Mexico votes with president's 'transformation' at stake

Mexicans voted Sunday in legislative elections seen as a referendum on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s more than two years in office overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and cartel-related violence.

The polls, which are considered key to Lopez Obrador’s promised “transformation” of the country, have been marred by the murders of dozens of politicians in the months leading up to the vote.

On the eve of the election, gunmen killed five people helping to organize voting in southern Mexico, while the authorities reported isolated incidents of violence on polling day.

The midterm elections will select the 500 members of the lower house of Congress, 15 of 32 state governors and thousands of local politicians.

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.

“Voters are choosing really between two competing visions of Mexico and its future,” Pamela Starr, professor at the University of Southern California, said in a panel discussion.

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.

Polling stations closed across the country after 10 hours of voting, the authorities said, with early official results expected late Sunday.

“The day was successful,” said National Electoral Institute president Lorenzo Cordova.

– 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.

“Long live democracy,” Lopez Obrador declared Sunday after voting.

– Supermajority at stake –

The ruling coalition has had a two-thirds supermajority in the lower house of Congress that enabled Lopez Obrador to amend the constitution without negotiating with his opponents.

The president’s Morena party and its allies were 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.

In the southern state of Chiapas, gunmen killed five people on Saturday in an attack that coincided with the delivery of ballot boxes and other voting materials.

A manhunt was launched for the perpetrators, whose motives were not immediately known.

In Guerrero, one of the country’s most violent regions, also located in southern Mexico, 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.


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