Claudia Sheinbaum: The Most Powerful Woman in the World?

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Mexico’s June 2 elections not only yielded an overwhelming and historic victory for Claudia Sheinbaum, but they also laid the foundation for her path to govern without many barriers for the next three years, and with the potential for that to continue throughout her presidency. Sheinbaum overperformed on Sunday, receiving nearly 60 percent of the votes, winning every state and federal entity but one, and surpassing her mentor’s 2018 victory. By the time Sheinbaum is sworn in as president, Morena, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO)’s party, and its allies will have a supermajority in the house of representatives, a simple majority in the senate, control 24 of 31 governorships and the federal district, and have supermajorities in at least 26 of the 31 state legislatures. With such political dominance in the world’s 12th-largest economy, Claudia Sheinbaum is likely the most powerful woman political leader in the world.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

After the rapid results of Mexico’s election made the scope of Sheinbaum’s victory clear, attention shifted to Morena’s advantage in the congressional races. Since losing a qualified majority in the midterm elections in 2021, current Mexican president AMLO has been unable to steer constitutional reforms through congress. By midnight on June 2, Morena knew it had obtained the qualified majority it needed in the lower house. In the senate, it appears that Morena obtained an absolute majority, but not the qualified majority it needed. However, this does not mean Morena has no path to the qualified majority necessary to pass the 20 constitutional reforms AMLO proposed in February. Rather, it signals the starting gun for the horse trading, cajoling, and even outright blackmailing that may occur to entice opposition senators to coalesce around the Morena party. Given Mexico’s precedent of shifting party affiliations, it is likely that more than a few undisciplined party members are willing to jump ship.

AMLO’s proposed reforms quickly transformed into a Morena campaign platform. Many of these reforms are constitutional in nature, and Sheinbaum enthusiastically endorsed them on the campaign trail, referring to the Morena priorities as her “20 points.” Most concerningly, these reforms include allowing the public to vote for supreme court justices, which would invalidate the judicial system’s check on power and open up justices to political influence. Further, AMLO has proposed a “disciplinary board” for judges (presumably those who make rulings unfavorable to him). Both reforms would be major steps backward in the independence of the judicial branch and the rule of law in the country. AMLO views Mexico’s judiciary as a conservative, reactionary check on some of his biggest initiatives, but it is unclear if Sheinbaum will push for all 20 reforms.

There is also a scenario in which AMLO pushes through his constitutional reforms while he is still in power. Owing to a discrepancy in the congressional and presidential calendar, the new congress will be seated in September, while the presidential inauguration will take place in October. September 2024, therefore, presents AMLO with the perfect opportunity to push through some of the most controversial reforms, and it is sure to be anything but a lame duck session. With the possibility of a qualified majority and a legacy to cement, AMLO and Morena have signaled they will push for his package of reforms rather than entrust that effort to Sheinbaum. Beyond the month of September, however, Sheinbaum’s campaign coalition of Sigamos Haciendo Historia or “Let’s Keep Making History” taps into AMLO’s legacy and seeks to project her as the natural heir to the Morena movement.

Lastly, AMLO’s efforts to centralize his power through the militarization of civil institutions gives Sheinbaum an added degree of power. On the campaign trail, she argued she would consider consolidating the national guard in order to ameliorate the security situation in the country, but that the military would continue to enjoy its current expanded role in the domestic economy. Direct criticism of AMLO’s policies is unlikely to happen, but any changes in policy will likely have to be made quietly yet assertively. The most important question remains: how will Claudia Sheinbaum use her newfound power?

A New Hegemonic Political Party in Mexico?

For 71 years, Mexico was characterized by what Nobel Prize–winning author, Mario Vargos Llosa, famously called “the perfect dictatorship” (author’s translation). The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) allowed elections, and there was rotation in office. At later points, there was a nominal opposition fighting over what the hegemonic political party permitted. Yet overall, the patina of democracy masked what was apparent to all: Mexico was governed by a hegemonic political party exercising autocratic control where the outcome of presidential elections was known well in advance. The PRI’s dominance throughout the twentieth century was augmented by its link to the formation and strengthening of the Mexican nation—what has been described as a “party state” by some scholars.

After seven decades of uninterrupted rule by the PRI, the election of Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) in 2000 heralded a 24-year period in which Mexico enjoyed a genuinely competitive democracy, peaceful transfers of political power, and party rotation in office. With their overwhelming support of Morena on Sunday, Mexican voters may be leaving this panorama behind in favor of returning to something approximating hegemonic or dominant political rule. Indeed, opposition political parties, such as the PRI and the PAN, now face dire situations and a fight for their very survival. At the very least, they face a messaging and reputational crisis, as most voters consider them discredited and corrupt.

Last week’s election was also a referendum on outgoing president AMLO’s term in office. With such a smashing victory, AMLO has affirmed his place in history as likely the most consequential Mexican president since his role model Lázaro Cárdenas in the 1930s—just as he would like it. AMLO’s creation of the Morena party in 2014, and the party’s success since then, has opened the possibility that Morena will become Mexico’s next hegemonic political party. In 2018, Morena controlled only four states; winning nine in last Sunday’s elections alone, Morena controls now twenty-five. 

