MEXICO CITY — The former mayor of Mexico City will be the dominant ruling party’s presidential candidate, moving the country closer to electing its first female president next year.
The decision driven by polls of Morena party members means that Claudia Sheinbaum will run as the party’s candidate in the June 2024 election. Mexico’s constitution bars outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador from a second six-year term.
Morena national council president Alfonso Durazo said Sheinbaum beat former Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard by double figures in five party surveys.
Sheinbaum, the granddaughter of Bulgarian and Lithuanian Jewish migrants, is a close ally of the popular López Obrador and as Morena’s candidate she will enjoy a distinct advantage in June.
“I’m excited,” Sheinbaum said, thanking each of her competitors by name with the exception of Ebrard who was not present. “I feel very proud, very honored” to have been part of this movement since its inception.
Sheinbaum is a staunch supporter and confidant of López Obrador, a leftwing populist who enjoys an approval rating of more than 60 percent but is required by the constitution to leave office after a single six-year term.
“Sheinbaum is probably the greatest ally in the political history of Lopez Obrador,” said analyst Pablo Majluf.
A student leader in the 1980s, Sheinbaum served as Mexico City environment secretary when Lopez Obrador was mayor from 2000-2005.
She was a spokesperson for Lopez Obrador during his failed 2006 election bid, and served as Mexico City mayor herself from 2018 until earlier this year when she stepped down to run for president.
Last week, a broad opposition coalition selected female lawmaker Xóchitl Gálvez as its candidate.
Sheinbaum, 61, led Ebrard in recent polling and both had stepped down from their positions to campaign full time.
“Today democracy won,” Sheinbaum said in her speech, adding: “There will be a woman president of the republic!”
Durazo said “the result of this exercise is definitive,” adding that even though there were difficulties they didn’t affect the final result. He called on party members to close ranks behind Sheinbaum’s candidacy.
The other party candidates present at the announcement commended Sheinbaum. Ebrard was the only candidate who did not attend.
Hours before the announcement Wednesday, Ebrard complained of irregularities in the process, said it should be done over and accused his party of increasingly resembling the Institutional Revolutionary Party that ruled Mexico for 71 years, famously allowing each president to select his successor. He said he would decide Monday how to proceed.
Other party leaders seemed to respond indirectly to Ebrard’s criticisms, saying the internal party process was transparent and democratic.
Trained as an environmental scientist, Sheinbaum sits solidly on the left of the ideological spectrum. She frequently echoed López Obrador’s rants against the neoliberal economic policies of earlier Mexican presidents, blaming them for the country’s gaping inequality and high levels of violence.
López Obrador had said that he would let the party faithful decide its candidate.
Neither Sheinbaum nor Ebrard has the president’s charisma and easy connection with the party’s base, but she skillfully leveraged her position as the capital’s mayor, getting attention with free concerts from popular bands in the sprawling central square and promotion of López Obrador’s signature social programs, such as pensions for seniors and scholarships for students.
Thanks in large part to his popularity, Morena has expanded its control to 22 of Mexico’s 32 states and Sheinbaum is expected to have the advantage in the June 2 election.
Sheinbaum holds a PhD in engineering, served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won a shared Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, and pledges to commit Mexico to sustainability.
That commitment would appear to frequently put her in conflict with López Obrador. He built a massive new oil refinery, has propped up the state-owned petroleum company and gave advantages to dirtier state-owned energy producers. But if she had explicit criticisms, she kept them quiet.
“I believe in science,” she said in an interview with AP earlier this year. “I believe in technology to have a better life.” She has said that going forward most energy has to come from renewable sources.
One area where she did show more independence was taking more aggressive action in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the president downplayed the risks, Sheinbaum donned a protective face mask, shut down bars and nightclubs and pushed for more testing.
She overcame criticism of her handling of the capital’s sprawling subway system. In May 2021, an elevated section collapsed, causing 26 deaths and injuring nearly 100 people.
On Wednesday night, with shouts of “President! President!” echoing in the hall, Sheinbaum appeared to send a message to Ebrard without naming him.
“Unity is fundamental and the doors are always open, they are never going to close.”