Claudia Sheinbaum wins Mexico presidency by landslide

Claudia Sheinbaum is set to become Mexico’s first female leader after preliminary results showed her on course to win an overwhelming election victory.

The leftwing former Mexico City mayor, a close ally of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was leading by nearly 30 percentage points, according to a partial official count early on Monday.

The ruling Morena party’s candidate had 58.5 per cent of the vote, with centre-right opposition rival Xóchitl Gálvez trailing far behind on 28.4 per cent, the electoral authority INE said after counting 72 per cent of ballots. A third candidate, Jorge Álvarez Máynez, took 10.6 per cent.

Morena, founded a decade ago by López Obrador, is also set to win both houses of congress and with two allied parties appears to be close to the two-thirds majority needed to secure constitutional changes, the results showed.

The Mexican peso slipped 2.4 per cent to 17.47 against the dollar, its lowest level since December, as investors digested the ruling party’s bigger than expected victory and the increased chance of constitutional changes that could include the elimination of independent regulators.

“The result opens a scenario of greater political risk and uncertainty for the business climate,” said political risk firm Integralia. “The threats to Mexico’s system of checks and balances are greater.”

After a campaign pledging continuity but scarred by high levels of election-related violence, Sheinbaum pledged to “respect business freedom” and facilitate “private national and foreign investment”.

“My government will be honest, without influences or corruption, it will be a government with republican austerity,” she said, adding that her competitors had called her to concede the election.

“Everything points to Morena sweeping the board,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political analyst. “There isn’t any good news for the opposition.”

The early results also showed Morena had seen off an opposition challenge in the Mexico City mayor’s election and would take seven of the eight state governorships up for election in the country of almost 130mn people.

After Sheinbaum’s speech, her supporters headed for Mexico City’s Zócalo central square to celebrate, some wearing mock presidential sashes with the slogan “We women got there together”.

Julieta Velazquez, a 33-year-old lawyer, said she was “immensely happy” on hearing the results. “I believe in [Sheinbaum] as a woman and it’s definitely the change Mexico needs.”

Mexico, which exports everything from cars and appliances to avocados and is the US’s number one trading partner, has a big opportunity to attract investment amid trade tensions between the US and China. Mexico overtook China as the biggest exporter of goods to the US last year.

To capitalise on this, experts say Sheinbaum must tackle a wave of criminal violence, with nearly 220,000 people killed or missing during López Obrador’s presidency, guarantee the rule of law and invest in infrastructure to overcome serious water and electricity shortages.

She also faces Mexico’s worst budget deficit since the 1980s, a result of López Obrador’s expanded welfare programmes and signature big infrastructure projects, such as a new oil refinery. In her speech, Sheinbaum promised a fiscally responsible government that would respect central bank autonomy.

In a stark reminder of the violence Mexico is facing, one polling station in the state of Mexico just outside the capital was set on fire on election day and shots fired at two others. About 175 others were unable to operate because of threats. At least 36 candidates were killed during the campaign, amid increased criminal control of the country’s politics.

Sheinbaum, 61, has promised to hew closely to the policies of López Obrador, a charismatic populist who won over the poor by doubling the minimum wage and boosting social programmes. But he also put forward constitutional changes that critics have said would weaken democracy. He was chastised by authorities for interfering in the election.

Sheinbaum also backs his expansion of the military into activities usually performed by civilians, with generals running the National Guard, airports, ports and the customs service.

She also supports controversial proposals such as popular elections for supreme court judges and directors of the electoral institute, saying they would expand democracy. These proposals raised alarm among civil rights groups but are now more likely to be enacted, given the congressional election results.

A former student activist of Jewish descent, Sheinbaum worked as a climate scientist and was a longtime party activist before following López Obrador into politics in the capital.

López Obrador’s name did not appear on the presidential ballot for the first time in almost two decades, because Mexico’s constitution prohibits re-election. The president has said he will retire to his ranch in the south but many Mexicans believe he will continue to stay active in national politics.

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