Protesters burned ballot boxes in several restive states of southern Mexico on Sunday, in an attempt to disrupt elections seen as a litmus test for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government. Officials said the vote was proceeding satisfactorily despite “isolated incidents”. Thousands of soldiers and federal police were guarding polling stations where violence and calls for boycotts threatened to mar elections for 500 seats in the lower house of Congress, nine of 31 governorships and hundreds of mayors and local officials. Midterm Mexican elections usually draw a light turnout, but attention was unusually high this time as a loose coalition of radical teachers’ unions and activists vowed to block the vote. They attacked the offices of political parties in Chiapas and Guerrero states and burned ballots in Oaxaca ahead of the vote.
The teachers’ demands include huge wage hikes, an end to teacher testing and the safe return of 42 missing students from a radical teachers’ college. Those students disappeared in September, and prosecutors say they were killed and incinerated by a drug gang. One student’s remains were identified by DNA testing.
Protesters burned at least seven ballot boxes and election materials in Tixtla, the Guerrero state town where the teachers’ college is located.
“We want the children to be found first, and then there can be elections,” said Martina de la Cruz, the mother of one of the missing students. Soon after, there was an exchange of rock-throwing between protesters and hundreds of people who said they intended to defend their right to vote. There were no immediate reports of injuries.