‘La Presidenta’: Claudia Sheinbaum wins historic Mexico election mandate

The country’s first female president faces a raft of challenges, from crime to a fractured polity.

Mexico has elected Claudia Sheinbaum, a former mayor of the capital, as the country’s first female president after a heated election on Sunday, with the nation’s top election authority projecting a comfortable win for the 61-year-old physicist-turned-politician.

Sheinbaum, a protege of Mexico’s outgoing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is expected to win more than 58 percent of the national vote, the National Electoral Institute of Mexico (INE) said, in what is known as a “quick count” of the vote.

Her win entrenches the governing Morena party’s hold over power in Mexico, six years after Lopez Obrador, also known by his initials AMLO, ran an anti-establishment campaign against the country’s traditionally mainstream parties to win the 2018 election.

“I commit to you that I will not let you down,” Sheinbaum said, in a victory statement on X. “There is history, there is homeland, there is people, and there is commitment.”

Late on Sunday night in Mexico, the principal opposition candidate, Xochitl Galvez, conceded defeat. A trained engineer with Indigenous roots, Galvez rose from poverty to become a tech entrepreneur.

“A few minutes ago, I contacted … Sheinbaum to acknowledge the election result. I told her that I saw a Mexico with a lot of pain and violence and that I hope she can resolve the serious problems of our people,” she was quoted as saying by local media.

During her campaign, Sheinbaum faced questions over her close ties to AMLO — a president who enjoys vast popularity in Mexico, despite critics accusing him of authoritarian tendencies — including whether she would be able to lead independently.

However, Sheinbaum and Lopez Obrador have insisted that he would hold no influence over her government.

“I am going to retire completely,” he said last year. “I will never again appear at any public event.”

“I do not want to be anybody’s adviser … I will not have any relationship with politicians,” the president said, adding, “I am not going to talk about politics.”

A mystery

Sheinbaum struggled to establish her identity in this campaign while under AMLO’s influence.

While trying to convince Mexicans to vote for her, she has adhered closely to his policies, while also trying to assert her individuality. To many, Mexico’s first female president remains somewhat a mystery.

“It’s complicated,” Juan Pablo Micozzi, an associate professor of political science at Mexico’s Autonomous Institute of Technology (ITAM), told Al Jazeera.

“Her [political] trajectory has been practically an unconditional alignment with AMLO … So, it’s really hard for me to understand what Claudia is going to do on day one without AMLO in charge,” Micozzi added.

However, there may be some clues in her early life, suggest other analysts.

Sheinbaum grew up in a family deeply engaged in activism, and her involvement began from a young age. At 15, she volunteered to assist groups of mothers searching for their missing children, while in the 1980s she also joined protests against state intervention in education policies.

She earned her PhD in energy engineering at the age of 33, and as she prepared her thesis, she spent time at the University of California, Berkeley in the United States.

Her political journey started in 2000 when Lopez Obrador, then the newly elected mayor of Mexico City, selected her to serve as the leader of his environmental team.

In the years that followed, she actively campaigned for AMLO and developed her own academic and political career, including serving as the mayor of Tlalpan and then Mexico City.

“I believe we can anticipate a presidency under Sheinbaum that is more disciplined than Lopez Obrador’s,” Carlos Ramirez, a political analyst at Integralia, a Mexico City-based consultancy, told Al Jazeera. “A more orderly presidency, a presidency with more planning, with a more technical profile among the officials who will surely accompany and surround her in her cabinet.”

Ramirez said he expects Sheinbaum to be a “president who better understands the world, unlike Lopez Obrador, whose vision has always been very provincial, very local”.

Nevertheless, she assumes leadership of a nation confronting a range of challenges — with security issues at the forefront.

‘It’s a matter of state capacity’

In recent years, Mexico has seen more than 30,000 murders a year, and some 100,000 people are still unaccounted for.

The lead-up to the June 2 election was exceptionally violent, with 37 candidates killed and hundreds forced to withdraw from the race.

According to the annual public survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), six out of 10 Mexican citizens rate insecurity as their primary concern.

However, during Sheinbaum’s time as Mexico’s City mayor,  according to a Reuters report, the homicide rate fell 50 percent between December 2018 and June 2023. She credited this to successful security measures which enhanced police operations and collaboration with prosecutors.

At the federal level, Sheinbaum has expressed her intention to continue AMLO’s strategy of avoiding confrontation with crime groups, while also relying on the National Guard, which is operated by the military, for security operations.

“They will have to continue using the army because … [no other] institution has the strength to face the potential problems associated with the cartels and organised crime groups,” Miguel Angel Toro Rios, dean of the School of Social Sciences and Government at Tecnologico de Monterrey, a Monterrey-based university, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s a matter of state capacity, and Mexico does not have the state capacity without the army to face these kinds of problems,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera