Ruling party presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum arrives to vote in general elections in Mexico City on Sunday.

Claudia Sheinbaum addresses supporters after the National Electoral Institute announced she held an irreversible lead in the election in Mexico City, early Monday, June 3. / AP

MEXICO CITY — Claudia Sheinbaum, an environmental scientist and former mayor of Mexico City, was overwhelmingly elected Mexico’s first female president on Sunday, a historic milestone in a country rife with gender-based violence and misogyny.

With nearly 40% of the votes counted, Mexico’s electoral agency estimates that Sheinbaum is on track to win the race with between 58% to over 60% of votes. Her nearest rival, Xóchitl Gálvez is projected to get between 26% and 28% of the vote, with the other opposition candidate, Jorge Álvarez Máynez, between 9%-10% of the vote.

In her victory speech to supporters, Sheinbaum said both rivals had conceeded and had called to congratulate her on her victory. “I will become the first woman president of Mexico", she told the crowd.

The man widely seen as her political mentor, outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, posted his congratulationson X, formerly known as twitter.

Sheinbaum has been the leading candidate to win the presidency for more than a year. In a country with one of the highest rates of murder against women in the world, Sheinbaum’s victory underscores the advances women have made in the political sphere.

The 61-year old climate scientist was part of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team that would go on to share a Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in 2007. Now, Sheinbaum — whose has grandparents who escaped the Holocaust — will hold the most powerful office in the country.

Elena Poniatowska, 92, one of Mexico's most distinguished writers, has chronicled decades of women’s history in the country. “I’ve always believed in women,” Poniatowska told NPR, days before the election. “I think it's not a dream. I think it's a battle that has been won.”

Despite the historic nature of Sheinbaum’s victory, many voters in Mexico see it less as a reflection of gender equality and more as a referendum on the last six years of López Obrador, colloquially known by his initials as AMLO.

He is one of the most divisive — and popular — figures in Mexican history: a folksy populist who has implemented social programs that have lifted millions of people out of poverty but who critics say has undermined democratic institutions while empowering the military.

Ignacio Morales cast his vote on Sunday for Sheinbaum because she has López Obrador’s backing, who Morales considers “perfect.”

“I don’t have a lot of life left to live, but I will support him to the death,” said Morales, 77, who is retired. Morales rattled off a list of reasons: López Obrador has started “marvelous projects” like new train lines and oil refineries; he gives a monthly pension to elderly Mexicans and, most importantly, he takes care of the poor.

Under Mexico’s constitution, presidents can only serve one six-year term.

A group of people cast their vote in a polling station in the state of Puebla in Izucar de Matamoros, Mexico. June 2, 2024.

A group of people cast their vote in a polling station in the state of Puebla in Izucar de Matamoros, Mexico. June 2, 2024.

She is López Obrador’s political protege. She started her political career as his environmental minister after he was elected mayor of Mexico City in 2000. She has been unwaveringly loyal ever since, even supporting his pro-oil energy agenda despite her environmental background.

While Sheinbaum lacks López Obrador’s charisma and popular appeal, she has a reputation for being analytical, disciplined and exacting. Most importantly, she has promised to support López Obrador’s policies and popular social programs, including a universal pension benefit for seniors as well as providing cash payments to low-income residents.

“Claudia represents the continuation of AMLO,” said Norma Bautista Herrera, who sells vegetables at a market in Mexico City. After López Obrador’s election in 2018, Bautista Herrera began receiving monthly payments of $660 pesos, roughly $38, to help her support her 11-year-old daughter. With that money, she buys household goods like soap, eggs, sugar and Clorox.

Gálvez, Sheinbaum’s nearest competitor for the presidency, is an Indigenous, pro-business tech entrepreneur who represented several establishment opposition parties. Despite her compelling life story, Gálvez could never distance herself from the corruption and disenchantment that voters associated with those parties.

Many who cast their vote for Gálvez were more motivated by her promised break from López Obrador and the electoral power of his Morena party than Gálvez’s campaign promises. In a country that saw one-party rule for 70 years until 2000, they worry about Lopez Obrador’s moves to undermine judicial independence and his security policy that has resulted in record high homicides.

“He’s a dictator, and Sheinbaum is his puppet,” said Almarosa Anaya, standing outside a polling center in Mexico City’s upscale Roma Norte neighborhood with her two adult daughters. She said López Obrador wants to turn Mexico into a communist country, “like Venezuela and Cuba.”

These elections have also been historic for another grim reason: They have been one of the most violent. In the run up to these elections, more than 30 candidates were assassinated.

A group of family and friends carry the coffin of Jorge Huerta Cabrera, 31, who was a candidate for councilor for the Green Party, and was murdered on May 31, two days before the vote. on San Nicolas Tolentino, Mexico, June 2, 2024.

A group of family and friends carry the coffin of Jorge Huerta Cabrera, 31, who was a candidate for councilor for the Green Party, and was murdered on May 31, two days before the vote. on San Nicolas Tolentino, Mexico, June 2, 2024.

In the small town of San Nicolás Tolentino in Puebla state, voting went on as normal. But in the church nearby, family and friends gathered for the funeral of Jorge Luis Huerta Cabrera.

Huerta was running for the city council as a candidate for the Green party but he was gunned down on Friday. As people voted, Huerta’s casket was carried through the town. Church bells tolled and fireworks exploded in the midday sun.

“No one knows who is next," Huerta’s father, José Huerta Moctezuma, said.

His son, he said, always told him he was born for politics. “He was hardheaded,” he said. “He did what he wanted.”

In the end, he said, it was a rival party member who shot him to death.

“We need a reform that changes the social fabric, that brings peace and justice, because it’s not fair that we are forced to live this way.”

Sheinbaum will have to tackle this growing violence and a host of other pressing issues when she takes office on October 1st.

She has a significant mandate, but faces significant challenges.

She has to tackle the largest budget deficit since the 1980’s, growing power of the cartels, and the perennially complicated relationship with the U.S.