Protesters burn ballots in bid to block Mexico vote

Firefighters and members of the state police rush to put out petrol bombs on Gomez Morin Avenue in Guadalajara, Jalisco state, Mexico, on May 1, 2015 (AFP Photo/Hector Guerrero)

Firefighters and members of the state police rush to put out petrol bombs on Gomez Morin Avenue in Guadalajara, Jalisco state, Mexico, on May 1, 2015 (AFP Photo/Hector Guerrero)

Rebellious teachers and protesters seeking to thwart Mexico’s midterm elections on Sunday burned ballots, blocked polling stations and forced one southern town to scrap the vote.

The protests in the impoverished southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero occurred despite the deployment of federal police and troops to ensure people can cast their votes across the country.

A radical teachers union is putting pressure on President Enrique Pena Nieto to withdraw a landmark education reform aimed at improving the country’s lackluster school system.

In the Guerrero town of Tixtla, protesters angry at Pena Nieto’s handling of the alleged killing of 43 college students in September of last year burned election material, forcing authorities to cancel the vote in the municipality of 40,000 people.

The elections are a major test for Pena Nieto, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and its allies expect to maintain a congressional majority, despite the protests and political scandals.

Despite the protests, election authorities said 99.95 percent of the polling stations were successfully installed for Mexicans to choose 500 members of the lower chamber of Congress, around 900 mayors and nine governors.

After casting his ballot in Mexico City, Pena Nieto said there were reports of “isolated incidents” but that it was “rather satisfying to know that the great majority of polling stations were installed.”

– Burned ballot boxes –

Some of the protesters have focused their anger on collusion between gangs and politicians, especially in the drug violence-plagued state of Guerrero.

In Tixtla, hundreds of people wielding sticks protected a polling station. Election opponents arrived and the two sides threw rocks at each other but no injuries were reported.

While a police helicopter hovered overhead, there were no federal forces on the ground.

Relatives of the 43 young men and masked students snatched election material and burned it. State election authorities later announced the vote’s cancellation.

“As long as they don’t deliver our sons, there won’t be elections,” said the father of one of the 43 students, whose parents refuse to believe they are dead and have vowed to prevent the elections.

In Oaxaca, a bastion of a radical teachers union, protesters burned ballots, ballot boxes and cardboard voting screens at around 20 polling locations, authorities said.

A bus was set on fire on a federal highway, police said, while in the mountain town of Huautla de Jimenez teachers cut down trees and place rocks on the road to prevent federal forces from coming.

Thousands held a protest in Oaxaca’s capital.

“The possibility that social violence could have a role in limiting the vote, affecting the results, is unprecedented in Mexico’s modern history as a democracy,” said Javier Oliva, security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

– Dead candidates –

Other violence is also a concern in regions like Guerrero plagued by organized crime.

At least 10 people were killed on Saturday in Guerrero when rival factions of a self-defense militia clashed in the village of Xolapa, though authorities suggested the fight was linked to an internal feud and not the elections.

In addition to the protests, at least four candidates were murdered in the run-up to the election, including three in Guerrero and Michoacan.

The deployment of federal forces followed daily protests this week by teachers who stormed election offices, burned thousands of ballots and ransacked headquarters of political parties in Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas states.

The violence has overshadowed a campaign that could yield no changes in Congress but could still make history in the industrial state of Nuevo Leon.

There, Jaime “El Bronco” Rodriguez is riding a wave of discontent against corrupt politicians and could become the first ever independent to be elected governor.

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