Earlier this month almost 39 million Mexicans (47% of the population) voted in a mid-term election which was widely perceived as a referendum of President Peña Nieto’s mandate thus far.  All 500 members of the lower house in Congress, nine governors, and numerous mayors and state legislatures were up for election.  Though the formal distribution of seats is expected at the end of this month, the majority of the results are available.  President Enrique Peña Nieto’s party, the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), was able to maintain its majority in the lower house and gained nine seats (260/500 seats).  The PRI’s alliances with the Green Party and the New Alliance Party are partially responsible for this win which surprised some analysts because the President’s popularity is currently at an all-time low.   

Earlier this month almost 39 million Mexicans (47% of the population) voted in a mid-term election which was widely perceived as a referendum of President Peña Nieto’s mandate thus far.  All 500 members of the lower house in Congress, nine governors, and numerous mayors and state legislatures were up for election.  Though the formal distribution of seats is expected at the end of this month, the majority of the results are available.  President Enrique Peña Nieto’s party, the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), was able to maintain its majority in the lower house and gained nine seats (260/500 seats).  The PRI’s alliances with the Green Party and the New Alliance Party are partially responsible for this win which surprised some analysts because the President’s popularity is currently at an all-time low.   

The President’s popularity has been impacted by a number of events including: ongoing insecurity, in particular the disappearance of forty-three students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, allegations of corruption, which reached a fever pitch when it was discovered that his wife owned a $7 million mansion that was built by, and in the name of, a well-known government contractor, and ongoing, confrontational, protests by teachers unions over proposed education reforms.  These issues were compounded by weak economic growth and lower petroleum output and probably contributed to the relatively high voter turnout.  Regardless of these issues, the PRI kept the lower house, but many think that this is due to a leadership crisis in the center-right PAN (Partido Accion Nacional) Party and fracturing on the left, not the President’s reform package.

Though the PAN remains the second largest party in the Congress they lost seats and only took 21% of the vote.  They had been expected to gain seats due to the President’s poor approval rating; however, since the end of Felipe Calderon’s presidency the PAN has been perceived as lacking leadership and a clear message and these two factors are thought to have contributed to their poor performance. The party is still contesting some state-wide elections, like in Colima where they accused the PRI of stuffing the ballot boxes in the gubernatorial election.  The PAN candidate lost by 506 votes and the recount is ongoing. 

The leftist PRD (Partido de la Revolucion Democratica) split in two for all intents and purposes when the former mayor of Mexico City, and two-time PRD presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador left the party and formed his own party, Morena.  Morena took 8.5% of the vote, and the PRD took 11%.  Much of Morena’s electoral gains took place in Mexico City which is traditionally a PRD stronghold.  The PRD was also damaged by allegations of corruption and collusion with organized crime; the 43 students who disappeared in Guerrero were reportedly taken by criminal elements at the request of the local PRD mayor, whose ties to criminal elements were widely known.  Nonetheless the President and federal government’s poor handling of the case later turned much of the attention onto the PRI and the President’s office. 

One of the more interesting electoral wins took place outside of the traditional parties.  In Nuevo Leon, the gubernatorial election was won by an independent candidate, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, (alias “El Bronco”).  This was the first time that an independent candidate won a governorship in Mexico, and he took 48.8% of the vote which was more than two times the next two closest candidates.  Though he’s an independent, Calderón is not new to politics.  He was a PRI mayor for many years and renounced his party membership in 2014.  He is reputed to have kept close ties to the PRI and with members of the Monterrey business community, some of whom funded his campaign.  This funding was critical as independent candidates and candidates from minor parties receive very little state funding for their campaigns; however, this has already led to a swirl of conflict of interest allegations. 

Though the election was generally perceived as free and fair it was marred by violence and corruption allegations.  Five candidates were murdered along with fourteen pre-candidates, election officials and campaign workers.  Some of the teacher protests, which are ongoing, turned violent and confrontational.  The Peña Nieto government has since cancelled the implementation of teacher evaluations, which were a key component of the education reform package, and the reform most opposed by the teachers.  During the protests it is thought that 950,000 students lost, at a minimum, twelve school days, and in some parts of Guerrero and Oaxaca students only attended eighty days of school in the scholastic year. 

In addition to the rumored ballot stuffing discussed above, there were allegations of vote-buying.  One subtle example, which could be perceived as vote buying, was the Peña Nieto government’s give-away of 10 million free digital televisions immediately preceding the election.  The government explained that this is part of a program to digitalize all television in Mexico. 

 Now that the election is over and the PRI won, President Peña Nieto is taking a victory lap and saying that his reforms led to the PRI’s electoral success.  One could argue that it was not his reforms that led to success but instead a poorly-led, poorly-organized, and fractured opposition which left the PRI as the viable alternative.  The President has said that he will continue with his reform plan, and signed a major anti-corruption reform two weeks ago which should create a National Anti-Corruption System.  Hopefully this reform is not watered down like the education reform, since the recent elections demonstrated Mexico’s dire need for an aggressive anti-corruption push.