Mexico holds historic election in race largely overshadowed by violence

MEXICO CITY — Mexican voters are participating in the country’s largest-ever election, voting Sunday to fill more than 20,000 local, state and federal positions and will almost certainly elect their first female president.

Isis Duarte, a law student, got up early and arrived at a polling station in Mexico City about two hours before it opened at 8 a.m. local time.

“Today is an important election,” Duarte said. She was the third voter to vote.

Duarte said she was excited to vote for a woman president “because it shows how far we’ve come as a country.”

But the path to one of the most important elections in Mexico’s history has been marred by endemic violence.

Criminal groups have seized large parts of Mexico as they fight for territory to smuggle drugs into the United States, make money from migrant smuggling and extort residents to fuel their illicit activities.

Violence against political figures has also persisted throughout this election cycle, leading to a 150% increase in the number of victims of political violence since 2021, according to an analysis by Integralia, a public affairs consultancy that studies political risks and other issues in Mexico. .

These events greatly dismayed Mexican voters, leading most of them to cite security as a major concern. About 6 in 10 Mexican adults consider the city they live in unsafe due to robberies or gun violence, according to a survey by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography released in April.

“Violence is present in daily life, everywhere,” Duarte said.

On May 10, a woman in Mexico City held up a sign with a message saying in Spanish: “I will trade my vote for my son.”Marco Ugarte / AP

The two leading presidential candidates – Claudia Sheinbaum, of Mexico’s ruling Morena political party, and Xóchitl Gálvez, of the opposition Broad Front for Mexico coalition – have radically different ideas about how best to reduce crime.

One of them is expected to make history as the first female president of Mexico, given that Jorge Álvarez Máynez, the presidential candidate of the Citizen Movement party, is coming in third in the polls.

“It’s a necessary change. It’s long overdue,” Mexico City resident Marc Siegel said after voting Sunday afternoon.

Sheinbaum, a former mayor of Mexico City and a physicist and climate scientist, said she plans to combat violence by continuing the “hugs, not bullets” policy implemented by her mentor, outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who does not directly take into account violence. on cartels as had been done under previous administrations.

Presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo in Mexico City on May 29.Carlos Tischler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Before López Obrador, “there was at least a rhetorical intention on the part of the Mexican government and local governments to do something” about the violence, said Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. “But since Mr. Lopez Obrador took office in late 2018, that narrative has completely changed… These criminals feel like they can do almost anything they want and the state won’t come after them. ”

López Obrador’s policies have not significantly reduced murders over the past six years, as Mexican government data shows at least 102,400 homicides were reported during that period.

Zocalo Square in Mexico City on May 29, 2024.Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images

But the data also shows that López Obrador’s predecessors’ strategy of pursuing drug lords in all-out war did not improve security either.

Gálvez, a former senator and technology entrepreneur, is working to convince voters that access to health care and economic development have stalled under Morena and that crime rates remain high.

The center-right candidate also tried to position her party — a coalition of traditional political parties that have long governed Mexico, such as the conservative Party of National Action, or PAN, the small Progressive Party of the Democratic Revolution and the old guard of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. , or PRI – as the change Mexico needs to unite an increasingly polarized country.

“I would like to see some level of change,” said Aaron Carreras, who voted in Mexico City, “but it doesn’t have to be a big overhaul.”

Presidential candidate Xóchitl Gálvez in Monterrey, Mexico, on May 29.Mauricio Palos/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mexico’s next president will play an important role in resolving issues of priority to the United States, such as immigration and foreign affairs, as well as determining the future of the trade agreement that has made Mexico the largest trading partner of the United States.

In Mexico, polls close at 6:00 p.m. local time.

Nicole Acevedo reported from New York and Guad Venegas and Kayla McCormick from Mexico City.

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