Mexico’s election votes are expected to lead to the country’s first female president

MEXICO CITY — Polls closed Sunday in a national vote likely to give Mexico its first female president, but the heat, violence and polarization continued almost until Election Day.

People turned out to vote in the commune of Cuitzeo in the western state of Michoacán, despite the fact that a local council candidate was shot dead by two assassins on a motorcycle just hours before the election. Residents voted under heavy police guard – but later walked past the home of slain candidate Israel Delgado to light a candle for the well-known local politician at a makeshift shrine on his doorstep.

Nationally, the vote was largely peaceful, but it appeared that even if the mayor — former Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum — wins, she is unlikely to enjoy the kind of unquestioned devotion enjoyed by incumbent President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Both belong to the ruling Morena party.

Araceli Hernández, 49, a university professor of international studies in Mexico City, said she was voting for Morena. “Even if there are things we don’t like, like militarization, there have been advances.”

Hernández was referring to López Obrador’s policy of relying on the military and the quasi-military National Guard, rather than the police, to fight crime. Although she was going to vote to continue the ruling party’s hold on national politics, she noted that “we will continue to be critical” of some government policies.

Mexico City voter Yoselin Ramírez, 29, said she voted for Sheinbaum but split her vote for other positions because she doesn’t want anyone to hold a strong majority.

“I don’t want everything to be held by the same party, so there can be a little more equality,” she said.

The main opposition candidate, Xóchitl Gálvez, a tech entrepreneur and former senator, sought to capitalize on Mexicans’ concerns about security and promised to take a more aggressive approach to organized crime.

Nearly 100 million people are registered to vote in the race to replace incumbent President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Voters were also electing governors in nine of the country’s 32 states and electing candidates for both houses of Congress, thousands of mayors and other local offices in the largest election the nation has seen and the marked by violence.

The election is widely seen as a referendum on López Obrador, a populist who has expanded social programs but largely failed to curb cartel violence in Mexico. His Morena Party currently holds 23 of the 32 gubernatorial seats and a simple majority of seats in both houses of Congress. Mexico’s constitution prohibits the re-election of the president.

Both major presidential candidates are women, and whoever would be Mexico’s first female president. A third candidate from a smaller party, Jorge Álvarez Máynez, lagged far behind.

Sheinbaum is running with the Morena party. Sheinbaum, who is leading the race, has promised to continue all of López Obrador’s policies, including a universal pension for the elderly and a program that pays young people for apprenticeships.

Gálvez, whose father was indigenous Otomi, rose from selling snacks on the street in her impoverished hometown to start her own technology firms. Running with a coalition of major opposition parties, she left the Senate last year to focus her anger on López Obrador’s decision to avoid confronting drug cartels with his “hugs, not bullets” policy. She promised to more aggressively pursue criminals.

Persistent cartel violence, along with Mexico’s average economic performance, are top issues on voters’ minds.

Julio García, an office worker in Mexico City, said he voted for the opposition in Mexico City’s central San Rafael neighborhood. “They robbed me twice at gunpoint. You have to change the direction, change the leadership,” the 34-year-old said. “Continuing in the same way, we will become Venezuela.”

On the outskirts of Mexico City, in the San Andres Totoltepec neighborhood, election officials passed 34-year-old housewife Stephania Navarrete, who watched dozens of cameramen and election officials gather where front-runner Claudia Sheinbaum would vote.

Navarrete said he plans to vote for Sheinbaum, despite his own misgivings about López Obrador and his party.

“Having a woman president, for me as a Mexican woman, it will be like before, when for the simple fact that you say you are a woman, you are limited to certain professions. No more.”

She said Sheinbaum’s mentor’s social programs were crucial, but that the worsening cartel violence of the past few years was her primary concern in this election.

“This is something they need to focus more on,” she said. “For me security is the major challenge. They said they would lower the crime rate, but no, it was the other way around, they shot themselves. Obviously, I don’t blame the president, but it’s his responsibility in a way.”

In Iztapalapa, Mexico City’s largest neighborhood, Angelina Jiménez, a 76-year-old housewife, said she came to vote “to end this inept government that says we’re doing well and (still) are so of many deaths”.

She said the violence plaguing Mexico really worries her, so she planned to vote for opposition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez, who has promised to take on the cartels. “(López Obrador) says we are better and it is not true. We are worse.”

López Obrador claims to have reduced historically high homicide levels by 20% since taking office in December 2018. But this is largely a claim based on a dubious reading of the statistics; the actual homicide rate appears to have fallen by only about 4% in six years.

Just as the upcoming November rematch between Biden and Trump highlighted deep divisions in the United States, Sunday’s election revealed how sharply polarized public opinion is in Mexico about the direction of the country, including its security strategy and how to grow the economy.

Beyond the battle for control of Congress, the race for Mexico City — whose top post is now considered the equivalent of a governorship — is also important. Sheinbaum is the latest of many Mexico City mayors, including López Obrador, to run for president. Female governors in large, populous states such as Veracruz and Jalisco are also attracting interest.

Polls opened at 8 am and closed at 6 pm (0000 GMT Monday) in most of the country. The first preliminary, partial results are expected by 21:00 (0300 GMT Monday), after the closing of the latest polls in various time zones.