Allies of Mexican President Felipe Calderon did better than polls had forecast in gubernatorial elections yesterday, halting the main opposition party’s momentum before presidential elections are held in 2012.
An alliance between Calderon’s National Action Party and other factions unexpectedly beat the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa states, incomplete official results show. The PRI unseated their opponents in the smaller states of Aguascalientes, Tlaxcala and Zacatecas. The six other governorships decided yesterday didn’t change hands.
The PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000, lost in states that were its longtime bastions of power, said George Grayson, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. That will hurt the party, which won legislative elections last year and leads in polls to recapture the presidency in 2012, he said.
“The PRI took it on the chin,” Grayson said in a telephone interview from Mexico City.
The Mexican peso declined for a sixth straight day, falling 0.1 percent to 13.0927 per U.S. dollar at 2:34 p.m. New York time.
Calderon’s PAN, a pro-business party, formed an alliance with the Party of the Democratic Revolution, known as PRD, in a bid to a block a PRI victory in five states. Calderon defeated the PRD’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador by less than a percentage point in 2006. The parties disagree on a range of issues, from abortion to opening the energy industry to private investment.
The states that the National Action Party alliance won are larger than the states it lost, helping the PAN increase the total population it governs by more than 30 percent, said Josefina Vazquez Mota, head of the PAN in the lower house of Congress.
The PRI was favored to win in Sinaloa and Puebla states before yesterday’s vote, according to polls by newspaper Reforma. The parties were tied in Oaxaca state.
PRI officials said they fared well in the election. Preliminary official results and exit polls show the party in control of 19 of Mexico’s 31 states. Final results are still being calculated.
The PRI unseated the PAN in Tlaxcala and Aguascalientes states, and took power from the PRD in Zacatecas state, early results showed. It also held onto power in Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Durango, Hidalgo, Quintana Roo and Veracruz states.
“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 results will help break the PRI’s momentum ahead of the 2012 vote, said the PAN’s Vazquez Mota.
“A new electoral panorama has been drawn,” Vazquez Mota, who was education minister under Calderon, said in a telephone interview. “The PRI’s claim that they would sweep the elections didn’t come true.”
The states in which the PAN prevailed represent 11 percent of Mexico’s population and 7.1 percent of gross domestic product, while the states in which the PRI won represent 3 percent of the population and 2.7 percent of GDP, according to the national statistics agency.
The PAN plans to challenge the results in Durango and Veracruz in an electoral court, Jose Espina, the party’s chief election coordinator, said in an interview. The PRI won in Durango by 1.7 percentage points with 90 percent of the vote counted and won in Veracruz by 2.9 points with 88 percent of the vote counted, according to official results.
The PAN will accuse the current PRI governors in Durango and Veracruz of illegally using public resources to fund the party’s candidates, Espina said. The PAN may also challenge election results in Aguascalientes and Hidalgo states, he said. It won’t officially go to the courts until after July 7, he said.
The PAN is trailing in polls for the July 2012 presidential election. Enrique Pena Nieto, governor of the State of Mexico and a PRI member, is the leading candidate, according to a poll released June 14 by Mexico City-based polling group Consulta Mitofsky. Pena Nieto has 25 percent support of those surveyed compared with 6 percent for Lopez Obrador, his closest rival.
Yesterday’s elections were 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. A mayoral candidate was shot dead in the same state in May. Last week, a headless body was found outside the home of another mayoral hopeful.
Several incidents of violence occurred while polls were open yesterday. The brother of Trinidad Pacheco Diaz, a PAN candidate for mayor in Chihuahua state, was killed by gunmen, the Interior Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. In Durango, an armed group shut down a polling station, Milenio reported on its website.
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.
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.