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Mexico votes for a new president after a campaigning season plagued by violence

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

And now we turn to Mexico, which is holding its elections today. More than 90 million potential voters will elect leaders to fill some 20,000 positions from senators and representatives to mayors and council members. They'll also choose a new president, more than likely the country's first woman to be president. NPR's Eyder Peralta joins us from Mexico City. Good morning, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So, as we've been reporting on this program, these elections are happening amid serious violence. Over 30 candidates have been assassinated this season alone. What's the expectation today?

PERALTA: I mean, we're already seeing some turmoil here. The electoral commission says that more than 200 polling stations will not open at all, mostly because of violence or the threat of violence. And this is an election that is happening in a country where different factions of organized crime are in an open war against each other, and politics has gotten pulled into that.

It feels like every week, we have a new assassination. The latest happened just on Friday. A candidate for the green party in the state of Puebla was gunned down in his car. And just before that, on Wednesday, a mayoral candidate in the state of Guerrero was gunned down at his closing rally. And the hope today is that voting goes smoothly, but analysts I've spoken to say, don't underestimate the violence that came before the vote because it has already affected the integrity of these elections.

RASCOE: And now to the issues. Like, what's at stake?

PERALTA: So in Mexico, we have a very popular incumbent president and his party, Morena. They have instituted new welfare programs, and they have doubled the minimum wage in the country. These are hugely popular policies. So the ruling party, Morena, is expected to do well.

But the thing to watch is not just whether Morena takes the presidency but whether they are able to get a supermajority in Congress. And that's important because they have campaigned on a series of constitutional amendments, and that includes making both the members of the Supreme Court and the Electoral Commission popularly elected and letting the military control the civilian police. The ruling party says it needs these changes to enact popular policies. The opposition in this country says those changes will lead to democratic backsliding.

So the presidency is important, but the only surefire way the ruling party can make the huge changes that it wants to make is by getting that supermajority. So we will be watching the margins in Congress. That's something to watch.

RASCOE: So Mexico is poised to elect its first woman president. Tell us about that.

PERALTA: So there are three presidential candidates, but the polls put two women way ahead - Xochitl Galvez, the opposition candidate, and Claudia Sheinbaum, who is the protege of the current president. I've been talking to a lot of women about this, and it feels bittersweet. This tallest of glass ceilings is about to be shattered. But at the same time, the reality for women here in Mexico is harsh.

I spoke to Graciela Rock, who runs the feminist website La Cadera de Eva, and she said, yes, we're about to have a woman president, but that does not mean that women will be able - but she wonders, does that mean if women will be able to walk safely on the streets? Will they have equal labor rights? Look, this is a country with one of the highest murder rates against women. And Graciela Rock says, at the moment, all this feels like a fantasy.

GRACIELA ROCK: Reality is too hard to allow us to really lean into the fantasy. We want to believe, and we want to have hope. But then we also don't want to go with it and then just be heartbroken by it.

PERALTA: You know, at the end of the interview, I asked her if she might let herself be taken in by the fantasy as we get results later today, and she said that she sure hopes so.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting from Mexico City. Eyder, thank you so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.