Mexico to choose woman presidential candidates - GulfToday

Mexico to choose woman presidential candidates

Supporters of Mexican presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum hold up a poster of her during her closing campaign rally at the Zocalo in Mexico City.  File/Associated Press

Supporters of Mexican presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum hold up a poster of her during her closing campaign rally at the Zocalo in Mexico City. File/Associated Press

Mexico goes into Sunday’s election deeply divided: friends and relatives no longer talk politics for fear of worsening unbridgeable divides, while drug cartels have split the country into a patchwork quilt of warring fiefdoms. The atmosphere is literally heating up, amid a wave of unusual heat, drought, pollution and political violence. It’s unclear whether Mexico’s next president will be able to rein in the underlying violence and polarization. Soledad Echagoyen, a Mexico City doctor who supports President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party, says she can no longer talk about politics with her colleagues. “In order to not lose friendships, we decided not to bring up politics starting six years ago, because we were arguing, and the attacks started to get personal,” said Dr. Echagoyen. Being a critic of the current administration does not appear to be easier. “There’s too much hate,” said Mexico City student Luis Ávalos, 21. He said some of his friends accuse him of “betraying the country” for not supporting López Obrador.

Opposition presidential candidate Xóchitl Gálvez has focused her ire on López Obrador’s “hugs not bullets” policy of not confronting the drug cartels.

She faces former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, who is running for López Obrador’s Morena party. Sheinbaum, who leads in the race, has promised to continue all of López Obrador’s policies. López Obrador himself likes to depict every issue as a struggle between the forces of the “good people” and shadowy conservative conspiracies, and he has done a lot to stoke the flames of division and anger. “More than an election, this is a referendum to choose the kind of country we want,” López Obrador said recently. And it really is a referendum on him: he - much like Donald Trump in the United States - is the central figure in the campaign. In Mexico, just as across the globe, forces of angry, charismatic populism are fighting it out with an income-polarized liberal democracy. Issues of national identity, the influence of foreigners and economic exclusion have divided the country into warring camps.

“In this country, what’s being built isn’t a sense of citizenship, but rather of voter bases,” said Gloria Alcocer, the director of the civic-minded magazine Voz y Voto, roughly “Voice and Vote.” López Obrador is prohibited by law from running for reelection to another six-year term. The battle lines are drawn: the ruling Morena Party already holds the governorships of 23 of the country’s 32 states, and is going for them all. It already has a simple majority in both houses of Congress, and wants a two-thirds majority so it can amend the Constitution at will. It is hard to describe how chilling that is for some Mexicans who spent more than four decades trying to build a formal democracy, with checks and balances, watchdog agencies and strict electoral rules, almost all of which Morena has said it would like to defund or eliminate if it gets the chance. Like the old ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party — which held Mexico’s presidency without interruption for a record 70 years — Morena hasn’t hesitated to use the government’s power to influence elections, hand out money or embark on big building schemes that may never be truly finished. But it’s also hard to describe how attractive López Obrador policies have been for many Mexicans who have felt excluded under 40 years of what he calls “neo-liberal,” market-oriented administrations.

Under López Obrador, Mexico has more than doubled its still-tragically low minimum wage (now about $15 per day, or about $2 per hour). While that’s not going to change anybody’s life - a Big Mac now costs about $5.19 in Mexico, compared to an average of $5.69 in the US — it is the underlying appeal of Morena’s platform that draws many voters. The implicit message for many Mexicans during market-oriented governments over the decades was that they were somehow wrong for not learning more English, working in manual labor and not in the tech economy, receiving government subsidies and living in a traditional, family-dominated culture. López Obrador turned this narrative on its head: he intentionally mispronounces English phrases, glorifies manual labor, says subsidies are good, favors state-run companies and says Mexico is strong precisely because of its family values and Indigenous culture: he has even claimed those same values make Mexicans immune to drug addiction.

López Obrador says fighting the drug cartels — which have taken over large swaths of Mexico, extorting protection money from all walks of life — is a foreign idea, one imposed on Mexico by the United States. He has opted instead for a “hugs not bullets” approach and limiting cooperation with US authorities in fighting the gangs. Sheinbaum is an academic who lacks López Obrador’s charisma, folksy style and mass appeal. She says her administration will follow the outgoing president’s policies, but with more data to back up her decisions. Galvez, a woman who went from a poor Indigenous town to starting her own tech firm, has been the wild card in the race: her plain-spoken, folksy approach has produced both punchy phrases and monumental gaffes. Both women are 61. A third little-known male candidate from a small party has trailed far behind both women. Sunday’s elections — which will also decide congressional seats and thousands of local posts — are different from those of the past in other ways.

About 27 candidates — mostly running for mayor or town councils — have been killed so far this year. While that number is not much higher than in some past elections, what is unprecedented is the mass shootings: candidates used to be murdered in direct attacks that killed only them, but now criminals have taken to spraying whole campaign events with gunfire. And, as international studies professor Carlos A. Pérez Ricart notes, “where there are no shootings, it’s because (local government) institutions have already been taken over” by the cartels. Mexico has also been baking under a heat wave so intense that howler monkeys have literally been dropping dead from the trees. Almost all of the country is suffering some level of water shortage and air pollution has been so bad in the capital, that a fifth of the cars have been banned from driving.

All of that is not exactly helping cool tempers or drawing people toward reconciliation. In the present scenario, perhaps the only positive thing is that it doesn’t appear the election will be particularly tight. “This country couldn’t really handle a narrow margin of victory,” said Pérez Ricart. “We are lacking true democrats on both sides.”

Associated Press

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