The State of Mexico in 2023

Mexico’s main socioeconomic issues are clear ahead of the 2024 general election.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Octavio Hoyos

With six months remaining until the 2024 Mexican general election, the country once again finds itself at a decisive juncture.

Mexican people as well as international observers are reviewing and questioning the path on which Mexico has been moving over the last five years under Andrés Manuel López Obrador, often referred to simply by his initials, AMLO.

Almost every poll suggests that Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is in the lead (46-68%). An academic-turned-politician, Sheinbaum is the former mayor of Mexico City and a member of the left-wing National Regeneration Movement (MORENA)—just like the serving president AMLO. She also represents the popular alliance Juntos Hacemos Historia.

She is likely to follow the same set of policies that her mentor, AMLO, has been championing during his term in office since 2018, which are largely supported by the less privileged classes of society.

Chasing after her in the polls is Bertha Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz, who has thus far claimed 14-33% of the vote. A former engineer and businesswoman, she now represents the right-leaning National Action Party (PAN) as well as the Broad Front for Mexico alliance.

If nothing else, we know for a fact that unless something truly unexpected happens over the next six months, Mexico’s next president is going to be a woman, which aside from any political consideration will mark a historic moment for Mexico and its 127 million people.

With the general election approaching, many old debates concerning the economy and the state of politics in Mexico have been reopened in the national consciousness.

But regardless of the age-old issue of right-wing versus left-wing politics, there is a lot to learn from following the ongoing debates—from economic to social or political—which divide the Mexican society today.

The economy and inequality

While the Mexican right, including the National Action Party (PAN), desires some degree of deregulation to kickstart economic growth, the left is more concerned with wealth distribution and Mexico’s increasing inequality.

AMLO frequently named fighting poverty as his priority and he did manage to lift 5.7 million Mexicans out of poverty between 2018 and 2022, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy. However with a GINI index of 49-50 as of 2023 (indicating relatively high inequality), Sheinbaum will still have a lot of work to do in case she succeeds in 2024.

Cross-border trade

As for the issue of cross-border trade, especially with the US which is the country’s primary trade partner, both sides of the political spectrum have been unanimous in emphasizing nationalistic sentiments vis-à-vis Mexico’s sovereign control over its resources.

Nevertheless, the right has been more supportive of business friendly reforms. “Mexico doesn’t have the resources on its own to transform its energy sector and economy, and private investment [presumably including FDI] should be welcomed to accelerate development responsibly,” the National Action Party’s Gálvez has reportedly said to Bloomberg in September, 2023.

Fiscal policy and welfare

While the political right advocates some tax cuts for lower income categories, it is generally uninterested in government intervention. Members of the Broad Front for Mexico alliance also do not generally wish to impose high taxes on businesses, fearing that such a measure may slow down entrepreneurship.

The Mexican left, meanwhile, wants to expand government spending on public services which help the poor. The left wants to keep taxes at the current levels and preferably redirect them toward the less privileged. “Mexico can increase government revenue without boosting tax rates,” Bloomberg quoted the left-leaning frontrunner, Sheinbaum, saying in September 2023.

Rule of law and police reforms

When it comes the the issue of national security, both sides of the political spectrum are once again united in giving priority to law and order, especially given the country’s endless fight with organized crime and cartels.

However, while the right supports an increasingly tough stance against cartels, the left believes that police reforms are essential with an emphasis on human rights, while addressing the root cause of crime. In AMLO’s view—and probably in Sheinbaum‘s as well—, symptomatic interventions have remained fruitless so far.

Shortly after the 2018 general election, AMLO launched his National Peace and Security Plan (2018-2024). The complex action plan involved anti-corruption measures, economic policies, human rights precautions, state-funded treatment for drug use, and even granting amnesty to some former criminals in the hope of peace-building. If elected, Sheinbaum will likely try to complete AMLO’s half-finished work in these areas.

Indigenous rights

The right, including the members of the Broad Front for Mexico alliance, has traditionally been a believer in a unified Mexican identity, though it recognizes the importance of indigenous rights.

Indeed, Gálvez herself has spoken of her indigenous roots, making quite a few public appearances clad in indigenous clothes.

Nevertheless, the left has traditionally received greater support from indigenous communities, as the left promises them a higher degree of autonomy. At the same time and somewhat paradoxically, Sheinbaum, much like AMLO, avoids playing the game of identity politics as much as possible.

Environmental issues and sustainability

Not surprisingly, the Mexican left is more mindful of sustainability and the necessity of preservation. This will be more emphasized in the forthcoming general election, given Sheinbaum‘s background in environmental sciences.

The right, however, does not want to stall the country’s developing economy at this stage with the burden of hyper-awareness about sustainability.

Although nothing is easy to predict in Mexican politics and a lot can change over the course of six months, the ruling party’s Sheinbaum, who is currently the forerunner to replace AMLO, will likely win the popular vote in June, 2024. And Mexico will likely adopt more sustainable practices during the term of the former environmental scientist, if her track record as the mayor of Mexico City is any indication.