Latin America

First results point to victory for PRI and its allies in Mexican midterms

Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party headed for control of Chamber of Deputies

Video: President Peña Nieto casts his vote, as groups set fire to ballot stations in some states.Photo: atlas

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) appeared to be headed toward controlling the lower house of Congress on Monday after voters went to the polls in midterm elections held amid widespread anger over corruption, a poor-performing economy and drug violence.

With more than 80 percent of ballots counted, the PRI stood to maintain its simple majority and, with its traditional Green Party and New Alliance allies, control the 500-member Chamber of Deputies, according to Mexico’s INE electoral institute.

If incoming results support this trend, it would be seen as a positive sign for President Peña Nieto

If incoming results support this trend, it would be seen as a positive sign for Peña Nieto, whose administration has come under fire over a series of public controversies, including the way it handled both the inquiry into the deaths of 43 teaching students last year, and a questionable property deal with alleged links to first lady Angélica Rivera.

But despite escaping a punishment vote, the PRI did suffer losses in the lower chamber, and with 28.55% of the vote, will see its current total of 213 deputies reduced by around 10.

The party will also have to deal with an emerging factor that has changed the political scene in Mexico.

Besides the congressional races, ballots were also cast Sunday for local and regional leaders, including nine governors and more than 1,000 mayors. In Nuevo León state, voters elected independent candidate Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, popularly known as El Bronco, as their new governor.

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The former PRI official’s victory in the country’s second-most important state puts into question Mexico’s party system, which until 2000 had been dominated by the PRI for 70 years.

According to INE preliminary figures, the conservative National Action Party (PAN) will become the second force in the lower chamber, with 20.82% of the vote.

Both the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and Morena, the new left-wing grouping, are in a tight race to becoming the third political force in the chamber. The PRD – the country’s traditional leftist movement – may have lost up to 40 seats after garnering just 10.6% of the vote. Morena, which was organized by former PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will make its debut in this upcoming new term after receiving 8.81% of the vote.

Even though voters – as previous polls predicted – did not punish the PRI for the Peña Nieto administration’s recent scandals, the results in all races have left the party in a delicate balance.

The PRI’s legendary electoral machinery has taken a big blow after trying to organize campaigns to refute the lingering questions surrounding the deaths of the 43 teaching students in Iguala, Guerrero state, last September.

Voters in Nuevo León state elected independent candidate Jaime Rodríguez Calderón as governor

Human rights activists and family members have said they do not believe the government’s official version that the students were massacred by drug traffickers who later burned their bodies and threw the remains in a river. Instead, they believe the Mexican military killed the group.

The Peña Nieto government has also been hit hard by revelations that first lady Angélica Rivera may have profited in a property deal through a connection with one of her husband’s backers.

Meanwhile, the Mexican economy, which is in recession, has fallen victim to global price drops in energy. A good chunk of Mexico’s budget revenue comes from oil exports.

But the widespread drug and gang violence across the country has been the greatest concern for many Mexicans.

On Sunday, unknown groups set fire to ballot stations in Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas states but the vote was still held in those areas. At least seven candidates and nine campaign officials were murdered during the campaign.

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