On Sunday June 7th, the Mexican government deployed more than 30,000 troops and federal police to ensure voting goes smoothly in poor southern states , as millions of Mexicans went to the polls in nationwide midterm elections marked by protests and discontent with political parties.
At stake are all 500 seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies, nine governorships, as well as state legislatures and municipal governments. The election nationally is seen as a referendum on President Enrique Peña Nieto and his ambitious overhaul agenda at the halfway point of his six-year term.
But dissident teachers and other groups have threatened to scuttle the vote to protest education policy changes. In recent days, they blocked highways, burned ballots and sacked election offices in several places, including the troubled states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Michoacán.
A senior government official said Sunday that the government deployed thousands of troops, marines and federal police to Guerrero and other poor states along the southern Pacific coast to prevent disruptions.
Opinion polls indicate that Mr. Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, could maintain control of the lower house by a scant margin with the help of allied parties. But most of the gubernatorial races are expected to be close.
Hurricane Blanca, downgraded Sunday to a Category 1 storm, was bearing down on the country’s northwest, lashing wind and rain on voters choosing governors in Baja California Sur and Sonora states.
The head of the federal elections institute said that by noon local time, more than 99% of polling sites were operating across the country.
Voting was disrupted Sunday in the Guerrero state town of Tixtla, after protesters managed to prevent the opening of a fifth of the polling places. The Federal Electoral Institute said there were other disruptions in towns of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas, all southern states.
The dissident teachers trying to disrupt Sunday’s vote are incensed by skills evaluations required for teaching positions. In the face of protests across the southern states and in Mexico City, the government last week indefinitely suspended the evaluation requirements.
In Nuevo León, a wealthier northern border state that includes the industrial metropolis of Monterrey, Jaime Rodriguez, known as “El Bronco”, could emerge as the first independent candidate ever to win a governorship in Mexico, according to opinion polls. Waged largely on social media, the blunt talking former suburban mayor’s campaign has resonated with voters wearied by corruption scandals and what they see as the ineffectiveness of political parties.
“Many people have told me they are going to change their vote this time. People want a change. They are fed up with all the parties,“ said restaurant chef Jose Sierra, 43, as he waited in line to vote in La Cima, a working-class neighborhood on Monterrey’s west side. ”Whether it will be a good change or a bad change, who knows?”
In Mexico City, the entrenched Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, is squaring off with leftist upstart Morena, founded byAndrés Manuel López Obrador, a former mayor of the Mexican capital and the close runner-up in the last two presidential elections.
Analysts say a good showing by Morena could accelerate the remaking of the country’s leftist politics and perhaps bolster a third presidential bid in 2018 by Mr. López Obrador. But turnout by early afternoon was light in many parts of the capital.
“Voters don’t feel represented,” said accountant Josefina Rodriguez, 67, after voting at a school in the capital’s upscale Coyoacán district. “Look around, this is an affluent neighborhood and there’s litter everywhere because authorities and political parties just don’t get involved.”
Many analysts credit Mr. Peña Nieto for pushing ambitious policies through Congress that have overhauled public education, allowed private investment in the energy industry, loosened labor laws to employers’ benefit and widened competition in the telecommunications markets.
But more recently, Mr. Peña Nieto has struggled to contain outbreaks of gangland and political violence, including the September deaths of 43 freshmen from a teachers college, who federal prosecutors allege were killed by municipal police and criminal gangs.
Conflict of interest allegations against the first lady and the finance minister also have hurt the president’s approval rating, according to various opinion polls. The government’s corruption watchdog, the Public Function Ministry, is looking into allegations the two were given sweetheart real estate deals by government contractors. Mr. Peña Nieto, his wife, Angélica Rivera, and Finance Minister Luis Videgaray have denied any wrongdoing.
Opinion surveys predict that under half of Mexico’s 83.5 million voters are expected to cast ballots Sunday at about 150,000 polling places.
Mexico City business manager Jesus Dublán, 25, said he was sitting out Sunday’s election after voting for the PRD three years ago and annulling his vote in 2009. The killing of the college students in Guerrero, which is governed by the PRD, had turned him against the left-leaning party, he said.
“None of the candidates are attractive,” Mr. Dublán added, “not even on the left, which has its own dark past.”