EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The race for the presidency of Mexico begins on Monday when leading contenders to replace Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in 2024 are expected to resign from high-profile government jobs.

This week, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard publicly announced his intent to resign on June 12 “for the purpose of dedicating myself full time – happy and determined – to defend the project of our president.”

Lopez Obrador acknowledged the resignation on Wednesday and said others likely would follow. “This process has started, that is why Marcelo resigned. It is possible that in (the next few) days other hopefuls will present their resignation,” he said.

Mexico elects a new president every six years. The election matters to anyone in the U.S. who invests in Mexico and those whose jobs depend on the $779 billion U.S.-Mexico trade market. The election also is closely followed by the 10.7 million Mexican-born individuals living in the United States, many of whom maintain strong ties with the homeland through remittances and yearly visits.

The president of Mexico has been a key figure in helping the past two American presidents (Donald Trump and Joe Biden), manage a historical migrant crisis at the southern border.

Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said dozens of politicians have thrown their hat in the ring but two clearly rise above the rest.

One is Ebrard; the other is Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, who has a double-digit lead in most polls. Both belong to Lopez Obrador’s MORENA Party.

MORENA in just a few years has managed to dominate Mexico’s political landscape, but recent regional elections in Coahuila and Estado de Mexico raised some concerns for the party, Payan said.

Populist MORENA candidates lost Coahuila to a pro-business politician and while polls gave the president’s party a 20-point advantage in Estado de Mexico the margin of victory was only 8%.

Tony Payan

“Also, there was a high degree of abstentionism. The number of Mexico State citizens who stayed home was 51%,” Payan said, adding that could open the door to an opposition candidate able to find a strong narrative. “I would expect (MORENA) to win the presidency, but […] the opposition is going to focus on denying them a majority in Congress. I think that’s the game for next year. […] But everything is still up in the air.”

The U.S.-Mexico relations expert said the party in power in Mexico often wields resources, private and public, to stay in power. He said Ebrard knows this and his early resignation was intended to push Lopez Obrador into stating publicly that other candidates would be resigning.

“Ebrard as foreign minister does not have the resources of the mayor of Mexico City; they are using public resources overtly to campaign. This was his way to level the playing field,” Payan said.  

The opposition National Action Party (PAN) last year accused Sheinbaum of using public resources to promote her candidacy. The National Electoral Institute in December told her to stop her supporters from putting up murals, putting up signs and promoting her on social media, but did not accuse her of wrongdoing.

Payan said the president of Mexico often tries to handpick his successor. He opined that Lopez Obrador has made his choice and that’s making Ebrard go all-out early.

“I think Mr. Ebrard is not going to be the candidate. I would bet on Ms. Sheinbaum to be the successor,” he said. “Mr. Lopez Obrador is not a fair man. He is a man with very clear preferences.”

Mexico City’s Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum speaks to the press as Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stands behind during his daily news conference in Mexico City, early Thursday, March 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Sheinbaum, 60, is a Mexico City and California-educated environmental scientist and the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants. She served as Lopez Obrador’s environmental adviser when he was mayor of Mexico City in 2000. She entered politics in 2015 as mayor of the Tlalpan borough of Mexico City and became Mexico City’s first female mayor in 2018.

If current opinion polls hold through the election scheduled for July 2024, she will become Mexico’s first female president.

Lopez Obrador has said his party will select a presidential candidate based on a public survey, but he has given little details.

Payan said Ebrard likely won’t make waves if the poll favors Sheinbaum.

“At the end of the day, he is going to be a disciplined party member and fold and support Ms. Sheinbaum. That is the most likely outcome,” he said. “He might end up as a candidate for the Senate or something like that.”