Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto\’s party retained its simple majority in Congress on Sunday despite his falling approval ratings and violent election day protests in several states.
Combined with its allies, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) could win between 246 and 263 seats in the 500-member lower chamber of Congress, compared to 251 today, according to estimates by the National Electoral Institute.
The elections, which included races for hundreds of mayors and nine governors, were marred by protests in southern states where radical teachers angry at Pena Nieto\’s education reforms burned ballot boxes in a failed bid to thwart the midterm vote.
National Electoral Institute president Lorenzo Cordova said that the overall election process was "positive" despite "incidents in certain areas."
While the PRI and its allies held on to the lower chamber of Congress, a political shockwave loomed in the northern industrial state of Nuevo Leon.
Exit polls showed Jaime Rodriguez Calderon, a foul-mouthed rancher dubbed "El Bronco," will become the first independent candidate to be elected governor since a 2014 electoral reform, riding a wave of discontent against corrupt politicians.
"This will be a citizens\’ government in Nuevo Leon. Nuevo Leon will be the beginning of a second Mexican revolution," Rodriguez told supporters after a TV Azteca poll gave him a six-point lead over the PRI\’s candidate.
But nationally Mexicans kept the PRI on top.
Pena Nieto\’s party is expected to win between 29.87 and 30.85 percent of the congressional ballots, slightly less than in the 2012 election, according to the National Electoral Institute.
This 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 message at the ballot box is that this government hasn\’t been bad in the past three years," said Jose Antonio Crespo, political expert at the Economic Research and Teaching Center.
Crespo said it was the first time since 1991 that a government did not dramatically lose votes in a midterm election.
With fewer votes than three years ago, the conservative National Action Party (PAN) would get 105-116 seats, compared to 113 now.
The night\’s biggest loser was the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which would get 51-60 seats, a big drop from 99 today.
The protests in the impoverished southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero occurred despite the deployment of federal police and troops to ensure people could cast their votes across the country.
A radical teachers union held daily protests this week to pressure Pena Nieto into withdrawing his landmark education reform.
"There were those who tried to affect the elections. In the previous days, they sought to discourage the population with violent acts," Pena Nieto said in a televised address.
"But millions of Mexicans voted, convinced that democracy is the best path for Mexico."
In Oaxaca, a bastion of the teachers union, authorities detained 88 people accused of destroying election material in several towns, the southern state\’s government said.
Thousands held a protest in Oaxaca\’s capital while a bus was set on fire on a federal highway.
In the Guerrero town of Tlapa, a man died from an unknown projectile wound when federal forces stormed into a church to free police officers who had been held by election opponents, authorities said.
In neighboring Tixtla, protesters angry at last year\’s alleged massacre of 43 students who studied at the local teacher training college also torched ballot boxes.
Meanwhile hundreds of people wielding sticks protected one polling station. Election opponents arrived and the two sides threw rocks at each other, but no injuries were reported.
"Despite these problems I think that the election day was a success in general," said Dwight Dyer, a Mexico politics expert a Control Risks, a global risk consultancy.
But he warned: "The protest movement will undoubtedly continue."