Mexico's ruling leftist party is leading in an election to pick a new lower house of Congress, early results show, though overall support between its electoral alliance and the main opposition coalition was evenly matched.
As well as the vote for Congress, Mexicans chose state governors and local lawmakers in today's race, which is seen as a referendum on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's policies and a shake-up of Mexico's institutions.
With just over 32 percent of the ballots counted, MORENA had nearly 35 percent of support in the lower house, putting it in pole position for the 300 seats awarded to the candidate with the most votes, figures from the National Electoral Institute (INE) showed.
The lower house has 500 seats and the other 200 are awarded via a form of proportional representation.
All told, MORENA and its allies had almost 42 percent support. That was fractionally above combined support for the opposition alliance of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the INE data showed.
A estimated seat tally is due to be announced shortly.
Opinion polls in recent days have suggested the ruling party would win most of the 15 state governorships up for grabs. Some 93.5 million Mexicans are eligible to vote.
The polls suggested MORENA may lose some of its 253 seats in the lower house but should retain a majority with the help of the Green and Labor parties. The Senate is not up for election.
The contest has taken place amid the Covid-19 pandemic and high levels of violent crime, with 91 politicians killed in this election cycle, according to the security consultancy Etellekt.
Since taking office in 2018 after a landslide victory, Lopez Obrador has expanded the role of the state in the energy sector and radically cut back on the cost of government to channel resources to the poor and his priority infrastructure projects.
In the process, he has eroded institutional checks and balances and frequently criticized autonomous bodies, including the Bank of Mexico, prompting critics to sound the alarm about his concentration of power.
Benefit of the doubt
Though voters tend to criticise his government's record on job creation and fighting crime, they are more skeptical of Mexico's former rulers, now in opposition. Lopez Obrador has also benefited from a vaccine rollout.
Voter Luis Dominguez, 36, in the small municipality of Cuaxomulco in the southeastern state of Tlaxcala said he was standing by the president.
"We have to support him so he can complete his mission," said Dominguez.
To stay on top in the long-term, MORENA must improve its record on the economy, officials, lawmakers and voters say. Mexico's economy contracted 8.5 percent in 2020, the most since the Great Depression of the 1930s, though it is now clawing back ground, lifted by US demand.
Olivia Aguirre, a 32-year-old academic in Mexico City who voted for Lopez Obrador in 2012 and 2018, said she was disillusioned with the president for his dismissal of women's protests against various problems including violence, a lack of support for renewable energy and what she called the "authoritarian" drift of his government.
"I'm not happy about the direction the country is headed," she said after voting for the opposition in the city's Roma district.
Many of her contemporaries who had supported him felt the same way, though her parents still supported MORENA, she said.
His tendency to blame his adversaries for Mexico's problems was no longer acceptable, she said.
With security forces ramping up their presence in violence-plagued states Baja California, Guerrero, Michoacan and Sonora ahead of the voting, crime was a top concern for many people.
In one incident today, a man threw a severed head at a voting station in the Terrazas del Valle neighborhood of the border city Tijuana as people voted.