Elections in Mexico

Blanca Alaníz, Ciudad y Commerce series, Digital photography, Mexico City, 2019.


Two candidates lead the race, highlighting the growing influence of women in Mexican politics

In the pulsating veins of Latin America, Mexico is heading towards an electoral process that promises not only to decide the country's immediate future, but also reverberations throughout the continent. This moment marked by the presidential election, of hundreds of deputies and thousands of regional politicians, is an invitation to reflect on critical issues such as representation, political violence and the emerging female force in the political sphere.

This scenario, marked both by hopes for advancement and by a legacy of frustrations with the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, reflects the complexity of Mexican political dynamics and their interconnection with broader issues in Latin American society.

The current administration faces criticism related to issues of national autonomy, migration and security, pointing to the need for “critical hope” on the part of the electorate. The candidacies of Cláudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez, respectively representing continuity and opposition to the current government, symbolize the different visions of the future for Mexico and bring to debate topics such as progressivism, gender parity, public security, respect for ancestral territories and combat the corruption.

With two female candidates leading the race and highlighting the growing influence of women in Mexican politics, this election not only highlights the importance of gender representation, but also ensures that, regardless of the outcome, Mexico's next leadership will be female.

In the context of shared challenges such as political instability, violence and social inequalities, the Mexican election stands out as an opportunity to reinforce the bonds of solidarity, cooperation and common aspirations between the states of the region. The rise of progressive leaders, capable of addressing issues of gender, human rights and social justice, could represent a significant step towards a Latin America that is more integrated and connected with the historical values ​​of its people, where each country can contribute and benefit of a collective vision of progress and solidarity.

In the recent Latin American panorama, we have seen remarkable triumphs of progressive initiatives, which have brought new hope to countries such as Colombia, Chile, Honduras and Guatemala. At the same time, experiences such as that of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador, Daniel Noboa in Ecuador and Javier Milei in Argentina have generated considerable concern.

The recent Mexican scenario

The Mexican political structure, since the election of Lázaro Cárdenas in 1934, is notably delineated by periods known as “sexennia”, which prohibit re-election. This arrangement is peculiar, especially considering the political turmoil often seen in other Latin American nations, marked by coups d'état and government disruptions. Since the 1940s, Mexican politics has been dominated by the activities of traditional parties, notably the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and the PAN (National Action Party), accompanied by other groupings that have joined the sphere of conventional politics.

Recently, after a challenging period under the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, representing the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), assumed the presidency on a platform of hopeful change, raising expectations of a substantial transformation in Mexican politics.

However, López Obrador's government has faced and continues to face criticism, mainly due to the expectation of a more autonomous stance in relation to the United States and a more assertive defense of the rights of Mexicans and Latin Americans, especially with regard to migration issues. Furthermore, the lack of effective actions against violence and the shocking normalization of femicides, a phenomenon not exclusive to Mexico, but equally disturbing in Brazil, highlights the urgency of addressing these issues. Notorious cases of violence against women, such as that in Ciudad Juárez, and the persistent problem of forced disappearances have not found a solution under the current administration, highlighting the need for profound changes.

Cláudia Sheinbaum was Secretary of the Environment during the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as head of government of the Federal District (administrative region of Mexico City), from 2000 to 2006. Between 2018 and the end of 2023, she was the head of government of the Federal District, coinciding with AMLO's period as president. Having a robust academic background and an extensive trajectory in the political sphere, Cláudia Sheinbaum symbolizes the perpetuation of the “Fourth Transformation”, a vision of change proposed for Mexico, despite the criticism faced during her administration.

Under his government, Mexico City has seen the worsening of critical issues such as a rise in femicides and persistent challenges related to public safety. Furthermore, issues linked to infrastructure and the transport system emerged as significant points of concern. The management of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, stood out as a period of intense testing, marked by crucial decisions in public health and the response to an unprecedented global health crisis. These aspects reflect the complex panorama of challenges that Cláudia Sheinbaum faced, illustrating the obstacles intrinsic to the leadership of one of the largest metropolises in the world. Her coalition includes MORENA, the Green Party and the Labor Party (PT), reflecting a mix of experience and traditional left-wing groups.

