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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas Action Fund

Mexico elects first female president

This week’s election of Dr. Claudia Sheinbaum as the first female president of Mexico in the nation’s 200-plus years of independence marks a historic moment for Mexico and Mexicans. Indeed, the climate scientist and former jefe de gobierno of CDMX from the Morena party is the first woman to win a presidential election in the United States, Mexico or Canada.

 

But it is not by accident that a woman was elected to the highest public office. While Dr. Sheinbaum deserves credit for her success in becoming the first woman to be elected president of Mexico, progressive electoral reforms have led to a more representative government in Mexico. Since 2019, Mexico has required gender parity in elections, resulting in women currently serving as head of the highest court in the country, head of the independent elections institute, head of the federal senate, head of the federal chamber of deputies and a historic number of women elected to lead states as governors, state legislators and local mayors. To her credit, Dr. Sheinbaum earned more than 5 million more votes than the current president, and more total votes than former presidents Calderon and Fox combined.

 

This election made history in other ways as well. For example, the 2024 election was the most violent in modern history, with no less than 38 candidates murdered. The LA Times reported that there were 560 victims of political violence as of May 1 — compared with 389 victims during the 2017-18 campaign and 299 in the 2020-21 midterms. Of the 38 candidates killed this year, 10 have been part of Morena.

 

And while we celebrate the historic first election of a female president, the challenges Dr. Sheinbaum inherits are longstanding. Mexico remains a divided and polarized country, as demonstrated by the lower than average voter participation rate of under 61%. By comparison, the U.S. saw a 65% participation rate in the 2020 election. Among the 182,514 votes cast by Mexican nationals living in the U.S. – one of the lowest since reforms that allowed Mexicans to vote from abroad – Dr. Sheinbaum won by fewer than 5,000 votes.

 

It’s important to note that more than 650,000 Mexicans – out of more than 10 million Mexico-born people living in the U.S. (Pew Research Center) – had an active voting registration and could have voted in the election from abroad, yet nearly half a million of them chose not to. The fact that less than 2% of all Mexican nationals living in the U.S. and less than 30% of registered voters living here actually voted is indicative of the lack of investment and intentionality by both the candidates and the Mexican government to invite and appeal to voters abroad.

 

Looming even larger than political polarization, however, are the security, corruption, and poverty issues that have consumed the nation. Consider the following:


  • More people have been killed – over 185,000 – during the mandate of Lopez Obrador than during any other administration in Mexico's modern history, according to the LA Times. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography reports that 61.4% of Mexicans do not feel safe in the cities where they live, only 10.9% of crimes were reported in 2022, and a mere 1.2% of these resulted in punishment, indicating that 98.8% of criminal acts went unpunished.

  • Transparency International's 2022 Corruption Index assigned Mexico a score of 31 out of 100, ranking it 126th out of 180 countries, which suggests a grave level of corruption that pervades all levels of public service. Six out of 10 companies engaged in corrupt practices to expedite procedures, with 40% offering bribes to avoid penalties.

  • In 2022, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, 46.8 million people lived in poverty. Nearly 85 million people (65.7% of the population) were deprived of access to at least one public service. Another 64.7 million were without social security, 50.4 million lacked access to health services, 23.4 million did not eat nutritious and quality food, 25.1 million did not have the education level appropriate for their age, and 22.9 million were without basic services in their homes.


Unfortunately, the ever-growing U.S. influence on Mexican policies often exacerbates these challenges by creating forced displacement of millions of Mexicans along with other violations of civil rights when the U.S. forces countries like Mexico to use the military to enforce immigration policies.


Clearly, President-elect Sheinbaum has her work cut out for her. In her midnight speech, she said that Mexico would continue a strong relationship and friendship with the United States.


While it is clear that immigration or the needs of Mexicans living abroad were not high on the list of priorities for any of the major party candidates, including the winner, Dr. Sheinbaum did offer up a one-liner about us.


“And we will always defend Mexicans who live on the other side of the border,” she said.

 

Whether she keeps that promise or not depends on Mexicans in Mexico and abroad and whether we choose to get involved to hold all of our elected officials accountable, including those in our home countries.


Voces Unidas offers an international leadership program for Colorado immigrant leaders and its 2024 cohort was in Mexico City during the June 2nd presidential election in Mexico.



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