Mexicans voted Sunday in elections seen as pivotal to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s promised “transformation” of a country shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, a deep recession and drug-related violence.
The midterm polls will elect the 500 members of the lower house of Congress, 15 of 32 state governors and thousands of local politicians.
The vote is viewed as critical to the prospects of Lopez Obrador pushing through reforms under his so-called “Fourth Transformation” plan.
“What’s at stake is nothing less than the future of Mexico,” Pamela Starr, professor at the University of Southern California, said in a panel discussion.
“Voters are choosing really between two competing visions of Mexico and its future — between Lopez Obrador’s Fourth Transformation and to a certain extent a return to the policies that preceded it.”
Mexico is one of the countries worst affected by the coronavirus, but that did not stop 73-year-old Evangelina Acosta from turning out to cast her ballot in the capital.
“We must not let the pandemic rob us of too much of our way of life,” she said.
Lopez Obrador was elected in 2018 for a term of six years, vowing to overhaul Mexico’s “neoliberal” economic model, root out corruption and end profligacy by a privileged elite.
The future of the left-wing populist’s reform agenda — such as seeking greater energy independence — hinges on whether voters punish him for issues such as the pandemic.
“They never had a plan and they still don’t,” said Claudia Cervantes, a hospital worker.
But some other voters such as Tania Calderon were willing to give the ruling party more time.
“Without the pandemic, the government would have done better,” the 37-year-old said.
– High approval ratings –
Mexico’s economy, the second-largest in Latin America, plunged by 8.5 percent in 2020 in the worst slump in decades, although the government predicts a rebound this year.
Despite more than a quarter of a million coronavirus deaths — one of the world’s highest tolls — the 67-year-old president continues to enjoy public approval ratings above 60 percent.
Deaths and infections from Covid-19 have fallen steadily for several months, helped by a vaccination campaign.
Lopez Obrador owes much of his popularity to his social welfare programs aimed at helping the elderly and disadvantaged Mexicans.
His supporters say he is their first president to put the interests of the Mexican majority, many of whom live in poverty, before those of the wealthy elite.
The president’s critics accuse him of a dangerous tilt towards authoritarianism with attacks on the judiciary and the National Electoral Institute that they say undermine democratic checks and balances.
“Long live democracy,” Lopez Obrador declared Sunday after voting.
– Supermajority at stake –
The ruling coalition currently has a two-thirds supermajority in the lower house of Congress that enables Lopez Obrador to amend the constitution without negotiating with his opponents.
The president’s Morena party and its allies are projected to see their majority in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, shrink slightly from 333 seats to 322, according to a poll of polls by the Oraculus firm.
The main opposition parties — the centrist PRI, the conservative PAN and the left-wing PRD — remain weakened by Lopez Obrador’s 2018 landslide victory.
Sunday’s vote has been marred by a wave of political bloodshed that has seen more than 90 politicians murdered since the electoral process began in September.
Security Minister Rosa Rodriguez said areas of violence were identified in a number of municipalities on election day.
“But fortunately the National Guard is already in those places,” she told reporters.
In the southern state of Guerrero, one of the country’s most violent regions, members of a community police force kept watch over voting.
“Members of organized crime come to divide the people. They don’t let them vote freely,” said community police leader Isaias Posotema.