On the opposite side, Xóchitl Gálvez is a political figure associated with the PAN, although his trajectory shows a flexible and independent approach within the political spectrum. During the government of Vicente Fox, who was president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006, Xóchitl Gálvez played a significant role as Director General of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples. Characterized by a business profile with an emphasis on sustainability, it positions itself as an alternative on the political spectrum, receiving support from a coalition that unites the traditional PRI and PAN with the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

The latter, previously seen as a moderate and institutionalist force on the left, in the current context leans more explicitly towards the traditional right. In his campaign, he tries to distance himself from traditional political figures and uses an explicitly neoliberal discourse that focuses on partnerships with large corporations and markets.

Cultural elements of politics

Indeed, the history and culture of Mexico have a lot to teach us, especially when we delve deeply into their study. As a Brazilian who has a deep admiration for Mexico – the country where I lived between 2012 and 2013 for a year and a half –, I understand the richness of this bilateral relationship, especially now that we celebrate the year of partnership and friendship between Brazil and Mexico, with several events promoted by the respective embassies.

Understanding Mexico not just as a nation, but as a beacon for Latin America, is essential. Its geographic position, sharing borders with the United States, places it in a unique situation, facing particular challenges that differ from other Latin American countries, including issues such as corruption, drug trafficking and organized crime. These are aspects of a legacy that still persists, evidenced by the recurring problem of kidnappings and enforced disappearances, an issue that remains painfully relevant.

Recently, an event illustrated this reality: during a concert in the central square of Mexico City, renowned singer Julieta Venegas interrupted her performance to protest for the disappeared, reiterating the popular cry “We took them alive, we want them alive”. This act highlights the urgency of delving deeper into Mexican social issues that transcend the electoral sphere. Platforms like let's get uninformed and journalists like Carmen Aristegui have been fundamental in bringing us closer to and understanding the current social dynamics in Mexico, including structural machismo, which although it shares characteristics with other forms of patriarchy, has local peculiarities, such as “caciquismo”, a variant of coronelismo that permeates both the political and academic environment.

This traditional leadership, exercised by the “caciques”, reveals the depth of the customs and social norms that shape the country. Living in Mexico, it was possible to observe countless examples of this dynamic, which also manifests itself in popular culture, through the figure of the “Mexican male”, a stereotype promoted even by soap operas and music. This representation, previously accepted almost as part of national folklore, today faces severe criticism, as society recognizes its intrinsic connection with gender-based violence. This panorama challenges us to rethink and dialogue about cultural roots and the need for social evolution, reflecting on how these issues shape Mexican identity in the contemporary context.

Gender parity and political positions

Addressing the issue of female representation in politics is essential, especially as we observe the growing number of women holding political positions in Mexico. Continuous legislative reforms since 2018, within the framework of decades of social and feminist mobilizations, have contributed to strengthening the presence and influence of women in the Mexican political arena.

The 2008 electoral reform established gender quotas, requiring political parties to ensure that at least 40% of candidates for elected office were women. This was an important initial step towards more equitable political representation. In 2014, new political-electoral reforms strengthened quota requirements, converting them into more rigorous mechanisms for gender parity in candidacies.

These changes were solidified in article 41 of the Mexican Constitution, which began to require political parties to guarantee gender parity in the lists of candidates for Congress. The General Law on Electoral Institutions and Procedures (LEGIPE), through Law Number 422 published in May 2014, detailed the implementation of these measures, guiding how parties should meet this requirement.

An even more significant milestone was reached with the 2019 legal reforms, which modified 10 different laws, including the Mexican Constitution and the General Law on Electoral Institutions and Procedures. These reforms established mandatory gender parity across the board, expanding the requirement of 50% female representation not only for candidacies, but also for the composition of the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary powers at all levels of government – ​​federal, state and municipal.

