Editor's Note: Jorge G. Castañeda is a CNN contributor. He was Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico from 2000 to 2003, during the government of Vicente Fox Quesada. He is currently a professor at New York University and his most recent book, "America Through Foreign Eyes," was published by Oxford University Press in 2020. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. You can find more opinion pieces on CNNe.com/opinion.
(CNN Spanish) -- For the first time, next year Mexico will have a female president. Although possibly some testimonial candidacies will be presented, it is already a fact that the first magistracy will be disputed between two candidates: Xóchitl Gálvez, on behalf of the PAN, PRD and PRI parties, of the Frente Amplio coalition, and Claudia Sheinbaum for the government party, Morena. This is a historic event for Mexico, although not in Latin America.
In 1990 Nicaragua elected Violeta Chamorro as president. Since then, in one way or another, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Panama and Peru have been governed by a woman. In Mexico, a woman ran for president in 2012 for a party at the time majority, but lost by a wide margin. So, in this area, as in so many others, Mexico is on a par with the rest of Latin America, albeit belatedly. It seems to be the fate of the country.
Most polls on voting intention give the candidate of Andrés Manuel López Obrador's party an advantage of between 10 and 20 percentage points over that of the opposition. In part, this difference is due to the different levels of knowledge that are possessed of both aspirants. Sheinbaum reaches almost 80% recognition, as a result of her five and a half years as head of government of the country's capital, and the enormous dissemination effort that the federal government has made in her favor since 2018. Gálvez, with difficulties, exceeds half of that percentage, and concentrates a good part of the people who know about it among the middle sectors of the country, with lower rates among the low-income segments. But it should be noted that this contrast implies that Xóchitl has ample room to grow, while Sheinbaum has practically reached his ceiling of knowledge.
Despite the progress that the prospect of a woman president in 2024 represents for Mexico, there are two major reasons for concern regarding next year's election. The first is that many of us believe that the contest will not take place between two candidates on an equal footing, in a symmetrical relationship, but between an opposition contender and the entire Mexican state, headed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In the same way that Sheinbaum's campaign within Morena had enormous state resources, according to what his rival and former López Obrador foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said, although without presenting evidence, it is assumed that AMLO will do the same in the constitutional election. He will misuse his "morning" call to hit Galvez. As the National Electoral Institute (INE) has pointed out, it will resort to confidential information from the Financial Intelligence Unit to hit the opposition candidate, as it has already done, and will convince the pro-government media to publish increasingly absurd allegations against her. Several analysts fear that the 2024 elections will not be a democratic election, but a state election.
This does not imply that opposition victory is impossible. In 2000, when for the first time in history the PRI candidate was defeated by an opposition candidate, the election was also a state election. But the efforts of the state, media and publicity machines were in vain: Vicente Fox defeated Francisco Labastida, in spite of everything. However, I would not be surprised if López Obrador violates electoral regulations much more than his predecessor did that year, and those regulations are much stricter now than then.
The second concern involves the outcome and López Obrador's attitude towards the possibility of a defeat of his candidate. The current president has never accepted an electoral setback of his own: neither in the state of Tabasco in 1988 or 1994, nor at the presidential level in 2006 or 2012. There is reason to suspect that he would not admit that Claudia Sheinbaum lost, in view of her repeated statements that "the opposition is morally defeated" or that "the Fourth Transformation will go on." His constant attacks on the Judiciary – the last one consists of not inviting the ministers of the Supreme Court to the celebration of the Cry of Independence – and on the electoral authorities – now his supporters in Congress seek to reduce funds to the INE to organize the 2024 election – force us to contemplate the idea that he would reject an adverse result. It is worth remembering, of course, that in two much older and more robust democracies – the United States and Brazil – exactly that happened in 2020-2021 and in 2022-2023. No one is safe.
López Obrador's possible reluctance to resign himself to an outcome contrary to his designated successor does not imply that he can succeed in the possible attempt to prevent the triumph of his adversary. Neither Trump nor Bolsonaro succeeded. In Mexico, the INE declares the winner and the Electoral Tribunal reviews and certifies the result. Although the INE has been attacked and weakened by the current government, it maintains a certain independence. The Court has ruled in several cases against the president. But unless something unforeseen happens, López Obrador will leave the presidency with his great popularity intact, and with a popular force that no outgoing president has possessed since Lázaro Cárdenas in 1940. That is what the electoral authorities would have to fight against.
Electoral successions have always cost Mexico work. We Mexicans don't know how to handle them. In a democracy, we have only successfully resolved them since the year 2000. It is a short time, for little learning. 2024 will test what we have learned. Let's hope it reaches.