MEXICO CITY -- Mexicans cast ballots Sunday to elect the entire lower house of Congress, almost half the country’s governors and most mayors in a vote that will determine whether President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party gets the legislative majority it needs to continue his “Fourth Transformation” of Mexico.
López Obrador's critics depicted the elections as a chance to stop the still-popular president from concentrating more power and weakening checks and balances. The president said the opposition is dominated by conservatives who oppose his campaign against corruption and wasteful spending.
López Obrador has complained about courts and independent regulatory agencies that have blocked some of his tougher proposals to empower state-owned industries. Opponents feared that if he won a majority, he might try to subjugate courts and regulatory agencies created during Mexico's decades-long transition to full democracy.
After polls closed, Lorenzo Córdova, president of the National Electoral Institute, declared the election a success. He said only 30 of more than 130,000 polling places across the country were not able to open due to a variety of circumstances.
Half of those unopened polling places were in the southern state of Oaxaca where voting materials were stolen or damaged, institute Executive Secretary Edmundo Jacobo said Sunday night.
Representatives of the major parties speaking at the electoral institute's general council meeting applauded the conduct of Sunday's vote amid the pandemic, despite noting that the run-up to voting was one of the most violent in recent times.
Mexico City housewife Dolores Martinez said she was pleased with López Obrador's anti-corruption fight, after decades of corrupt administrations.
“I like it a lot,” Martinez said as she waited to vote. “There has to be transparency.”
But other voters said they were disappointed by López Obrador. “The pandemic was poorly managed,” said Teresita Loza, who waited in line to vote with her daughter, Sara Loza. Loza said the president's programs had handed out money, but hadn't created results.
As for much of the campaign, violence marked the days leading up to the vote. On Saturday, an employee of the state prosecutors’ office in Chiapas who was not authorized to be quoted said five people who were carrying voting material to polling places were ambushed and killed on a rural highway. Those killed appeared to be volunteers, not government employees.
Three dozen candidates, mostly for local posts, have been killed to date, and on Friday, a government electoral agency worker was shot to death in Tlaxcala state, near Mexico City.
Fifteen of the country's 32 state governorships were at stake, and all 500 seats in the lower house of Congress. Almost 20,000 local posts including mayors and town council seats were being decided in 30 states, and those have often been the most violence-scarred races.
Experts said criminal gangs sought to influence the elections, while the government ascribed most of the killings to other questions and said they weren't necessarily related to elections.
The country's electoral authority said the elections would be among the most thoroughly monitored in history, with over 19,000 registered observers, and violence at polling places themselves is relatively rare.
López Obrador has raised minimum wages and strengthened government aid programs like supplementary payments to the elderly, students and training programs for youths. He has also created a quasi-military National Guard and given the army a huge role in building his pet projects, which include trains, an oil refinery and airports.
But he has not hewed to a traditional leftist line. He has maintained friendly if sometimes tension-fraught relations with the United States and willingly helped keep tens of thousands of Central American migrants from reaching the U.S. border. He abhors government debt or waste.
Opponents depict him as intolerant of criticism and obsessed with a nostalgic 1960s vision of Mexico, when oil was king and state-owned companies dominated many sectors of the economy. Socially conservative and a professed Christian “in the broadest sense,” he has angered feminists with his policies, but has pleased many Mexicans by living austerely.
The elections represent the first mass public events since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country over a year ago, though case numbers have fallen and Mexico has vaccinated about a quarter of adults. The estimated 350,000 fatalities in the pandemic — about 230,000 of them test-confirmed — do not appear to have played a major role in the campaigns, but may weigh on voters’ minds.
Associated Press writer Manuel de la Cruz contributed to this report.