Mexico’s Next President Faces 3 Pressing Challenges: Money, Dialogue And The Us Election

Ruling party presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum shows her ink-stained thumb after voting during general elections in Mexico City, Sunday, June 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
Ruling party presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum shows her ink-stained thumb after voting during general elections in Mexico City, Sunday, June 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s newly elected president, the first woman to win the job, faces a long list of challenges, including persistent cartel violence, a deeply divided country, cash-straitened social programs and the long shadow of her mentor, outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

But for some analysts it mostly comes down to three things: money, dialogue and the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

Claudia Sheinbaum, who begins her six-year presidential term Oct. 1, has four months ahead of her to define her administration’s agenda. During this time, López Obrador is expected to continue delivering his daily morning press briefings as he tries to solidify his legacy.

The coexistence might be far from easy: He has divided society; she says she wants to unite it. He is a leader of the masses; she is an academic and a scientist.

López Obrador has said he will not interfere with his protege's administration. “I do not aspire to be a ‘moral leader,’ a ‘maximum boss,’ a ‘caudillo,’" he said Monday.

He has insisted that once his presidency is over, he is going to “talk with the trees, live with the birds.” Yet, it was he who announced Monday that current Treasury Secretary Rogelio Ramírez de la O would remain in his post through the next administration in a bid to avoid a market meltdown.

The balance between continuity and change will not be simple.

A top economic challenge will be whether Sheinbaum will have the money to continue her predecessor’s popular social programs, considering the government has a big deficit of almost 6% that the Treasury has vowed to reduce.

“There needs to be fiscal reform,” said Isidro Morales, an economics and international relations expert. Otherwise, he warns, citing Mexico’s decreasing oil income as one problem, “Claudia is going to have her hands tied.”

Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex is López Obrador’s most fervent symbol of nationalism, but it continues to lose money and oil is far from the primary revenue stream it once was. Yet, it is a red line for Sheinbaum who, despite being a climate scientist who wants to move into clean energy, closed her campaign last week before gigantic banners of support from oil industry workers.

Mexico’s presidential transition also happens to fall right into the heart of the U.S. presidential campaign.

“Mexico’s most important election is taking place on Nov. 5,” said Carlos A. Pérez Ricart, a professor at Mexican public research center CIDE, referring to the U.S. presidential election.

President Joe Biden’s reelection or the return to power of former President Donald Trump will be “the real variable that will change scenarios,” Pérez Ricard said. The outcome could not only influence security, trade and immigration policies, but also many internal decisions about the role of Mexico's army, he said.

Sheinbaum studied in the U.S., speaks English and understands that country’s politics, which would lead one to think there would be more understanding with Washington, but no one can control the Trump factor.

And when it comes to immigration and security, Mexico's new president is left only with the existing policies, which have only intermittently slowed migration to the U.S. border and failed to significantly lower Mexico's persistent violence.

To confront Mexico's increasing violence, analysts have said the country needs to strengthen civilian police and prosecutor's offices. Instead, López Obrador opted for militarizing the country, giving the armed forces unprecedented power in a bevy of civilian areas — from domestic security to construction — with the risks to human rights and accountability that implies.

It remains unclear what Sheinbaum will want from the military, what she could change or what kind of pressure the military could bring to bear on her.

Politically, her Morena party’s congressional majority could be a double-edged sword.

For the approximately 40% of voters who did not support her, it will be seen as dangerous because if preliminary results hold up, she could have enough lawmakers to amend the constitution. López Obrador has floated a host of controversial constitutional proposals, including eliminating institutions that provide checks on executive power and on subjecting judges to public elections.

It will be key that Mexico has a strong government that unquestionably defends the separation of powers, Pérez Ricart said.

Political scientist Luis Miguel Pérez Juárez, however, argues that Sunday’s strong victory gives Sheinbaum "enormous power” for independent action, including from the party López Obrador created.

“She will not have to go to anyone,” he said.


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