MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s president is expected to score comfortable wins in Sunday’s state elections in the first test of his popularity since taking office, with preliminary results and an exit poll showing his party taking both governorships up for grabs.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party was tipped for victory in the central state of Puebla and the northern state of Baja California despite a weak economy, rampant violence and troubled relations with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.
Lopez Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) was ahead in the race for the governorship in Puebla.
The National Electoral Institute reported that MORENA candidate Luis Miguel Geronimo won 42.5% of votes with just over half of the ballots counted, comfortably ahead of his nearest rival.
MORENA was also seen winning the governorship in Baja California with between 53.8% and 57.2% of votes, according to an exit poll published by Consulta Mitofsky. Baja California has not reported preliminary results yet because of a two-hour time difference.
Dozens of lesser seats were being contested in local elections across several states on Sunday but only those two states were voting for governors.
Opinion polls had given Lopez Obrador’s leftist party a commanding lead against a divided opposition in both states, even as clouds have gathered on the horizon because of a potentially calamitous trade row with Trump.
Trump said on Thursday he would hit all Mexican exports to the United States with an escalating 5% tariff from June 10 unless Mexico stops a surge in illegal immigrants from Central America reaching the U.S. border.
Mexican Economy Minister Graciela Marquez said on Sunday she would meet U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington on Monday. The two governments will begin talks on the issue in the U.S. capital coming week.
Around 80% of Mexico’s exports go to the United States, giving Trump plenty of leverage to put pressure on Lopez Obrador.
Lopez Obrador has repeatedly vowed to root out political corruption, which he says is a legacy of his adversaries’ years in power, since assuming the presidency in October.
Disheartened and disorganized, the opposition has yet to recover public trust in spite of concern about Lopez Obrador’s economic management and his polarizing instincts.
Indeed, some prominent figures from the main opposition parties have declared their support for MORENA.
Lopez Obrador’s fight against graft has yet to show tangible results, but the government this week began stepping up a major probe into suspected financial wrongdoing by a former boss of struggling state oil company Pemex.
Still, the 65-year-old’s efforts to run a tight budget have caused shortfalls in public services and helped prompt the first major resignation from his government last month.
His abrupt decisions on economic policy and doubts about the future of Pemex have rattled financial markets. The economy contracted 0.2% quarter-on-quarter during the first quarter.
Murders are on track to surpass last year’s record of nearly 29,000, official data shows.
Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Paul Tait