Sen. Xóchitl Gálvez’s nomination as the opposition coalition’s candidate who will challenge the leftist populist ruling Morena party in 2024 is fantastic news for Mexico. She is a formidable candidate, who will lift the hopes of millions who want to get the country out of its current stagnation.
Galvez, a centrist who became a business leader and politician — after being born into poverty and a mostly indigenous family — was declared the winner of an internal poll among presidential hopefuls of Mexico’s three largest opposition parties on Aug. 30.
As I found when I interviewed her recently, she has the great advantage of not being a traditional politician. Although formally a member of the center-right National Action Party (PAN,) she never belonged to the PAN hierarchy and won the opposition primary by running against candidates who were backed by her party’s leaders.
That’s important, because in Latin America’s anti-incumbent political climate, outsiders are doing exceptionally well.
“Much like happened in Argentina’s recent primary elections, voters are choosing people who have taken some distance from politics,” Roy Campos, head of Mexico’s Mitofsky polling firm, told me. ”Her big plus is that she’s not seen as part of the political apparatus. She speaks spontaneously, she connects with the people.”
More important, Galvez’s life story destroys populist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s narrative that his country’s opposition parties are controlled by oligarchs and conservatives, while his ruling party allegedly represents “the people.”
That’s going to be very hard to pin on Galvez, who comes from a much poorer background than the president himself or that of former Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, his most likely hand-picked candidate for the 2024 election.
Galvez, who is partially fluent in the native Otomi indigenous language, was a street vendor in the village of Tepatepec as a young girl, and as a young woman left for Mexico City to study at Mexico’s most prestigious public university. She graduated in engineering, worked as an engineer for several major companies and, in 1992, founded her company, High Tech Services, which designs intelligent buildings.
In 2000, she was appointed head of the National Institute of Indigenous People; in 2018, she was elected senator for the PAN.
When I asked Galvez about the president’s claims that she was picked by Mexico’s business magnates, she laughed and said, “I’ve never been afraid of anything in my life. I’m a woman to whom nobody has given anything.”
She represents Mexico’s future, whereas Lopez Obrador and his likely candidates represent the past, she said. While the president is betting on oil and other outdated industries, “I can tell young people that I come from an indigenous town, and that studying technology and artificial intelligence can change your life. This country is awash in talent — people just need an extra push.”
Granted, Galvez will face an uphill battle to win the 2024 elections. Lopez Obrador is popular in Mexico, largely thanks to massive state subsidies to the poor. He sees himself as a kind of new Mexican founding father and seems determined to use state resources and stretch electoral rules to get his party to rule Mexico for many years to come.
A poll released by the daily Reforma recently shows that if the election were held today, Sheinbaum would beat Galvez by 46% to 31% of the vote, with 23% of those questioned not responding.
However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Sheinbaum is benefiting from a much higher name recognition than Galvez because of her national exposure gained when she was Mexico City mayor. Galvez was little known at the national level until recently, but her name recognition will soar starting now.
Galvez is also facing media criticism that the opposition Broad Front that nominated her cut short the primary election process, nominating her ahead of the official Sept. 3 end of the internal election.
Many columnists said that looked like the kind of old-style backroom decision by the parties’ bosses and reeks of authoritarianism. But such criticism is likely to be soon forgotten in light of Lopez Obrador’s blatant interference to help his party stay in power.
It’s too early to say whether Galvez has a good chance of winning in 2024. But the opposition could hardly have found a better candidate.
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