Mexico elects leftist Claudia Sheinbaum as the first female president in its history

Claudia Sheinbaum greets supporters early Monday.
Claudia Sheinbaum greets supporters early Monday. The U.S.-educated scientist-turned-politician has been elected as Mexico’s first female president.
(CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Claudia Sheinbaum, a U.S.-educated scientist-turned-politician, was elected Sunday as Mexico’s first female president, shattering gender barriers in a country known for a culture of machismo and high rates of violence against women.

“In 200 years of the Mexican republic, I have become the first woman president,” she told supporters in her acceptance speech, describing her victory as a win for all women. “I did not arrive alone,” she said. “We all arrived.”

The leftist former mayor of Mexico City, Sheinbaum, 61, will also become the first president of Jewish ancestry in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.


She will lead a prosperous but polarized nation that in recent years has been plagued by widespread gang violence. And she will be closely watched to see how she navigates the long shadow of her mentor, outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Sheinbaum was elected in landslide fashion, according to preliminary vote counts, which showed her winning with 58% of the vote compared with 30% for her closest rival, Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz.

A successful businesswoman, Gálvez ran a spirited campaign representing an opposition coalition, but ultimately could not overcome the well-oiled machinery of Morena, Sheinbaum’s political party. Trailing in third behind the women was Jorge Álvarez Máynez, a member of Congress.

Sheinbaum is the protege and hand-picked successor of López Obrador, who founded Morena in 2011 and who has since transformed it into a political behemoth that has drawn comparisons to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico in autocratic fashion for most of the 20th century.

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López Obrador, who under the constitution is limited to a single six-year term, is a deeply polarizing figure: Supporters laud him for helping lift millions out of poverty while critics assail him for disregarding democratic norms and failing to curb cartel violence.

Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz waves after polls closed.
Candidate Xóchitl Gálvez Ruiz waves after polls closed Sunday.
(Marco Ugarte / Associated Press)

Although López Obrador was not on the ballot, many viewed the election as a referendum on his term.

Many Sheinbaun supporters said they believed she would advance López Obrador’s trademark anti-poverty policies, particularly his government’s welfare payments to students and elderly people.

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“She is going to continue with all the help that the president has given us,” said Rosa Maria Velazco, a 52-year-old teacher. “She will continue to support the poorest.”

Gálvez supporters, on the other hand, largely said they backed her because she promised to change the course set by López Obrador.

“I’m very angry at this government,” said Julieta Jujnovsky, 45, a professor of biology.

She said she didn’t oppose López Obrador’s ideology so much as his style of governing. “He doesn’t want any opposition,” said Jujnovsky, who described the president’s efforts to reform the Supreme Court, slash the number of seats in Mexico’s legislature and overhaul the country’s elections institute as part of a “deterioration” of Mexico’s democracy. “Democracy depends on counterweights and listening to the other side,” she said.

How Sheinbaum will mange to mend the divisions so evident during López Obrador’s term is one of the many questions hanging over her presidency. And, while López Obrador has vowed to retire from politics, many wonder whether he will indeed stay away from the political fray that has animated his entire adult life.

Indigenous women vote  in Zinacantan, Mexico.
Indigenous women vote in Zinacantan, in southern Mexico, on Sunday.
(Luis Etzin / Associated Press)

Sheinbaum, for her part, has dismissed such questions as misogynist.

Her victory was a groundbreaking development in a country where women were barred from voting until 1954.

Her success is in some way a culmination of years of efforts by Mexican authorities to impose gender equality in a nation where politics was traditionally a male affair. A 2019 constitutional reform set quotas requiring gender parity in all elected posts at the federal, state and municipal levels.

Today, more than half of the members of Mexico’s congress are women, the fourth-highest rate in the world. Eight of the nation’s 31 governors are female and a woman heads the Supreme Court.

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Some voters expressed wonderment that Mexico had elected a female leader before much of the rest of the world, including the United States.

“Never in my entire life did I imagine that a woman would be president of my country,” said Cristina Navarrete Santillán, 76, who voted for Sheinbaum in Mexico City alongside her two daughters and two granddaughters. “I am glad to be alive to see it.”


Sunday’s election was Mexico’s largest ever, with voters also choosing a new Congress, eight state governors, the Mexico City mayor and some 20,000 local officeholders nationwide.

Preliminary results showed that Morena performed well in the congressional elections, and would, as part of a coalition with two allied parties, likely have a supermajority that would allow it to easily pass legislation.

In the United States, which is home to nearly 11 million people born in Mexico, migrants who in the past were able only to vote in Mexican elections by mail could vote for the first time in person at consulates.

Long lines of voters stretched for blocks in cities that included Chicago and Orlando, Fla. In Los Angeles, the line at the Mexican Consulate in MacArthur Park wrapped around the block twice, with some people arriving as early as 4 a.m.

Voters draped in Mexican flags waited patiently as mariachi music blasted.

Laura Torres, who arrived with a group from Oxnard, said she had waited six hours to vote and would wait another six if necessary. The group planned to vote for Sheinbaum.

In some parts of Mexico, voters also lined up before dawn.

That was the case in the middle-class neighborhood of San Andres Totoltepec, where Sheinbaum, an environmental engineer by training, was reared and where she voted early Sunday.


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As the candidate took her place in a line of about 100 people to cast her ballot, the crowd broke out in chants of “Presidenta!”

Sheinbaum spent much of her career as an academic, although she was raised in a highly political family.

Both her parents were active in the 1968 student movement, best known for the infamous Tlatelolco massacre in which Mexican security forces killed scores of protesters in the capital. Her first husband was a leftist politican.

When López Obrador was elected mayor of Mexico City in 2000, he launched Sheinbaum’s political career by making her secretary of environment for the capital.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president, kneels during an Indigenous ceremony during his inauguration six years ago.
( Bloomberg / Getty Images)

She later joined his breakaway political group, the National Regeneration Movement, known as Morena, and was elected in 2015 as borough president of Tlalpan, a district in southern Mexico City.


Three years later, she was elected mayor of Mexico City and he was elected president in a landslide victory for Morena.

López Obrador vowed to put the “poor first” in a country that he said had been hijacked by a corrupt and conservative elite. López Obrador’s approval rating still tops 60%, making him one of the most popular leaders in Latin America.

When he departs office in October, he will leave his successor with a strong economy that has been bolstered by the relocation of foreign firms from Asia and elsewhere to Mexico. The Mexican peso has been among the world’s strongest currencies.

But the next president will also inherit a number of crises, including dire water shortages, a struggling healthcare system, stubborn inequality and violence from criminal gangs and cartels so severe that the U.S. State Department warns its citizens not to travel to many Mexican states.

López Obrador’s controversial “hugs not bullets” strategy — which prioritizes social programs for the young over direct confrontations with cartels — has failed to stop the country’s violence, although homicides have fallen some during the last six years. Security is by far Mexicans’ main concern, polls show.

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While voters were fiercely split on the issues at the heart of the race, many on both sides of the political divide were elated to have the chance to vote for a woman.


Fewer than a third of the countries in the United Nations have ever had a female leader, according to a Pew Research Center analysis from last year.

Rosa Maria Beltrán, a 39-year-old dentist who voted for Sheinbaum, said she was proud of her country.

“Tell the people in the United States that in Mexico we are going to have a female president before them,” she said.

Cecilia Sánchez Vidal in Mexico City and Anthony De Leon and Dania Maxwell in Los Angeles contributed to this report.