Despite several local upsets, president Enrique Peña Nieto sees way to working majority as analysts say opposition failed to capitalize on public’s discontent. The PRI, led by Peña Nieto, had won about 29% of the vote, with 87% of ballots counted.
Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has fought off the political crisis surrounding his government, results from Sunday’s election show, after the ruling Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) secured the biggest block in the country’s national congress – and a shot at a working majority thanks to alliances with smaller parties.
But the nationwide poll also brought landslide victories for independent candidates in two key local votes, reflecting public disgust at a party political system which critics say has lost touch with the country’s citizens.
In a simultaneous local election in the country’s richest region, Nuevo Leon, an independent candidate made history, becoming the country’s first elected state governor not affiliated with either Peña Nieto’s PRI or the opposition National Action party (PAN).
“This is a very good result for Peña Nieto who was saved from the election becoming a referendum on him and his government,” said political analyst Jesus Silva-Herzog Márquez. “But the victory of independents is an important shakeup that obliges us to think about elections differently for the future.”
With 87% of the ballots counted, the PRI had about 29% of the vote in the midterm elections. The share was lower than in the 2012 general election, but better than many had predicted following months of public anger at rampant violence, a sluggish economy and a series of corruption allegations stretching right up to the president.
Analysts said the PRI’s success was also a reflection of a failure of opposition parties to capitalize on discontent – not least because they have also been hurt by numerous scandals.
Meanwhile the PAN obtained just 21%. The leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, polled a disastrous 11%, thanks to the defection of former presidential candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador, whose newly formed party Morena won a very respectable 8.5%.
The PRI’s position is further strengthened by the success of its staunch but controversial ally, the Green party, which won 7%. Throughout the election campaign, the Greens lived up to their reputation of political dirty tricks and opportunism, repeatedly breaking rules on political advertising despite several fines from the electoral authorities.
The allegations of unfair play continued on election day itself after national football team manager Miguel Herrera tweeted “we’re going with the Greens” to his 1.4 million followers hours ahead of a friendly match with Brazil. Herrera has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was merely expressing his personal opinion.
Support from the Greens and other smaller parties may be enough for Peña Nieto to build a working majority in congress, but results from simultaneous regional elections reflected voters’ disaffection with mainstream parties.
In the border state of Nuevo Leon, the independent candidate Jaime Rodriguez – campaigning as “El Bronco” – won 48% of the vote in a gubernatorial election, despite a shoestring campaign and the overt opposition of most local media outlets. Candidates from the PRI and the PAN each won less than half of that.
“There will be no more corruption,” he told his victory rally. “Nobody else will be able to steal one more peso of public money without going to prison.”
Enrique Alfaro, another maverick candidate attached to a tiny new party called Citizen Movement, obtained a similarly overwhelming triumph in the election for mayor of Guadalajara, the country’s second largest city.
While the victory of independent candidates has the potential to shake up future elections, including the 2018 presidential poll, Sunday’s elections also contained more radical and immediate reminders to Peña Nieto that the second half of his six-year term is unlikely to be comfortable.
Protesters attacked polling stations and burned ballot papers in several southern states.
The tension was highest in the drug war-torn Guerrero, the state in which 43 student teachers disappeared after they were attacked by local police allied with a drug cartel, and in Oaxaca, where radical teachers have led a string of protests against educational reform.
The disruption, however, fell far short of the catastrophic levels teachers had threatened, leading to speculation about secret deals reached in 11th-hour negotiations with the government. Peña Nieto’s government has repeatedly been accused of depending on back-room deals to secure short-term solutions for long-term problems.
“These elections give the government the possibility of saying that, while there are lots of complaints, we are doing fine and there is no need to change the way we do things,” said analyst Silva-Herzog. But, he added: “This election widens the gulf between the governing group and those who criticize it.”
The Guardian | Jo Tuckman