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Mexico is about to have its biggest election ever. Here's what to know

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MEXICO CITY -

Campaigning formally starts Friday for Mexico's biggest election in history.

Voters will choose the president, along with the winners of 628 seats in Congress and tens of thousands of local positions.

The country of 130 million people has often been marked by its "macho" culture. Now it is almost certain to elect its first woman president.

Also at play are escalating cartel warfare, the political legacy of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the long, often tumultuous relationship with the United States.

When is the Mexican election?

Parties selected their candidates well before the official start of campaigning for the presidential, congressional and municipal elections. On June 2, millions of voters will turn out to the polls to vote for their new leaders. The winner of the highly anticipated presidential elections will serve a five-year term.

While most eyes are on the presidential race, Mexicans will also vote for 128 senators, 500 congressional representatives and for tens of thousands of local government positions.

Runners

Leading presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum has enjoyed a comfortable lead, with around 59% of the vote, according to a February poll. The former mayor of Mexico City, Sheinbaum is seen as a continuation of populist leftist leader Lopez Obrador and is backed by his Morena party.

Senator Xochitl Galvez is in a not-so-close second with around 36% of the vote. Galvez is a fierce critic of Lopez Obrador and is running under the Strength and Heart for Mexico coalition. Trailing behind both is little-known Jorge Alvarez Maynez of the Citizen Movement party.

Mexico's elections risks

In swathes of the country eclipsed by cartel violence, many have raised concerns about a security crisis that has spiralled under Lopez Obrador. In the first two months of the year, a handful of candidates were slain before the election season officially began. Watchdogs warn that this year's elections could be Mexico's most violent on record.

For critics, the election has become increasingly about democratic concerns, which fueled massive February protests against electoral reforms made by Lopez Obrador. However, the leader remain highly popular for many in Mexico's working class, Lopez Obrador's base. With high inflation rates, such voters are likely to stick with a candidate that they feel will advocate for them. A great number feel that the president and his Morena party have done that.

A female president in Mexico?

A female president would be a huge step in a country with soaring levels of gender-based violence and deep gender disparities.

Mexico still has famously intense "machismo" or male chauvinism, expressed in its most extreme form in a high rate of femicides, but also daily in hundreds of more subtle ways.

While Mexican women have advanced to positions of political power in public life -- in part because of required representation quotas for public office -- women suffer from high levels of gender violence. Femicides -- cases of women killed because of their gender -- have been a persistent problem for decades.

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