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UPDATE 2-Mexico ruling party expected to keep slim Congress majority as voting closes
June 8, 2015 / 2:11 AM / in 2 years

UPDATE 2-Mexico ruling party expected to keep slim Congress majority as voting closes

* Campaign overshadowed by murders, teacher protests
    * Soldiers and police beef up security in restive states

 (Updates with polls close, adds quote)
    By Dave Graham and Max De Haldevang
    MEXICO CITY, June 7 (Reuters) - Mexican President Enrique
Pena Nieto's party is expected to retain its slim working
majority in the lower house of Congress in mid-term elections on
Sunday despite discontent about corruption, gang violence and
lackluster economic growth.
    Mexicans cast ballots for nine state governorships and more
than 1,000 state and municipal posts. Polls closed at 2300 GMT
and preliminary results are expected around 0300 GMT on Monday.
    At least seven candidates and nine campaign officials were
murdered in campaigning soured by drug cartel intimidation and
dissident teachers protesting against education reforms.
    Fresh violence flared over the weekend, with 16 people
killed on Saturday when gangs clashed near the resort city of
Acapulco, but the incident appeared to be unrelated to the
election. 
    Heavily armed convoys patrolled as 40,000 police and troops
fanned out across southern Mexico to safeguard the vote.
    Activists stole or set fire to dozens of ballot boxes in the
restive states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas early on Sunday,
but the vote was otherwise largely peaceful, officials said.
    After pushing through a raft of economic reforms early in
his presidency, Pena Nieto has been battered by allegations of
corruption and for failing to bring drug violence under control.
    "Security and corruption are the most important things that
must be improved," said Luis Castillo, an 80-year-old pensioner,
after voting for the conservative opposition National Action
Party (PAN) in Mexico City. 
    "The PRI have spent 70 years being corrupt and that is
enough," he added, referring to Pena Nieto's ruling centrist
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). 
    Pena Nieto was buffeted by criticism over the apparent
massacre of 43 students in September by a drug gang working with
local police. Then he faced accusations of corruption following
revelations that he, his wife and his finance minister had
bought houses from government contractors.
    There were 1,374 murders across Mexico in April, the highest
monthly total in nearly a year, police data show.
    While Pena Nieto's approval rating has plummeted, polls
suggest the PRI may keep the thin majority it musters with its
allies in the lower house, partly due to weakness and splits in
the opposition.
    The PRI, with its partners the Green Party and the smaller
New Alliance party (PANAL) won 251 of 500 lower house seats in
the 2012 elections with around 42 percent of the total vote.
Polls suggest they will be close to that total again.
    Having fulfilled the bulk of his main legislative pledges,
including measures to end the state oil and gas monopoly and
open up the telecoms sector to competition, Pena Nieto is not
expected to rely on Congress as much in his last three years.
    However, the government still has legislation pending, 
including bills aimed at encouraging investment in rural areas.
    The reforms have yet to kick-start strong economic growth
and the government recently cut its forecast for the third year
running. Analysts predict growth of little more than 2.5 percent
in 2015.

 (Additional reporting by Liz Diaz, David Alire Garcia and
Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner and Cynthia
Osterman)

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