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Pena Nieto's majority hangs in balance after Mexico vote marred by protests

© Hector Guerrero, AFP | Officials start counting votes at a polling station in Uruapan, Michoacan State, Mexico, on June 7,2015.

Video by Kyle G. BROWN

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2015-06-08

Official estimates on Monday suggested Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s party would retain its slim working majority in Congress after a mid-term vote that saw violent election day protests in several states.

Combined with its allies, Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) could win between 246 and 263 seats in the 500-member lower chamber, the National Electoral Institute said.

The PRI is expected to win between 30 and 31 percent of the congressional ballots, said the election authority, slightly less than in the 2012 election.

That would give the PRI between 196 and 203 seats, fewer than the 207 won in 2012. But the Green Party could get 41 to 48 seats, while another ally, the New Alliance, would get nine to 12 seats.

The parties currently have a combined 251 seats in Congress, giving them a majority of just one.

The elections have been seen as a major test for Pena Nieto as he faces growing discontent over corruption, gang violence and weak economic growth.

In a sign of the rising anger, rebellious teachers and protesters enraged over a 2014 student massacre sought to thwart Sunday’s vote by burning ballots and blocked polling stations.

The protests in the impoverished southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero occurred despite the deployment of federal police and troops to ensure people can cast their votes across the country.

A radical teachers union held daily protests this week to pressure President Enrique Pena Nieto into withdrawing a landmark education reform aimed at improving the country’s lackluster school system.

In the Guerrero town of Tixtla, state election authorities initially announced the suspension of the voting after protestors, angry at last year’s alleged massacre of 43 students, burned election material and clashed with residents who wanted the polls to go on.

But the state’s election council later said the ballots would be counted and a court would determine if they should be ruled invalid.

Despite the protests, election authorities said 99.95 percent of the polling stations were successfully installed for Mexicans to choose 500 members of the lower chamber of Congress, around 900 mayors and nine governors.

After casting his ballot in Mexico City, Pena Nieto said there were only reports of “isolated incidents” and that it was “rather satisfying to know that the great majority of polling stations were installed.”

Burned ballot boxes

Some of the protesters have focused their anger on collusion between gangs and politicians, especially in the drug violence-plagued state of Guerrero.

In Tixtla, hundreds of people wielding sticks protected a polling station. Election opponents arrived and the two sides threw rocks at each other but no injuries were reported.

While a police helicopter hovered overhead, there were no federal forces on the ground.

Relatives of the 43 young men and masked students snatched election material and burned it.

“As long as they don’t deliver our sons, there won’t be elections,” said the father of one of the 43 students, whose parents refuse to believe they are dead and have vowed to prevent the elections.

In Oaxaca, a bastion of a radical teachers union, protesters burned ballots, ballot boxes and cardboard voting screens at around 20 polling locations, authorities said.

A bus was set on fire on a federal highway, police said, while in the mountain town of Huautla de Jimenez teachers cut down trees and place rocks on the road to prevent federal forces from coming.

Thousands held a protest in Oaxaca’s capital, but Governor Gabino Cue said all polling stations remained open.

“The possibility that social violence could have a role in limiting the vote, affecting the results, is unprecedented in Mexico’s modern history as a democracy,” said Javier Oliva, security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Dead candidates

Other violence is also a concern in regions like Guerrero plagued by organized crime.

At least 10 people were killed on Saturday in Guerrero when rival factions of a self-defense militia clashed in the village of Xolapa, though authorities suggested the fight was linked to an internal feud and not the elections.

In addition to the protests, at least four candidates were murdered in the run-up to the election, including three in Guerrero and Michoacan.

The violence has overshadowed a campaign that could yield no changes in Congress but has at least made history in the industrial state of Nuevo Leon.

There, Jaime “El Bronco” Rodriguez, a blunt, outspoken rancher with a penchant for cowboy hats, has become the first ever independent candidate to be elected governor.

Rodriguez came from the back of the field to win the six-year term, beating out the PRI and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), after a campaign that capitalised on the widespread disaffection with the established parties.

With nearly three quarters of polling station returns in, Rodriguez, a former member of the PRI, had won 49.4 percent of the vote, more than the PRI and PAN candidates combined, preliminary results showed.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2015-06-08

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