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Mexicans vote in historic elections, as two women vie for leadership of the country

Mexicans will vote on Sunday in an election that is groundbreaking on many fronts: it is considered the biggest race in the country’s history, it is one of the most violent in recent memory and may bring a woman to the presidency for the first time. time ever.

The two main candidates, who have the majority of voters divided between them according to polls, are women. The leader is Claudia Sheinbaum, a climate scientist representing the ruling party and its allies. Her closest competitor is Xóchitl Gálvez, a businesswoman whose ticket includes a collection of opposition parties.

Ms. Sheinbaum had a double-digit lead in the polls for months, but the opposition says those numbers underestimate actual support for their candidate. In an interview, Ms. Gálvez said “there is a vote against the system” and that if Mexicans join forces on Sunday, “we will win.”

Ms. Gálvez, of her opponent, said: “She is in the mindset of being 30 points ahead. “But she will get the surprise of her life.”

The contest shows the huge strides in Mexican politics made in recent years by women, who weren’t even allowed to vote in the country until 1953. Both leading candidates all have significant experience; Ms. Gálvez is a senator and Ms. Sheinbaum rules the capital, one of the largest cities in the hemisphere.

“For the first time in 200 years of the republic, we women will achieve the highest honor the people can bestow on us: the presidency of Mexico,” Ms. Sheinbaum said in a recent speech. .

However, much of the race focuses on a figure whose name is not on the ballot, but who wields great influence: the powerful incumbent president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Mr. López Obrador has been a fixture in Mexican politics for decades, running for president in all three previous elections before winning in a landslide in 2018.

Despite his widespread popularity, Mr. López Obrador remains a divisive figure, drawing praise from diehard fans and criticism from critics. His administration has doubled the minimum wage and used cash transfer programs to lift millions out of poverty, while empowering the military and pursuing measures that many warn will weaken the economy. weak democratic institutions.

His dominance has upended establishment politics, pushing three parties, from the right, center and left, to form an uneasy coalition that now backs Ms. Gálvez.

Ms. Sheinbaum attracted voters largely by promising to continue her legacy. Ms. Gálvez positioned herself as a replacement for those dissatisfied with Mr. López Obrador’s leadership, vowing to reverse many of his policies.

“The way this election played out is a testament to López Obrador’s impact on Mexican politics,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a Mexican political analyst. “He is central to defining political identity and political status.”

López Obrador’s successor will face difficult challenges.

Cartel violence continues to torment the country, displacing masses of people and triggering one of the deadliest campaign cycles in recent Mexican history. Mr. López Obrador directed the government to pay attention to addressing perpetrators of violence instead of waging war on criminal groups, a strategy he called “hugs, not bullets.”

Ms. Gálvez has criticized this approach.

“Enough hugs for criminals and enough bullets for the people,” she quipped on the campaign trail. She said she would withdraw the armed forces from civilian activities and direct them to focus on fighting organized crime, while strengthening the police force.

Ms. Sheinbaum said she will continue to focus on the social causes of violence, but will also work to reduce the impunity rate and build up the National Guard.

Economically, the opportunity is clear: Mexico is now the United States’ largest trading partner, benefiting from the recent shift of production away from China. This currency is so strong that it is known as the “super peso”.

But there are also problems when boiling. Federal deficit skyrocketed to about 6% this yearand Pemex, the national oil company, is operating under a mountain of debt, straining public finances.

“The financial risk we are facing right now is something we haven’t seen in decades,” said Mariana Campos, director of México Evalúa, a public policy research group.

Another challenge concerns the broad new responsibilities given to the armed forces, which are tasked with running ports and airports, running an airline and building a railway through the jungle. Mayan bush. Ms. Sheinbaum said “no militarization” of the country, while also suggesting that she is open to reassess military involvement in public enterprises.

In addition to such pressing domestic challenges, the fate of the next president will be tied to the outcome of the US presidential election. President Biden’s reelection victory will provide continuity, but Donald J. Trump’s return to the White House will likely be much more difficult to predict.

of Mr. Trump plans to round up undocumented people on a large scale and deport them to their home countries could target millions of Mexicans living in the United States. He has threatened to impose 100% tariffs on Chinese cars made in Mexico.

Then there’s the thorny issue of fentanyl, which the US government says cartels produce in Mexico using chemicals imported from China. Mr. Trump has proposed taking military action to combat fentanyl trafficking.

Handling such pressure from Washington, even in the form of campaign rhetoric, could be challenging for Mexico’s next president.

Ms. Sheinbaum said Mexico would have a “good relationship” with either Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden as president, and her campaign team said they would continue efforts to stem the flow of migrants.

Ms. Gálvez said she also felt comfortable working with both men.

When asked how she would handle Mr. Trump, she said: “I’m used to dealing with toxic masculinity.”

“It seems to me that Trump, at his core, is a pragmatist,” she said, adding: “what he wants is to solve problems at the border and with fentanyl, and I think we can do it.”

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega contributed reporting from Mexico City.


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