Mexican voters about to crown first woman president

Claudia Sheinbaum of the ruling party has consistently polled ahead of Xochitl Galvez. A victory for either candidate will be heralded as a major step

Mexicans are voting in national elections on Sunday with the ruling party candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, commanding a hefty lead in the polls and expected to become the country’s first female president.

Polls have consistently placed Sheinbaum about 20 percentage points ahead of her closest challenger, Xochitl Galvez of an opposition coalition comprised of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for about seven decades until democratic elections in 2000, the right-wing PAN, and the leftist PRD party.

There were already long lines outside voting centers when the polls opened at 8 a.m. local time.

Sheinbaum, speaking to journalists from the passenger side of a car, said it was a historic day and that she felt at ease and content on her way to vote.

“Everyone must get out to vote,” Sheinbaum, a physicist and former Mexico City mayor, said during a live broadcast on local TV.

Outgoing president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Sheinbaum’s mentor, greeted supporters and posed for photos as he walked from the presidential palace to cast his vote with his wife Beatriz Gutierrez Muller. López Obrador has loomed over the campaign, seeking to turn the vote into a referendum on his political project that Sheinbaum has vowed to continue.

Galvez, a businesswoman and senator, was also seen chatting with supporters as she arrived to cast her ballot shortly after the polls opened.

Sunday’s elections are the biggest in Mexico’s history, with voters electing about 20,000 posts. The contest has been marred by violence, with 37 candidates murdered during the campaign, the most in the country’s modern history and stoking concerns about the threat of warring drug cartels to Mexico’s democracy.

A victory by either Sheinbaum or Galvez will be heralded as a major step in Mexico, becoming the first female leader in a country often criticized for its macho culture.

The winner will face formidable challenges, especially organized crime violence that contributed to more than 185,000 people being murdered since Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018.

That violence, along with electricity and water shortages, is a problem as Mexico attempts to persuade manufacturers to relocate as part of the nearshoring trend, in which companies move supply chains closer to their main markets.

The winner will also have to wrestle with what to do with Pemex, the state oil giant which has seen production decline for two decades and is drowning in debt.

Both candidates have promised to expand welfare programs, which could be a challenge amid a large deficit this year and sluggish GDP growth of just 1.5% expected by the central bank next year.

The new president, who is set to begin a six-year term on October 1, will also face a series of tense negotiations with the United States over the huge flows of U.S.-bound migrants crossing Mexico and security cooperation over drug trafficking at a time when the U.S. fentanyl epidemic rages.

Mexican officials expect these negotiations to be more difficult if the U.S. presidency is won by Donald Trump in November. Trump, the first U.S. president to be convicted of a crime, has vowed to slap 100% tariffs on Chinese cars made in Mexico and said he would mobilize special forces to fight the cartels, a hot-button issue in a country that lost vast territory to a U.S. invasion in the 19th century.

Almost 100 million Mexicans are eligible to vote in Sunday’s election, where key positions up for grabs include the capital city’s mayor, eight governorships, both chambers of Congress, and a slew of regional and local posts.

Polls indicate Morena is likely to fall short of a two-thirds majority in Congress, which would have allowed Sheinbaum’s party to approve constitutional reforms that eluded her predecessor. 

The polls close at 6:00 p.m. local time (09:00 p.m. Argentina) and the first official preliminary results are expected late Sunday night.

—Reuters

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