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First Mexico’s Presidential Debate Puts Women at the Forefront

-Editorial

The first televised presidential debate illuminated the fierce competition between the country’s top contenders. With more than 100 million voters preparing to cast their ballots in June, the stage is set for a historic race with two women at the forefront: Claudia Sheinbaum of the ruling party and Xóchitl Gálvez from the opposition.

Moderates by Denise Maerker and Manuel López San Martín, the debate offered a glimpse into the strategies and platforms of the leading candidates. 

Sheinbaum, leveraging her tenure as the former mayor of Mexico City, emphasized her track record of success and pledged to continue the current administration’s initiatives, particularly focusing on economic growth and healthcare reform.

In contrast, Gálvez, a former Senator, highlighted her humble origins and positioned herself as a relatable alternative to Sheinbaum. Advocating for enhanced security measures and a withdrawal of armed forces from public works, Gálvez presented a vision centered on grassroots empowerment and technological innovation. 

While the two women dominated the spotlight, Jorge Álvarez Máynez, a candidate with less political experience, articulated his platform under the banner of the Citizen’s Movement party. Proposing bold reforms such as drug regulation and demilitarization of public security, Álvarez Máynez aimed to offer a fresh perspective to disillusioned voters.

Security emerged as a central theme in the debate, reflecting the electorate’s concerns over crime and violence. Gálvez criticized the incumbent president’s approach of “hugs, not bullets,” advocating instead for bolstering state police forces and strengthening collaboration with the United States to confront drug cartels. 

Sheinbaum, meanwhile, highlighted her success in reducing homicides during her tenure in Mexico City and pledged to replicate these achievements on a national scale. With the election marking a historic moment for gender representation in Mexican politics, the debate underscored the increasing role of women in leadership positions. 

During his tenure, Andrés Manuel López Obrador implemented various social programs, with the largest being the Pension for the Well-being of Older People (Pensión para el bienestar de las Personas Adultas Mayores), aimed at individuals aged 65 and above. These programs are very popular among voters. 

Both Xóchitl Gálvez and Claudia Sheinbaum support the social programs established by the outgoing administration and have pledged not to abolish them. Gálvez proposed reducing the age eligibility for the Pension for the Well-being of Older People from 65 to 60. Sheinbaum pledged to ensure that any increases to the pensions from all social programs will always be above the inflation rate. Additionally, she proposed the implementation of a new social program targeting women aged 60 to 64, where they would receive half the amount provided by the Pension for the Well-being of Older People. 

López Obrador unsuccessfully attempted to pass electoral reforms multiple times. His latest proposal unveiled on 5 February 2024 as one of twenty proposed constitutional reforms, aims to restructure the INE by reducing the number of counselors and requiring that electoral judges be elected by popular vote. Additionally, it would eliminate all seats allocated by proportional representation, reducing the Chamber of Deputies from 500 to 300 seats and the Mexican Senate from 128 to 64 seats. 

The opposition has been critical of Lopez Obrador’s efforts to reform the electoral system and has successfully blocked previous attempts in the legislature, deeming them undemocratic. On 18 February 2024, the coalition organized nationwide protests, dubbed the “march for democracy,” in multiple cities, with the largest one occurring at the Zócalo in Mexico City. Government figures estimate turnout at 90,000; however, organizers claim that about 700,000 attendees were at the protests. Xóchitl Gálvez lauded the protests, asserting that Mexico’s institutions would remain free from interference by authoritative figures. 

Sheinbaum suggested passing López Obrador’s electoral reform if the outgoing administration failed to do so, supporting reducing the INE’s costs and advocating for counselors and electoral judges to be elected via popular vote. Additionally, she proposed a constitutional amendment to prevent reelection for any popularly elected position. Furthermore, she announced her willingness to subject herself to a recall election, mirroring López Obrador in 2022.

As women occupy 44% of ministerial Cabinet positions, Mexico stands as a beacon of progress in the region, signaling a significant step towards gender equality in political leadership.

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