What was perhaps most fascinating about this election was Morena’s main campaign promise. For Morena, a pledge of policy continuity won the hearts of the Mexican people. In fact, the opposition remains so reviled and discredited that Sheinbaum was able to campaign in 2024 as if it were 2018, avoiding having to answer for many of Morena’s failures under AMLO, and still receiving the largest vote share in Mexico’s democratic history (around 30 million votes). Most preelection polls showed Sheinbaum with a comfortable lead between 10 and 15 percent, but very few predicted her winning by a 30-point margin. Only a few polls showed her lead that high, and many were considered biased or “bought” by the ruling party. Sheinbaum and Morena outperformed their polling numbers, demonstrating the enduring popularity of the outgoing president and his “Fourth Transformation” policies.

As CSIS wrote after Morena’s dominance in the 2023 off-cycle elections, the party is not yet at the status of the PRI of yesteryear:

"Morena displays several stark contrasts from the old PRI. One of these differences is the less publicized behavior…Morena’s lack of discipline and control. The PRI historically distinguished itself by the clarity of its internal practices, rules, and understandings among its leaders. For instance, the succession mechanisms were mostly clear and accepted by all its members. The Mexican political system of the twentieth century made the president the country's leading and most influential actor for six years. Still, the party was never totally dependent on one single person. Paradoxically, part of the president’s enormous power was granted in an understanding that this power would soon be handed to someone else. Thus, authoritarianism and rigged elections were not the only factors that kept the PRI in power for seven decades. The PRI had the ability to integrate and allocate power among different sectors of society—political groups, unions, and businesspeople, among others. Morena, in contrast, is far from attaining this mediation power, nor is it capable of achieving this level of internal control."

Perhaps more than anything, the election of Sheinbaum is a test for what political handover means for Mexico’s new dominant political party. It remains to be seen whether Morena establishes the same level of discipline on display throughout the long years of PRI rule, or whether it will exhibit more personalistic characteristics and thus difficulties in the absence of AMLO, around whom the party has oriented itself since its creation.

A Party System in Flux

As in other democracies in Latin America, Sheinbaum’s rise to power was aided by a political party system undergoing major changes. The meteoric rise of Senator Xóchitl Gálvez from the PAN to lead a coalition of opposition parties, while unable to stymie Morena’s momentum, represented a large number of protest votes, which should not be discounted. The entrance of third-party candidate Jorge Álvarez Máynez of the Citizen’s Movement Party (MC) further complicated Gálvez’s path to victory. The youthful candidate, while lacking a cohesive message and convincing reason for running, received around 10 percent of votes on election day, likely drawing away some from Gálvez. He also spent much of the campaign criticizing the opposition coalition, leading some to speculate that MC had struck a bargain with AMLO in exchange for maintaining its current governorships in lucrative states like Nuevo León and Jalisco.

Mexicans’ dissatisfaction with establishment parties like the PRI and PAN represents a larger trend in Latin America, where electorates have voted to break away from the established political class. In some cases, this change has arrived through leftist candidates hoping to tackle crippling issues like inequality, and in others, the region has seen the rise of antiestablishment figures with little government experience. More broadly, twentieth-century political parties have been transforming or, more often, facing extinction across Latin America. Party systems have been in flux throughout the region as dissatisfaction with democracy yields more and more populist candidates riding a wave of change to power built on personalistic parties. Mexico is now squarely within this broader regional trend.

Rebuilding an Opposition

Just like Vicente Fox represented a break from the PRI in 2000, and later AMLO from the PAN-PRI duopoly in 2018, Mexico’s opposition has a mounting task at hand: building an anti-incumbent coalition with a cohesive platform while likely being pilloried by Morena as defending the old, conservative, unequal order of yesterday. This platform should appeal not only to those in the metropolitan areas of the country, but also to those in rural areas, and members of the lower-middle class whose quotidian lives have improved thanks to Morena’s generous welfare spending. A cohesive agenda, and a better proposal for what Mexico could be instead of what it should not, is likely the only thing that can save Mexico’s opposition parties.

The opposition’s defeat in 2018, and its even greater shellacking in 2024, should be a wakeup call for those seeking to reverse course on Mexico’s democratic backsliding tendencies under Morena. Qualified majorities for Morena would mean the party possesses little incentive to incorporate the opposition into decisionmaking processes at all. The PRI and the PAN are on the ropes. It remains to be seen if MC can play the role of a legitimate opposition party, broadening its appeal to the entire country from the power base it counts in the industrialized north. It is also possible that MC will remain a more parochial, regionally based political party content to play the former role of the PAN under the PRI’s long rule: compete over the bits and pieces permitted to it by the ruling party.


Before Sheinbaum becomes the most powerful female political leader in the world, AMLO will have one month of political control as he closes his term with majorities in both houses of the legislature and 24 governors on his side. It could be a highly risky month for foreign investors, for civil society, and for journalists still fending off the president’s attacks. But the temptation to push through legacy projects in the lame duck session may prove overwhelming.

Many questions remain as to how Sheinbaum will use her power in the next six years. Her margin of victory, far larger than AMLO’s, could give her more legitimacy when exerting her independence. While lacking AMLO’s personal brand, Sheinbaum’s technocratic approach to governing, her education, and her ability to speak to the concerns of the private sector will likely make her style of governing something different. Mexico remains in the crosshairs of foreign investors seeking to extricate supply chains and nearshore them closer to the United States—if the proper reassurances of stability and rule-of-law are provided. The challenge for Sheinbaum is that in a world of shifting supply chains, capital appreciates basic checks and balances, and in Morena’s Mexico, checks and balances will now be few and far between.

Ryan C. Berg is director of the Americas Program and head of the Future of Venezuela Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Rubi Bledsoe is a research associate with the Americas Program at CSIS.