3 Jun 2024

Mexicans vote in historic election expected to see first woman president

6:47 am on 3 June 2024
Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, candidate for the Presidency of Mexico by the Sigamos Haciendo Historia coalition, is showing her marked thumb after casting her vote at a polling booth during the general election in Mexico City, Mexico, on June 2, 2024. (Photo by Luis Barron/Eyepix Group) (Photo by Eyepix/NurPhoto) (Photo by Eyepix / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP)

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, candidate for the Presidency of Mexico. Photo: Eyepix/NurPhoto via AFP

By Stefanie Eschenbacher and Diego Oré, Reuters

Mexicans are at the polls Sunday for a historic vote likely to elect the country's first woman president, with the ruling party candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, expected to sail to victory.

The elections are the biggest in Mexico's history, with about 20,000 posts on the ballots.

Sheinbaum has been the leading candidate, according to opinion polls, commanding a significant advantage over main competitor Xochitl Galvez, who represents 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 8am local time.

Sheinbaum, speaking to journalists from a car window, 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 Andres Manuel Lopez 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.

Galvez, a businesswoman and senator, chatted with supporters as she arrived to cast her ballot shortly after the polls opened. "God is with me," Galvez said, adding that she was expecting a difficult day.

Lopez Obrador has loomed over the campaign, seeking to turn the vote into a referendum on his political project that Sheinbaum, a leftist, has vowed to continue.

The elections have been marred by violence with 38 candidates murdered during the campaign, including a local candidate who was shot to the death the night before elections. The toll is the highest in the country's modern history, 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 how to tame organized crime violence, electricity and water shortages and luring 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 that 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 percent expected by the central bank next year.

Sheinbaum has rejected opposition claims that she would be a "puppet" of Lopez Obrador though she has pledged to continue many of his policies including those that have helped Mexico's poorest.

Lorena Bustillos, a Indigenous woman who lives in the northern state of Chihuahua, said she did not trust any of the candidates to make good on their sweeping election promises.

"They come to visit and see all our needs, but then don't take action," Bustillos said.

Mexico has recognized 62 Indigenous groups, and more than 11 million Mexicans identify as Indigenous.

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

Mexican officials expect these negotiations to be more difficult if the US presidency is won by Donald Trump in November. Trump, the first US president to be convicted of a crime, has vowed to impose 100 percent 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 which lost vast territory to a US 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 will close at 6pm local time. The first official preliminary results are expected later in the day.

- Reuters

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