2012 under the presidencies of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. 

Her harsh criticism of AMLO triggered interest from the portion of the population who is fed up with what they say is his heavy-handed rule of the country. She beat out a wide slate of more standard candidates to win the nomination, representing a change in the traditionally stuffy style of the coalition’s members.

Wild Card

The wild card in the race will be the Citizens’ Movement, a small but influential party that governs Nuevo Leon and Jalisco, two of the country’s richest states. The party’s leader, Dante Delgado, has made clear that the existing political parties are in part to blame for Mexico’s problems, though a faction of his group wants to throw its support behind Galvez. 

If the party finally decides to have its own presidential candidate, he or she could siphon votes away from the two leading coalitions, though it’s not clear yet whom that would affect most and by how much that might change in the race.

One option is Samuel Garcia, 35, the slick governor of Nuevo Leon, who made a name for himself through his chatty social media presence and by helping get Tesla Inc. to the state. Others include the mayor of Monterrey, Luis Donaldo Colosio, whose father was murdered when he himself was a presidential candidate in 1994, though he has denied interest to jump into the race, and Patricia Mercado, a senator from Sonora who made one prior failed bid for the presidency.

What Polls Say

AMLO’s huge popularity — around 60% after five years of governing — suggests whoever is his party’s candidate has a good change of winning the presidency, retaining power for another six years.

In a recent poll by El Financiero newspaper, a match-up between Sheinbaum and Galvez saw the ruling party representative obtaining 46% of the vote compared to 37% for the opposition figure. Ebrard would also come on top against the opposition in case he wins the official nomination.

Another poll by Reforma done in mid-August shows an even wider lead for the ruling party candidates.

Race Ahead 

The June vote will include the election of all of Mexico’s 128 senators and all the 500 members of the lower house of Congress, plus the choice of nine state governors including Mexico City’s, one of the most prominent political jobs in the country. That means that the balance of power may change not only at the highest levels of government, but across the states where AMLO has spent years building local networks to support his mission and policies.

The electoral institute, which has had a tense relationship with the president following his efforts to try to cut its staff and challenge its authority, estimates that about 98 million Mexicans will be eligible to vote.

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