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Amid violence and polarization, Mexico prepares to elect first female leader

Claudia Sheinbaum

Claudia Sheinbaum

Carlos Tischler/Reuters

Mexicans go to the polls Sunday in a landmark election that will install the country’s first female president.

The front-runner, by some 20 points, is Claudia Sheinbaum, a trained physicist and former mayor of Mexico City, who is the candidate of popular incumbent President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador’s newish left-wing Morena party. Her main opponent is former Senator Xochitl Gálvez, representing an oddball coalition of centrist and center-right establishment parties that used to be rivals.

Voters are choosing between the two women against a backdrop of rising cartel violence, which AMLO’s “hugs not bullets” crime policy has failed to tamp down (dozens of candidates have been murdered ahead of local elections), as well as deepening political and social polarization.

López Obrador’s folksy style, hefty social spending, and personal frugality have earned him immense popularity, especially among Mexico’s working class and rural population. He is expected to loom large over his successor in any scenario. But in his crusade against the establishment and monied elites, he has also centralized political power in ways that have raised alarm among democracy advocates.

What to watch: Sheinbaum looks set to win the top job, and Morena is well positioned in down-ticket races to cement its role as the defining force in Mexican politics. Analysts say that the only question is whether Morena will win all of the key governor races or merely most of them.


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