Mexicans set to cast historic vote, elect first women president

Claudia Sheinbaum is heavily favored to win over main opposition candidate Xochitl Galvez in Sunday’s elections

Claudia Scheinbaum and Xochitl Galvez. Credit: Reuters

Mexico will head to the polls on Sunday for a historic election: with two woman leading the contest, the country is set to elect its first female president in history.

MORENA candidate Claudia Sheinbaum is still heavily favored to win the presidency, with some polls giving her a 20 point advantage over main opposition candidate Xochitl Galvez, a senator with the center-right National Action Party. 

In addition to the presidency, voters will pick lawmakers for both chambers of Congress, a new mayor of Mexico City, eight state governors, as well as scores of local officials.

Who is Claudia Sheinbaum

The second of three children, Sheinbaum hails from a Jewish family, including her mother’s parents who migrated to Mexico from Bulgaria as they fled Nazi aggression in the 1930s.

Growing up in Mexico City, Sheinbaum learned to play the guitar and studied ballet, details that her critics have used to paint her as elitist and out of touch with ordinary Mexicans.

Her activism started early.

At 15, she volunteered to help groups of mothers searching for their missing children, a long-standing plight in a country with a history of raging gangland violence.

Around that time she met leading human rights activist and leftist politician Rosario Ibarra, who would later be the first woman to run for president in 1982. Sheinbaum later would go to say that her ruling left-wing MORENA party had taken on Ibarra’s struggles.

Sheinbaum became an active participant in student movements during the 1980s, joining protests against state intervention in education policies.

In 1995, she earned her doctorate in energy engineering from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. As she prepared her doctoral thesis, she spent time at the University of California at Berkeley in the United States, where she polished her fluent English.

Sheinbaum pursued a teaching and academic career in the years that followed, including a stint on the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which would later share a Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Her political career kicked off in 2000, when Lopez Obrador, then-Mexico City’s newly elected mayor, tapped her to be his environment chief. He had only recently met her, but was clear he wanted a scientist with progressive values to help deal with the megacity’s acute pollution and transportation snarls.

She left City Hall to take on the role of chief spokesperson for Lopez Obrador’s first campaign for president in 2006 which he narrowly lost.

In 2015, she was elected to run Mexico City’s largest borough, Tlalpan.

In that post, she faced allegations of poor management after a 2017 earthquake caused the collapse of an elementary school, killing 19 children. The school had only recently been expanded with an extra floor.

But that did not stop her from notching up a historic election victory as the capital’s first woman mayor in 2018, the same year that Lopez Obrador’s third run for the presidency proved successful in a landslide win.

During her tenure, she won plaudits for improving security with the capital’s murder rate falling 50%.

But she was also criticized for a 2021 subway accident that left 26 dead, an incident that was later blamed in part on insufficient safety inspections and deferred maintenance on her watch. Sheinbaum denied maintenance was to blame.

Who is Xochitl Galvez 

A rags to riches story and a penchant for publicity propelled businesswoman Xochitl Galvez into the limelight as the main opposition candidate for Mexico’s presidency, campaigning on a promise to confront drug cartels and improve the economy.

Galvez, 61, who trails ruling party candidate Claudia Sheinbaum in the polls ahead of Sunday’s vote, represents a coalition of opposition parties and vows to restore security to Mexico, where around 30,000 people are murdered every year and criminal groups wield far-reaching influence.

Born in Tepatepec, in the central state of Hidalgo, Galvez has described how the poverty and violence that she and her mother suffered at the hands of her father, an alcoholic rural teacher, motivated her to push forward. She is proud of her Otomi indigenous origin.

Galvez calls herself a rebel. She left home at the age of 17 for Mexico City to study and escape the social expectation in her home town that she marry young.

In Mexico City she studied computer engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and specialized in robotics before founding technology companies.

In 1999, the World Economic Forum named her one of the 100 global leaders of the future.

Galvez is known for her casual and irreverent way of speaking, using colloquial slang in the face of a Mexican political tradition that remains largely formal.

She usually dresses in colorful huipils, a handmade embroidered garment characteristic of the country’s indigenous peoples, and she is a strong proponent of bicycles, riding one when she went to register her candidacy.

“This is not the time for men,” she said in an interview. She has assured that if she comes to power, she will combat the scourge of femicides and widespread violence against women.

Galvez has criticized the historic level of missing persons in Mexico and promised to end President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s policy of avoiding confrontations with organized crime and to combat the growing extortion of businesses and highway robberies.



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