The horse-riding, tough-talking Jaime “El Bronco” Rodriguez survived two assassination attempts from drug cartels as mayor of a suburb of Monterrey.
Now, in an election marred by violence, Mr Rodriguez has won the governor’s race in the Mexican border state of Nuevo Leon, ousting the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) from a key state that includes the business hub of Monterrey.
Mr Rodriguez’s election as the first independent governor is seen as a protest against party politics. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI lost legislative seats in Sunday’s vote. Mr Rodriguez said after his election: “I think in the whole country, this will help the political parties to renew and transform themselves so they can be better.”
He said his first action as governor would be to attack corruption. “We have to investigate the entire previous government,” he said.
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It was the first election in Mexico to allow unaffiliated candidates, thanks to electoral reform last year.
Mr Rodriguez’s support harkens back to 2000, when another plain-spoken cowboy candidate, Vicente Fox, managed to topple the PRI’s 71-year rule and win the presidency for the opposition National Action Party.
Sunday’s vote came amid widespread discontent with politicians in Mexico, where corruption scandals, a lacklustre economy and human rights concerns related to missing students and suspected army massacres have tarnished Mr Peña Nieto’s image and fed anti-government protests.
Thousands of soldiers and federal police guarded polling stations where violence and calls for boycotts threatened to mar the vote for 500 seats in the lower house of Congress, nine of 31 governorships and hundreds of mayors and local officials. Protesters burned ballot boxes in several southern Mexican states.
A team of election observers from the Organisation of America States said the incidents did not prevent people from voting. A coalition of radical teachers’ unions and activists had vowed to block the vote, and protesters burned at least seven ballot boxes and election materials in Tixtla, the Guerrero state town where 43 students vanished at the hands of a local police force, causing outrage.
In Oaxaca’s capital, masked protesters emptied a vehicle of ballots, boxes and voting tables and burned the material in the main square.
In Monterrey, two political parties reported that armed men were intimidating voters in three towns near the border with Texas. Violence ahead of the elections claimed the lives of three candidates, one would-be candidate and at least a dozen campaign workers.