Mexico's Opposition PRI Party Won Nine of 12 State Races, Exit Polls Show

Mexico’s largest opposition party won governor races in at least nine states in regional elections today after the bloodiest campaign season since 1994, according to exit polls.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled the country for 71 years until 2000, unseated opponents in three states and held on to governorships in at least six more, according to exit polls broadcast by television networks Milenio and Foro TV. The PRI lost in Oaxaca, while two other races were too close to call, the polls showed.

The election was overshadowed by rising violence before the vote, especially along the U.S. border where gangs have been fighting to control the nation’s drug trade. The PRI gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas state, Rodolfo Torre Cantu, was assassinated June 28. Last month, a mayoral candidate was shot dead in the same state. This week, a headless body was found outside the home of another mayoral hopeful.

Several incidents of violence occurred while polls were open today. The brother of Trinidad Pacheco Diaz, a National Action Party, or PAN, candidate for mayor in Chihuahua state, was killed by gunmen, newspaper El Universal reported. In Durango, an armed group shut down a polling station.

The cost of protecting Mexican debt against non-payment for five years with credit-default swaps has risen 11 basis points to 137.74 since Torre Cantu was assassinated, according to data compiled by CMA DataVision.

PRI Victories

The PRI unseated President Felipe Calderon’s PAN in Tlaxcala and Aguascalientes states, and defeated the Party of the Democratic Revolution in Zacatecas state, according to the exit polls. It also held onto power in the states of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Durango, Hidalgo, Quintana Roo and Veracruz, while races were too close to call in Puebla and Sinaloa, the polls showed.

“These elections confirm that the PRI is the biggest political force in the country,” Beatriz Paredes, the party’s head, told reporters in comments broadcast on Milenio Television. “The information we have shows that our victory is resounding.”

One voting station didn’t open today “because of insecurity” in the Guadalupe y Calvo municipality of Chihuahua state, according to Enrique Rodriguez, spokesman for the state electoral institute.

Egidio Torre, who became candidate in Tamaulipas after his brother was killed, cast his ballot wearing a bullet-proof vest under his white button-down shirt, according to images broadcast on Milenio Television.

‘Very Sad’

“I’m very proud my brother Rodolfo’s project is starting to come to true,” Torre said on Foro TV. “I’m still very sad about the tragedy, but here we are.”

Torre Cantu was the highest-level politician to be assassinated since presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was killed in 1994.

Calderon’s PAN, a pro-business party, formed an alliance with the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, in a bid to unseat the PRI in the states of Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Sinaloa, Durango and Puebla.

The two parties are sharing candidates even after they fought a controversial presidential election in 2006, in which Calderon defeated Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador by less than a percentage point. They also disagree on a wide range of issues, from abortion to the opening of the energy industry to private investment.

Mexico has turned increasingly violent since Calderon came to office in December 2006 vowing to fight drug and people traffickers. More than 22,000 people have been killed in Mexico in violence related to the drug war since the crackdown began, according to the U.S. State Department.

Mexico’s economy, the second biggest in Latin America, is forecast by the central bank to grow 4 percent to 5 percent this year after a 6.5 percent contraction in 2009.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jens Erik Gould in Mexico City at jgould9@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Levin in Mexico City at jlevin20@bloomberg.net

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