Mexico kicks off election campaign with ruling party’s Sheinbaum in lead By Reuters

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© Reuters. Presidential candidate of the ruling Morena party Claudia Sheinbaum speaks next to Tatiana Clouthier and MORENA’s president Mario Delgado, during a conference to introduce her campaign team in Mexico City, Mexico, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/ Quetzalli Nic

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By Diego Oré and Adriana Barrera

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico’s presidential candidates started their campaigns on Friday for elections on June 2, with the ruling party candidate leading in a race poised to crown a woman to lead Latin America’s second-largest nation for the first time.

Former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, running under a coalition led by current President Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador’s leftist MORENA party, holds a comfortable 20 percentage point lead over former Senator Xochitl Galvez, who represents the opposition coalition.

With the backing of Lopez Obrador, who has consistently polled support of around 60% or more, Sheinbaum is favored in the race.

The 61-year-old scientist, a close ally of Lopez Obrador, has vowed to carry on with the policies that have made him popular, such as combining strong social welfare programs with fiscal discipline that has helped boost the Mexican peso.

“On June 2, the people of Mexico will make a decision. There are only two paths: that the transformation continues or that corruption returns,” Sheinbaum told thousands of supporters in the capital’s famous Zocalo plaza.

Sheinbaum said she would seek to cash in on the so-called nearshoring trend of multinational firms relocating supply chains closer to their final destination.

She also promised to tackle rife insecurity, which despite improving by some metrics under the current administration, still puts Mexico among the most violent countries in the Americas.

Beyond the presidency, Mexican voters will also cast their ballots on June 2 for lawmakers in both chambers of Congress, eight governorships, as well as the Mexico City mayoral post and thousands of other local officials.

As Sheinbaum’s chances of winning are good, analysts have said MORENA is targeting its efforts on obtaining the majority needed in the lower house and the Senate to pass constitutional reforms meant to cement Lopez Obrador’s legacy without requiring opposition votes.

“With the presidential race looking increasingly decided, Lopez Obrador is focusing on winning two-thirds majorities in both houses of congress to modify the constitution without support from opposition parties,” consulting firm Eurasia’s Daniel Kerner said.

In the 2018 elections, MORENA claimed a two-thirds majority in the lower house and came close in the Senate. However the 2021 midterms saw MORENA’s supermajority slip away, as the party began pushing for constitutional reforms.

The message from opposition candidate Galvez, an outspoken politician and businesswoman with indigenous roots, that Lopez Obrador has mishandled the economy during his term has not resonated with most voters, who believe their financial situation has improved under his tenure, polls show.

On Friday, Galvez criticized Lopez Obrador’s domestic security strategy as she kicked off her campaign in the central state of Zacatecas, one of the most affected states by the wave of criminal violence and which counts some 4,000 missing people.

“The hugs for criminals are over, the law will be applied to them,” said Galvez, referencing the president’s less hardline policy which he has described as “hugs, not bullets.”

Galvez pledged to double the number of National Guard troops and build a mega prison for violent criminals.

“There will be no higher priority for me than national security,” Galvez said.

Before cameras, she signed an agreement with drops of her own blood vowing she would not scrap the current administration’s popular social programs should she win.

Unemployment is at a historic low of 2.7%, while poverty in 2022 fell to 36.3% from 41.9% in 2018, when Lopez Obrador took office.

“Voters are largely satisfied with Lopez Obrador’s results,” Kerner said. “Galvez will struggle to depict the (MORENA) administration as posing a threat to family incomes.”

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