No pun intended, electoral predictions make horse racing bets seem stable.
“Secretariat”, the legendary “Triple Crown” winner, became known to save energy with a slow start, to then pass his equine rivals in the last stretch with formidable speed by a long shot. Something similar has occurred with the two leading presidential candidates in Mexico.
Claudia Sheinbaum was all shades of grey when the race began. Although intellectually endowed, she has the charisma of a tight-lipped headmistress. Thus, like Secretariat, she seemed a slow runner until, with the crack of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO)’s whip, she is now far ahead of her adversaries.
In a sense, it has been Claudia competing against Sheinbaum, up until Xóchitl Gálvez’s appearance in the race in the summer of 2023. Claudia is AMLO’s poster child, the politician, the woman who has unconditionally followed his footsteps and covered his tracks. Sheinbaum is the scientist, the woman who can discern facts from discourse; however deep in her mind, there lies a conscience that the energy sector requires a richer, more diverse, and modern variety of players for a just transition.
In this sense, Claudia and Sheinbaum may clash. The poster child owes her mentor what she is now, which is no longer a disheveled radical student shouting slogans atop a soap box. The streamlined woman we see now has vowed to extend the energy legacy of her maker. If so, Sheinbaum is in trouble and may have to step back to allow Claudia to argue the case for a gargantuan refinery in Tabasco that is still in the making and that does not guarantee cheaper and less polluting fuels.
Xóchitl Gálvez’s track performance is the exact opposite. She unexpectedly entered the turf and the crowds were roused. However, what began as a boom soon turned into a bust. In the recent poll conducted by El Universal, one of Mexico’s main newspapers, Gálvez is 30 points behind Claudia. The equestrian analogy is on point. Like Secretariat, the slow starter is the one most likely to win, by 31 lengths.
Gálvez’s decline may have begun with her statements suggesting that Pemex be privatized — a comment not ever publicly uttered by a Mexican politician. The remainder of her energy platform is within the consensus of the market-oriented “transition” establishment, although some parts of it are unrealistic — to wit, that Pemex must be a leading hydrogen producer. The revival of the power auctions, greater private investment in clean energy, and unprecedented efforts in the reductions in greenhouse emissions, although heretic at the moment in Mexico, are all pretty standard aims in global energy policies.
What is unusual about Gálvez is that she lacks filters. It is not what she says but her mode of expression that makes her an outlier in the political system. Energy is a china shop and she’s a bull, trampling over the rawest sensitivities. She is a foul-mouthed iconoclast when speaking about Mexico’s most sacred topic: “energy sovereignty” which, from a political perspective, clashes with even a partial privatization of Pemex.
Claudia has tried to make peace with Sheinbaum, but Xóchitl’s presence still looms, particularly as recent polling by Alejandro Moreno in El Financiero shows that Xóchitl only trails Claudia by 16 points. In early November, she announced a 30-year plan for the energy sector that is inclusive of private investment, to modernize the industry and attain the public good. There remains the question of whether this scheme will indeed de-carbonize Mexico, enhance market dynamics, and more importantly, ensure the path towards a just energy transition.
This article was originally published by The Mexico Institute at the The Wilson Center.
Miriam Grunstein (PhD) is currently an independent attorney whose experience in the energy sector began 21 years ago as the personal advisor to a Commissioner of the Mexican Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE). She is currently a non-resident scholar in the US Mexico Center of the James Baker Institute at Rice University.
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