This story originally appeared on the Fronteras Desk

Midterm elections in Mexico, as in the United States, are a referendum on a sitting president’s performance.

Sunday, June 7, 2015, Mexicans will elect an entirely new congress along with 17 state legislatures and a host of governors and mayors. The results will set the tenor for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s final three years in office.

Congressional representatives in the lower Chamber of Deputies are limited to a three year term. Senators serve a single six year term as does the Mexican president.

The new congress will support–or stall–the second half of Peña Nieto’s term. And the election outcome has implications for United States-Mexico relations.

After a 12 year absence, Peña Nieto led his PRI party back to Los Pinos—Mexico’s White House—three years ago, pledging to change the national conversation.

18 months ago, Peña Nieto was hyping economic and political reform. Mexicans loved the message.

He’d arrested the corrupt head of the politically powerful teachers union and he was crafting and energy and telecommunications reform in an unprecedented attack against state and private monopolies.

And he said he’d confront corruption. But today, opposition election ads focus on one theme.

‘Zero tolerance for corrupt politicians,’ an opposition party’s radio ad exclaims.” It castigates Peña Nieto, saying his anti-corruption rhetoric is hollow and cosmetic.

His presidency has been tarnished in the last year by violence and evidence of continuing corruption.

Last September – in the most shocking incident – 43 students were taken off buses in a small town in southern Mexico and murdered –  allegedly on orders from an elected mayor. The mayor allegedly ordered his local police to hand the students over to assassins who may have been told the students were members of a rival cartel.

More recently, in April, criminalsmurdered 15 police officers, shot down a military helicopter and set at least 15 banks on fire. One news report in Mexico called it an “unprecedented attack.”

And In May the gov’t was again on the defensive, after a shootout that left that 42 purported cartel members and one policeman dead.

Some Mexicans have stated publicly that they believe the dead were executed, a contention based on preliminary forensic data compiled by families of the deceased.

“Making change without spilling blood isn’t easy,” said Raul Acosta in Spanish.

He’s a retired political science professor. He says Peña Nieto’s predecessor Felipe Calderón also wanted change that ended in violence. Calderón thought he’d stabilize Mexico by confronting organized crime. It didn’t work.

The violence seen today has its roots in Calderón’s war.

Now, Acosta says the biggest obstacle facing all parties isn’t disdain. It’s apathy.

“People have no motivation to vote,” he said. “There’s general discontent out there.”

Roberto Grado, a local leader of the opposition PAN party in Chihuahua, agrees.
“People are despondent,” Grado said in Spanish. “They don’t have faith in any political party.”

That’s also because in the last three years, there have been a series of allegations of corruption raised againstevery party.

The voices of political analysts are echoed by people on the streets of this northern Mexico state. Alan Salvador Andrade is a clothing distributor in Ojinaga.

“I don’t trust them. They’re all the same,” he said of politicians in general.

His worst fear, he says, is that nothing will change, that the status quo remains and that violence and corruption will continue to scar Mexico.

“I’m afraid of what’s going to happen,” he said looking ahead to the vote.

In some states, some voters have said they will not participate in the election. And in some regions, election supervisors have said they are afraid to staff polling stations because of actual or implied threats of violence from any number of disaffected interests.

There’s currently a movement to annul or destroy votes by leaving ballots unchecked. Activists have blocked roadsurging drivers to annul their votes to signal dissatisfaction.

Salvador doesn’t like that strategy.

“Our vote is the most important weapon that we have to change this situation. “

Turnout in midterm elections in Mexico is notoriously low and this time around may be even more so. National pollssuggest flagging support for Peña Nieto.

“There is a story here for us in the United States,” said Andrew Selee.

Selee is a Mexico and Latin America specialist at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.

He says there are fundamental questions the US hopes are answered on Sunday.

“Is Peña Nieto going to come out of this election strengthened ? Is he going to come out being seen as a leader who has a mandate, who has control of Congress, in which case he’s in a very strong position to look at some of the international issues including issues of economic opening with the United States, issues with migrants in the United States and lot of things that have to do with our country,” he said.

There are other issues of importance to the US. For one, American energy companies are also monitoring this election campaign.

They’re eager to enter Mexico’s domestic energy sector.

Peña Nieto helped change Mexico’s constitution to allow foreign companies in. He overcame Mexican nationalists who say outsiders have no place in Mexico’s energy market. If he comes out of this midterm politically weakened, Peña Nieto will be forced to focus on building coalitions rather than on attracting foreign businesses.


This story comes to us from the Fronteras Desk, a collaboration of NPR stations in the southwest reporting along the US-Mexico border.

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