These legislative steps are fundamental in Mexican politics and position the country as one of the world leaders in gender parity in the political sphere. From the notion of minimum quotas to the current parity, a long way has been covered. This reality contrasts profoundly with the Brazilian situation, where we are at least 200 years behind with the almost absolute predominance of men in large houses such as the Chamber of Deputies and the Federal Senate, which, not coincidentally, have assumed a profile and agendas of extreme right. It is also worth remembering the recent (and frustrated) campaigns for the appointment of a black minister for the recent vacancies opened in the Federal Supreme Court, where the female presence, instead of increasing, decreased.

In this context, Mexico's progress in relation to gender parity in government and institutions stands out as an inspiring example and a model to be followed, demonstrating the positive impact of assertive gender equality policies on the composition and functioning of spheres of power.

We are facing a crucial discussion about representation, however, the persistence of political violence against women in the political scenario cannot be ignored. When we address gender parity, it is essential to recognize that it should not be restricted to a formality. It is necessary to question the effective conditions that allow women to ascend to political positions. It is important to highlight that, in Latin America, women already play leadership roles in communities and families, but they face significant barriers within the scope of formal politics, often being marginalized by mechanisms of violence and patriarchal oppression.

History of political violence

Violence, especially in electoral contexts, has proven alarming. In recent years, a frightening number of candidates have been murdered during election campaigns in Mexico, including women, with drug trafficking and organized crime playing a central role in these attacks. Political violence has become a tool of intimidation and control, reflecting the deep interconnection between the state and criminal cartels. This scenario did not change significantly with the change of administration to a non-traditional president, such as López Obrador, indicating that political violence is rooted in the country's structures.

The audacity with which the cartels act, from kidnappings to demanding political positions and paying “tolls”, illustrates the serious challenge facing Mexican society. This reality even reaches indigenous communities, which, distrusting official authorities due to these intricate relationships, have formed their own community security forces. This situation highlights the urgent need to address both political violence and drug trafficking as fundamental obstacles to gender equality and democracy in Mexico, demanding solutions that go beyond formal parity policies and enter the realm of security, justice and human rights.

Reflecting on the history of violence associated with elections in Mexico, and considering the magnitude of the upcoming election - which will not only decide the presidency but also elect 628 deputies and thousands of politicians to regional positions -, the security of the electoral process emerges as a central concern . Recently, Cláudia Sheinbaum criticized statements by the President of Spain about electoral violence, proposing a more optimistic vision by describing the elections as a “festival of democracy”. Although it is premature to carry out detailed analyses, the presence of Cláudia Sheinbaum and Xochitl Gálvez in the dispute suggests the possibility of a renewal in the Mexican political-electoral scenario, which could represent a significant change and support ongoing processes in other countries, including Brazil. .

However, political violence in Mexico, a reality that precedes even the Mexican Revolution, with several important political figures being murdered throughout history, is a phenomenon that is not limited to this country, extending throughout Latin America, as evidenced by recent violent events in Ecuador, Haiti and El Salvador.

In this context, Cláudia Sheinbaum's proposals, focused on progressive flags and social transformation, contrast with her opponent's approach, which prioritizes public security and a more conservative stance, leaning towards strengthening security forces and a policy of zero tolerance against crime.

As the June 2 elections approach, these questions of violence and the political responses to it become even more pertinent. There is still time for the electoral process to develop, and it is likely that the debate on security and political violence will continue to be a recurring topic of discussion.

This panorama is set in a turbulent Latin American context, with recent events in Peru and Ecuador, the frustrations of the constituent movement in Chile and the ongoing challenge faced by Gustavo Petro's government in Colombia. The importance of supporting a progressive candidacy in Mexico, therefore, transcends national borders, being part of the fight for social, political and economic advances throughout Latin America.

The way the governments of neighboring countries position themselves and act has direct implications for each other, highlighting the interconnectedness of our challenges and successes, both on the regional and global stage. It is essential to understand and navigate the complexities of the current moment, recognizing that the future of a country influences and is influenced by the continental and global context. [I]

*Julio da Silveira Moreira is a professor at the Federal University of Latin American Integration (UNILA).


[I] Article produced based on recent research and dialogues with the team from the Conexões program on Rádio UFMG Educativa, broadcast on March 20, 2024.

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