Mexican voters will elect their first woman president this weekend

Over 100 million Mexicans will cast their votes on Sunday to elect their new president.

In many ways, this election will be like no other that the country has experienced in its modern democratic career. But there are two certainties. Mexico will elect its first female president and her name will be Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo. Buoyed up by support from a popular incumbent and promising to continue the path set by her predecessor, Sheinbaum enjoys enormous electoral support.

According to the opinion polls, Sheinbaum has maintained a comfortable double-digit lead for months over her nearest rival. Unless there is a catastrophic irregularity or tragedy of monumental proportions, she will become president.

A protégée of the outgoing populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Sheinbaum promises  continuity. Although not a larger-than-life figure like AMLO, Sheinbaum is no political lightweight. An academic and a technocrat, she has a long resumé – which includes an illustrious career as a successful head of government of Mexico City, an overcrowded megapolis of some 22 million inhabitants.

But Sheinbaum has her work cut out. The list of issues that she has to confront is long.

Gendered violence

In a country long regarded as a bastion of male dominance, a female president will mark a seismic shift in people’s outlook and preference. Mexican women have traditionally suffered extreme levels of gendered violence. More than 3,000 are murdered each year. These abysmal numbers have prompted some Mexicans to describe their country as a “femicide nation”.

“Eleven women are killed in this country every day. We have at least 20,000 women who are missing in Mexico. And the state’s failures in searching for these women and investigating what has happened to them have remained unchanged for almost 30 years now,” the head of Amnesty International Mexico commented a couple of years ago.

Despite AMLO’s talk of gender equality and greater protection of women and their rights, sexual crimes against girls and women have increased. Instead of tacking the issue, López Obrador has described feminist activists as “dark forces” representing the conservative element and the femicide crisis as a product of “neoliberal” policies of previous governments.

Although two female candidates lead the race to the nation’s highest office, “it is unclear how much it will shift the realities of [working] women in the country.”

And more violence

While Sheinbaum has been very vocal in emphasizing national prosperity in her campaign rhetoric, the country is staring into a violent future. The outgoing government followed a hands-off policy in dealing with the narco cartels.

AMLO’s abrazos no balazos (“hugs not bullets”) policy, which emphasized addressing the societal causes of violence, was an utter failure. Instead of curtailing criminal violence the strategy empowered the criminals. When violence rose, the government of AMLO, its critics contend, tried to reduce the official count of the number of dead and disappeared. Mexican gangs multiplied, corrupting local governments and tightening their grip on the economy.

With a few exceptions, the current government has struggled to control the killings, disappearances and acts of extortion. In fact, in the run-up to the June 2 election, dozens of candidates contesting for political positions have been murdered by the cartels.

Xochitil Galvez, the consensus candidate of the combined opposition, has been very vocal about the state of insecurity. “I have a head, I have a heart, but I also have the guts to take on criminals,” Gálvez has said on her campaign trail.

By contrast, Sheinbaum has been vague on her security proposals. When pressed, she has pledged continuity with AMLO’s largely non-confrontational security policies and touted her crime-fighting record as leader of the country’s sprawling capital.   


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Keeping the engine of growth running

On the brighter side, Sheinbaum will inherit one of the better performing economies in Latin America. Despite worldwide economic headwinds, Mexico is expected to achieve a growth rate higher than its 30-year average this year. The economy is forecast to grow by 3.5 percent in 2024.

Under AMLO, the poverty rate in Mexico declined from 49.9 percent of the population in 2018 to 36.3 percent in 2023. His supporters suggest it is due to the pro-poor policies of the government. Critics attribute it to a doubling of the remittances from abroad, which rose from around $33.5 billion in 2018 to about $60 billion in 2023.

Critics have long held that the outgoing president’s economic policy can be best described as “absent, voluntaristic and incompetent”. They complain that there was not only “an almost total absence of economic policy under Lopez Obrador’s administration, but the state also retreated from many fronts and left a vacuum for the markets to fill.”

Like her predecessor, Sheinbaum believes that the neo-liberal policies of past governments undermined Mexico’s poor and underprivileged. She will prioritize social welfare and equitable development and will preserve his social welfare programs.

But she will inherit an economy that has been depleted by AMLO’s populist projects. She will have to do some serious housekeeping to cut public spending and bring finances back to a stable footing. This is bound to alienate those Mexicans who have grown accustomed to the politics of patronage.

Political continuity in democracy is a mixed bag. If the policies of the previous administration have been good, a change of course can be counterproductive. But if faulty and inadequate policies are carried over in the name of continuity it can spell disaster for the people at the receiving end.  

What awaits Mexico after the election? Leave your comments in the box below.  

Amalendu Misra is a Professor of International Politics at Lancaster University, United Kingdom, and the author of “Towards a Philosophy of Narco-Violence in Mexico” (New York: Palgrave). Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @MisraAmalendu   

Image credits: Claudia Sheinbaum in 2020 / Wikimedia 


Showing 6 reactions

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  • David Page
    commented 2024-06-02 09:57:56 +1000
    Mrs Cracker, I don’t think the traffic in exotic birds is a threat to humanity. I get it that you want to hang on to our absurd drug law, many of which are targeted toward minority communities. Crack cocaine springs to mind. If a white guy is caught with powder cocaine he goes to rehab. If a black guy is caught with crack cocaine he goes to prison. Conservatives hang on to those disparities with a feverous intensity. I get all that. But what is the actual benefit of these laws? Is it to keep minorities out of the mainstream?
  • mrscracker
    Sorry for not being clearer, Mr. Steven. All different sorts of contraband are trafficked across our borders, it’s not just drugs. One of the popular ones today is exotic birds & animals. They’re smuggled in quite inhumane ways & when discovered by border agents, a number are suffering or deceased.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-05-31 11:30:21 +1000
    Why would you have “trafficking” of drugs if they were legal and available? Where would be the profit in it?

    Human trafficking is another matter. A few CEOs doing a stretch for using the labour of illegal immigrants, directly or indirectly, should mitigate that problem.
  • mrscracker
    Mr. Steven, the cartels operate on both sides of the US border now. They’re active in all 50 states. We cooperate & enable the cartels by buying their drugs, refusing to reform immigration laws, laundering cartel money, sending cash & firearms to Mexico, & we encourage human trafficking by employing illegal migrants who are exploitable.
    Smuggling/trafficking operations only are successful when they benefit both sides: those sending & those receiving the goods. No one’s hands are clean in this. Even if every dangerous drug was readily available & legalized in the States you’d still have trafficking going on. And human trafficking is more profitable than drugs are.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-05-30 16:19:03 +1000
    Many real world problems are intractable. The problem of the narco-cartels is not.

    Cease the absurd policy of drug prohibition. If there ever was a case of the “cure” being worse than the disease it’s drug prohibitions. Turn drugs into a legal regulated industry.

    If the US doesn’t like it, tell them it’s their problem. If they want to go on needlessly ruining the lives of so many of their citizens, so be it.
  • Amalendu Misra
    published this page in The Latest 2024-05-30 15:27:22 +1000