An indie candidate nicknamed "El Bronco" on Sunday rode a wave of discontent with politics as usual and overcame a near blackout in traditional news media to take a landslide victory in one of Mexico's most important states.
Tough-talking Jaime "El Bronco" Rodriguez, a former partisan with no current political affiliation, won the governor's race in the wealthy northern state of Nuevo Leon by 26 points over his nearest rival, the National Electoral Institute reported in early rapid-count tallies after Sunday's voting.
The industrial city of Monterrey, Mexico's third largest, is in Nuevo Leon, which is also near Texas. Rodriguez's victory means he will have to forge a government without an established political infrastructure like those of Mexico's three traditional parties, the PRI, PAN, and PRD.
"We're giving the parties that used to govern a six-year vacation," Rodriguez told reporters late Sunday, referring to the length of a governorship term in Mexico, as exit polls showed him surging.
During the vote, incidents of violence and ballot-burning incidents were reported in Mexico's south and southeast, mostly in Guerrero — where one person was killed — and Oaxaca and Chiapas. But the vote was mostly carried without major incidents.
Turn-out was 46 percent out of a list of 69.7 million Mexicans eligible to vote, or 32.6 million votes cast, INE said. A collection of oddball candidates in local races across the country also helped draw voters to the polls.
One of them was Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the national football folk hero who led Mexico's national team in three World Cups. Blanco won the mayor's race in the city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City, results showed.
Overall, absenteeism and the effective base-voter organizing by Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, resulted in the national Congress not splitting to the opposition.
The PRI and the Green Party edged a slim majority in the lower House of Deputies, tallies said, despite a string of scandals linked to the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto and stinging accusations of corruption against the Greens.
"The PRI has a very high 'voto duro' [hard vote], which are the partisans and sympathizers who would always vote for them, without that depending on the performance of the government," said Gerardo Esquivel, an economist at the Colegio de Mexico, in an interview.
Morena positioned for 2018
Independent or smaller party candidates still took key victories in local races across the country, and edged into the lower house in greater numbers. Morena, or the upstart National Regeneration Movement, gained 37 seats in Mexico's lower house — in its first election ever — making it an automatic new player on the national stage.
Morena's strong debut on Sunday is a good sign for party founder Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former presidential candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, in 2006 and 2012. He's already said he will run for president once again in 2018, on the Morena ticket.
The center-left PRD, meanwhile, had its worst electoral showing in 18 years, due in part to progressive and liberal voters apparently breaking for Morena or other smaller leftist parties.
In Mexico City, where the PRD has governed with wide majorities for nearly two decades, Morena won five borough chief races — including the key central Cuauhtemoc borough. The PRD, which governed 14 of the city's 16 delegational boroughs, will now only govern six.
In the case of the sexual assault survivor and her grassroots bid for a local representative seat in Mexico City, candidate Yakiri Rubio was carrying only 2.51 percent of the vote in the city's District 9; Morena was leading by a large margin.
Landslide leftist wins in Jalisco
In Jalisco state, another key economic hub in Mexico's west, the leftist Citizens Movement, or MC, won another sweeping landslide victory. MC won the mayor's race in Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city. Candidate Enrique Alfaro beat the PRI's Ricardo Villanueva by approximately 30 percentage points, tallies said.
"The backing that we had represents a great commitment for us. A commitment to not fail the people, a commitment to be a good government, and a commitment to begin a phase of reconciliation and dialogue so that we can resolve all of the differences that were generated during the campaign period," Alfaro said in a press conference Sunday night.
Jalisco has long been considered one of Mexico's more conservative states. Alfaro attributed his win to voters growing "upset, tired, and disappointed" at the way the city has been run. He will be the first Guadalajara mayor not to represent the PRI or the center-right National Action Party, or PAN, since 1929.
Citizens Movement also claimed victory in the Pacific Coast resort city of Puerto Vallarta and in other municipalities in Jalisco.
"This suggests that we can become the primary force in the Jalisco state congress," Alfaro said as thousands of MC supporters gathered at Guadalajara's iconic Minerva fountain to celebrate the historic victories.
The Citizens Movement's dramatic triumph in Guadalajara was matched by the anticipated victory of Pedro Kumamoto, who was comfortably on course to become the first ever independent candidate elected to the Jalisco state congress.
A recent college graduate, Kumamoto, 25, led a grassroots campaign to victory. In an interview last month, he told VICE News that he used just $1,188 in public funding — or just over one percent of the campaign spending limit of 1.3 million pesos.
"We're going to be pushing for broad and important political reforms so that independent candidates can become not just a nice idea but a genuinely useful tool," Kumamoto said days before the election.
PRD booted in Guerrero
The scenes of much of the violence and tension related to Sunday's midterm election happened in Guerrero, the troubled and poverty-stricken southern state that became an international story with the case of the missing Ayotzinapa students.
Protesters burned ballots in Tixtla and prevented some polling places from being set up. In the mountain town of Tlapa, citizens detained federal police officers in a violent confrontation that left one person dead, a student identified as Antonio Vivar Diaz.
The confrontation in Tlapa began at around 1 pm, when dissident teachers and other protesters hijacked and torched a pickup truck belonging to the National Electoral Institute. Federal police responded, taking nine teachers into custody. The teachers in turn stormed a church and detained an unknown number of federal police officers.
Diaz was killed in the incident but the exact cause of his death remains unclear.
Other flashpoints of violence occurred in Guerrero's western region, on the border with Michoacan. Orbelín Barrios Vallejo, local PRI boss in the municipality of Tlalchapa, was kidnapped on Saturday and has not been heard from since. Two other political operators were also kidnapped over the weekend in the state.
In Guerrero's capital, Chilpancingo, masked men hurled Molotov cocktails at electoral offices as polls were closing. In total, 77 "incidents" occurred across Guerrero, the local citizens participation council said.
In the voting, the PRD lost control of Guerrero, with the PRI candidate Hector Astudillo claiming a preliminary victory in a state that usually leans to the left.
During campaigning, more than 70 attacks to related to the election took place over the course of four months, with eight candidates killed in total, in incidents from Michoacan to Tabasco.
"It doesn't make a difference who you vote for," Rene Cristino, 49, told VICE News earlier in the day in the city of Iguala. "None of them can make a real change or give citizens what they need."
* This story has been updated.
Reporters David Agren in Oaxaca, Duncan Tucker in Jalisco, and David Espino in Guerrero contributed to this report. Follow @VICENews on Twitter for updates.