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Mexican Voters Say ‘None of Them Can Make a Real Change’ As Some Burn Ballots

Protesters burned ballots and attacked polling places in Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. Exit polls were suggesting tight races in key state governor races, including Nuevo Leon, where indie candidate "El Bronco" was pulling ahead.
Photo by Luis Alberto Hernandez/AP

Results began trickling in on Sunday after millions of Mexicans cast ballots in a midterm vote seen as a barometer of the country's political climate three years into the term of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Voters were choosing hundreds of officers: nine governors, mayors, local representatives, and all 500 members of the lower house of Mexico's Congress. Political party bosses were already declaring their candidates winners in tight races in several states, but official results will not be released until at least 8 pm local time.


"We have an impressive result well beyond any of our expectations," said Hugo Luna, president of the insurgent Citizens Movement party in Jalisco state.

Isolated attacks against polling places and burning of ballots took place mostly in the southern region of the country, including the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Chiapas. Overall the vote took place in relative calm despite recent days of escalating violence and tension between authorities and the radical dissident teachers union CNTE.

'We really just want to put the episode behind us.'

In the northern state of Nuevo Leon, the foul-mouthed independent candidate Jaime Rodriguez, known as "El Bronco," was ahead in exit polls, raising the possibility of the first independent elected governor in Mexico since partial electoral reforms permitted citizen candidacies this year.

In Tixtla, Guerrero, the town nearest to the Ayotzinapa Normal School, where 43 teachers college students were disappeared in September 2014, parents and supporters of the missing students prevented polling places from being set up, just as promised.

The disturbances began at 10:30 am when students and parents of the missing confronted people identified as supporters of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Protesters fought one another with sticks and tubes, and one Molotov cocktail was thrown; two people were reportedly injured.

By early afternoon, a dozen polling places had been destroyed in Tixtla, but residents still voted at 40 other stations.


Related: Mexico Is Having Its Most Depressing Election in Recent Memory

Voters lined up in small numbers in the city of Iguala, Guerrero, where the 43 students were abducted and likely massacred.

"We really just want to put the episode behind us," Javier Hernandez, a 38-year old cab driver, told VICE News during the vote. "The Ayotzinapa tragedy has been tough on the economy. In the first two or three months after it happened, people were scared to leave their houses."

Still, the shadow of the Ayotzinapa tragedy hangs over Iguala and dominated voters' decisions at the ballot, many said in interviews.

The city has barely had a functioning administration since former Mayor Jose Luis Abarca, whom the federal authorities accuse of having ordered the student massacre, fled town and was later arrested along with his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda.

'Once they become public officials, the first thing they do is go after the money.'

Even in Iguala, though, Sunday's results look to be political business as usual — the next mayor will most likely be either the PRI or the PRD, or the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution. Abarca belonged to the PRD, which has governed Guerrero in recent years at the state level.

"It doesn't make a difference who you vote for," said 49-year old Rene Cristino, who voted as soon as the polls opened this morning, but didn't reveal his choices. "None of them can make a real change or give citizens what they need."


There were fears that the election would be blocked by activists, but as poll stations began receiving their first voters, Iguala was calm.

"People must participate, it's the only way to revive the confidence in politics," Anibal Garduño, local mayoral candidate for Citizens Movement, the leftist opposition party, told VICE News.

Related: Meet the Oddball Cast of Mexico's Election

Protesters burn ballots in Tixtla, Guerrero. (Photo by Andalusia Knoll/VICE News)

A sense of frustration and disenchantment marked the midterm vote, analysts said.

"The image of Peña Nieto, cases of corruption, the poor economic results, violence, all this makes these elections disenchanting," Bernardo Barranco, an academic and electoral commissioner in Mexico state, said in an interview with VICE News.

"The electoral process is marked by the enormous disillusion and rejection on the part of most Mexicans," he added.

Oaxaca teacher protests

Tight security marked voting in the colonial city of Oaxaca, east of Guerrero, as soldiers and federal police patrolled the city and military choppers buzzed overhead.

Teachers — irate with an education reform which would subject them to evaluations and curb union control over issues such as hiring and firing — took to the streets of Oaxaca city for a "mega-march" on Sunday during the vote, calling for a boycott.

"All these politicians … none of them gives any hope that this can be improved," Rutilo Rodriguez, a spokesman for Section 22, the Oaxaca branch of the CNTE teachers union, told VICE News. "Once they become public officials, the first thing they do is go after the money."


CNTE teachers attacked the National Electoral Institute, or INE, throughout Oaxaca. Teachers burned ballot boxes, clashed with police, and blockaded a gasoline delivery depot, causing service stations in Oaxaca City, the state capital, to run out of fuel for up to four days.

At least 264 polling places were burned or attacked on Sunday, Milenio television reported. Eighty-eight people were detained, authorities said.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto votes in Mexico City. (Photo via Presidencia de México)

Late last month, the federal education ministry suspended teacher evaluations, which were approved in a 2013 education reform, for still unknown reasons. Education reform advocates accused the government of yielding to blackmail and attempting to keep the CNTE from sabotaging elections in the country's south.

The newspaper Reforma, citing sources from teacher negotiations with the federal interior ministry, reported the teachers wanted 4,500 new teaching positions approved, which the Section 22 would then sell to job seekers for up to $20,000 each.

Teachers in Oaxaca said they wanted the entire reform rolled back.

"It's been two days of pure losses," said Manuel Geronimo, a taxi driver in Oaxaca who waited in a line of 26 vehicles after the Federal Police escorted tanker trucks to gasoline stations in the city.

He said he didn't plan on voting. "[Politicians] only think about their well-being," Geronimo added.

Related: 'People Are Fed Up': Jalisco Elections Could Upend Traditional Politics in Mexico


Ballots burning in Tixtla. (Photo by Andalusia Knoll/VICE News)

At a polling station a working class neighborhood in the nearby city of Santa Lucia del Camino, people expressed similar frustrations with politicians and the process at large — which, they say, includes attempts at buying their votes, or offers of payments to prevent citizens from voting.

"Many [operators] ask for your voter ID card, and say they will then return it after the election," Rosa Martinez, a homemaker, said after voting.

Others, she said, "Take a picture of it to see if you actually voted," she said. "If you actually voted, then they pay you."

"Politics is pure deception here," Leonardo Morales, a retired government worker, told VICE News. "The original party was the PRI and the other parties are formed by people from the PRI itself, who just dispersed to do the same thing under another color."

Others insisted on voting as a means for regular Mexicans to make their voices heard.

"It's important to vote," said David Flores, an evangelical pastor, who pointed to the teachers' attempts at stopping the elections as his motive for casting a ballot. "We have to vote, so that they don't get their way."

Back in Guerrero, Berta Nava, mother of one of the assassinated Ayotzinapa students, Julio Cesar Ramirez Nava, said the movement's protests will not diminish after the election.

"We also used to vote, when they told us that our lives would change and be different, that there would be work for everyone and schools and clinics," Nava told VICE News. "But by and large, we see that those things didn't happen, and only the government has benefitted … the people, never."

Related: Town Booted Out Mexico's Political Parties, But Now Some Residents Want Them Back

David Espino, Daniel Hernandez, Rafael Castillo, Andalusia Knoll, and Duncan Tucker contributed to this report. Follow @VICENews on Twitter for updates on the elections in Mexico.