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Claudia Sheinbaum : First elected woman president

Mexico’s newly elected president extended an olive branch on Monday to the more than one-third of Mexicans who did not vote for her. Claudia Sheinbaum, the first woman to win the presidency, faces a challenging path to unite a country deeply divided by outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Sheinbaum promised to continue the political direction set by her populist predecessor, despite widespread discontent with ongoing cartel violence and disappointing economic performance.

“Even though the majority backed our project, our duty is to look out for every Mexican without distinction,” Sheinbaum said in her victory speech after initial vote counts, delayed for a long time, showed her with a commanding lead, surpassing even López Obrador’s 2018 margin.

With about 78 percent of votes counted, Sheinbaum had approximately 59 percent of the votes, nearly twice as many as her closest competitor, Xóchitl Gálvez, who garnered around 28 percent.

“Even though many Mexicans don’t fully agree with our project, we must walk in peace and harmony,” Sheinbaum stated.

However, Sheinbaum will not take office for another four months, and López Obrador appeared determined to push through his highly divisive constitutional changes, which many opponents fear will weaken Mexico’s democracy before he leaves office on September 30.

López Obrador’s Morena party, which he founded and in which he remains more personally popular than Sheinbaum, seemed on track to win the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution. He has already outlined 20 constitutional changes, including the elimination of independent oversight and regulatory agencies.

“The climate of political polarization has worsened during the current administration,” wrote Moody’s Analytics Director Alfredo Coutiño in a report on Monday. “The country is significantly divided and will require the new president’s political leadership to restore national unity.”

For now, López Obrador struck a more celebratory tone, although throughout his six-year term, he has shown more contempt for journalists and opponents than for the country’s drug cartels, which he has not confronted.

“This is something truly historic,” López Obrador said about the election of Mexico’s first female president. “We are living through exceptional, extraordinary, glorious times.”

U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement congratulating Sheinbaum on her historic election, stating, “I look forward to working closely with President-elect Sheinbaum in the spirit of partnership and friendship that reflects the enduring bonds between our two countries.”

López Obrador also reiterated his pledge to allow Sheinbaum to govern without interference after he leaves office.

“Let it be heard loud and clear, after I finish my term, I will retire and will never again participate in any public or political act,” he said.

He also hinted that Sheinbaum might have some flexibility to modify his proposed constitutional reforms but without making any promises.

“We have to reach an agreement with Claudia on these bills,” he said. “I don’t want to impose anything.”

He emphasized that he does not aspire to be a “moral leader,” a “maximum boss,” a “caudillo,” or a “cacique,” using a pre-Hispanic term for a lifelong autocratic leader.

Sheinbaum, a climate scientist and former mayor of Mexico City, has vowed to continue López Obrador’s policies. In her victory speech on Monday, she gave little indication of how she will put her own stamp on the presidency. Her calm demeanor contrasts sharply with López Obrador’s folksy populism and marks a break from Mexico’s male-dominated political culture.

Sheinbaum said Sunday night that her two competitors called to concede, marking an election that guaranteed Mexico would make history. The two leading candidates were women, and Sheinbaum is also the first person of Jewish heritage to lead the predominantly Catholic country.

Sara Ros, a 76-year-old retired literature professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, expressed confidence that Sheinbaum will reconcile the country.

“The only way we move forward is by working together,” Ros said. “She is going to work to bring peace to the country, but it is a slow process.”

On Monday, however, López Obrador showed little appetite for reconciliation with the middle class, one of his favorite targets for criticism. He mentioned hearing very classist and angry remarks at a polling place in a middle-income neighborhood on Sunday, adding, “Let’s hope they get over it … little by little.”

The elections were widely seen as a referendum on López Obrador, who has expanded social programs but largely failed to reduce cartel violence. The 61-year-old Sheinbaum is unlikely to enjoy the same level of unwavering devotion that López Obrador has.

In Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zócalo, Sheinbaum’s lead did not draw the jubilant crowds that greeted López Obrador’s victory in 2018.

Fernando Fernández, a 28-year-old chef, joined the relatively small gathering hoping for a Sheinbaum victory, but acknowledged there were problems.

“You vote for Claudia out of conviction, for AMLO,” Fernández said, referring to López Obrador by his initials, as most Mexicans do. His highest hope is that Sheinbaum can improve on what AMLO couldn’t achieve—reducing the price of gasoline, crime, and drug trafficking.

Sheinbaum highlighted the long struggle for a woman to reach the presidency.

“I do not arrive alone,” she said. “We all arrived, with our heroines who gave us our homeland, with our mothers, our daughters, and our granddaughters.”

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