Claudia Sheinbaum will be Mexico's first female president

From the moment former Mayor of Mexico City Claudia Sheinbaum threw her hat in the ring for the presidency, the result was rarely in doubt.

Throughout the long and often gruelling campaign, as she criss-crossed the nation on commercial flights, her double-digit lead in the polls would have reassured her that she was on track to make history.

She has now done so, becoming Mexico’s first woman president by a huge margin.

It is a watershed moment both for Mexico and her personally. She has already served as Mexico City’s first female mayor. Now, in a few months, she will occupy the National Palace, succeeding her mentor, outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known by his initials, Amlo.

No matter what else happens in her political career or where her six years in power lead her, she will always be the woman who managed to break the glass ceiling in Mexican politics. Given the country’s deeply ingrained patriarchy and entrenched machismo, that is no small feat.

Yet once the campaign leaflets are binned and the billboards bearing her face taken down, Mexicans could be forgiven for wondering exactly what kind of president she will be. In a campaign so full of words and speeches, there was precious little policy detail and few specifics about governance.

On the stump, she often repeated her basic premise: that she would build the “second floor” of the “Fourth Transformation” – that is, the political project of her ally, Mr López Obrador.

President López Obrador and his supporters call it the “Fourth Transformation” or “4T” because they put his movement on a par with three transformative moments in Mexican history: Independence in 1810, the Reform War (and separation of church and state) of 1858 and the Mexican Revolution in 1910.

Unsurprisingly, opponents say Mr López Obrador and, by extension, Ms Sheinbaum have delusions of grandeur promoting such a title. But the 4T has become shorthand for a social agenda of universal pensions, student grants and family stipends which have been hugely popular across Mexico. The programme has lifted an estimated five million people from poverty throughout the country, although there is still widespread deprivation in many regions.

“The essence of this transformation is to separate economic power from political power,” she told the BBC in an interview in the eastern state of Veracruz. “Economic power has its path, but government must be directed towards the poor in Mexico.”

President López Obrador laid the foundations and built the first floor of the project, she said. “Now, we are going to build on the changes he made to the country.”

“It means more rights, a welfare state, education, health, access to housing, and that a living wage is a right, not a privilege,” she added. “That is the difference between neoliberalism and our model, which we call Mexican Humanism.”

In essence, she stood on a platform of continuity, pledging to double down on President López Obrador’s agenda. Her win shows that was a proposal supported by a sizeable majority of the Mexican electorate.

Still, the accusation from her detractors, in particular the second-placed candidate, Xóchitl Gálvez, is that the 4T is mere populism. Furthermore, she suggested Ms Sheinbaum would not be her own woman and would live under her mentor’s authoritarian shadow.

Vote for Sheinbaum, get Amlo, her critics suggested.

But while some commentators in Mexico seem to expect her to slavishly follow her popular predecessor’s lead, it does not necessarily follow that she will. There are many recent examples in Latin America where a supposed disciple has confounded expectations by striking out on their own.

Ms Sheinbaum herself is dismissive of the accusation. “I will govern with the same principles as Mr López Obrador, and that’s a good thing for Mexicans,” she told the BBC.

An urbane technocrat from a well-heeled Jewish family, whose maternal grandparents fled the Holocaust, she cuts a very different figure to Amlo. Their rhetorical styles are far apart. He hammers his points home with a flourish, enthralling his base, while she tends to be more measured and clipped.

She speaks fluent English, having completed her doctoral thesis in California. Before entering politics, she was an accomplished environmental scientist who served on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Accordingly, she is likely to be more comfortable on the world stage than her predecessor, whose success partly stems from his direct connection with ordinary people, particularly in indigenous regions and his home state of Tabasco.

For his part, Mr López Obrador insists he has no intention of meddling in her administration. He is looking forward to retirement at his ranch in the southern state of Chiapas, he claims.

Still, however their relationship evolves once he leaves office, most people want to see a marked improvement from Ms Sheinbaum in one key arena: security.

From the launch of her campaign to her victory party – both of which were held in Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zócalo – even her most ardent supporters say they want to see more done to tackle violent crime in the drug-violence ravaged nation.

Ms Sheinbaum says she hopes to reduce the murder rate from 23.3 homicides for every 100,000 residents to about 19.4 per 100,000 by 2027. That would put Mexico on par with Brazil.

She points to her term as Mexico City mayor, during which statistics suggest she oversaw a 50% reduction in the murder rate in the capital.

However, an academic who worked as a security adviser to her campaign said her team acknowledged that strategies which worked for running a city might simply not apply at the national level.

As if any reminder were needed of how high the stakes are, this was the most violent election in modern Mexican history.

In the final moments of his campaign for mayor of the tiny community of Coyuca de Benítez, Alfredo Cabrera was shaking hands with his supporters as he approached the stage to deliver his closing speech. Suddenly, a gunman appeared from behind him and shot the opposition candidate in the back of the head, killing him instantly.

As the crowd fled in sheer panic, some 15 shots rang out. The gunman was killed at the scene by the security forces.

Cabrera was the last of dozens of candidates to be murdered in the campaign. His death was a bloody, terrifying end to this most brutal of votes. As he was lying in a pool of blood in western Mexico, Claudia Sheinbaum was on stage in Mexico City urging her supporters to “make history”.

That step is over. Now, to bring drug cartel violence under control, she must succeed where the men who went before her have failed.

Leave a comment