President’s Party Dealt Losses by Corruption-Weary Mexicans

  • Opposition winning majority of states in preliminary results
  • PRI to govern fewest states in decade, hurting 2018 chances

Mexican voters fed up with corruption and violence delivered a blow to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s party by handing the opposition a majority of the governorships up for grabs in Sunday’s election, preliminary results show.

As many as four states would leave the hands of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party for the first time in history, according to the initial tally of most votes, leaving the party to govern the fewest states in at least a decade. Veracruz, the state with the largest population and fiscal budget among the 12 that held governors’ races, would change hands for the first time.

The results weaken Pena Nieto’s ability to direct policy in a country that has shown just how upset it is with the constant barrage of corruption scandals, including those involving the family of the president, who now has a 30 percent approval rating. The regional elections send the ruling party, known as PRI, hobbling toward the general vote for president in 2018, according to Federico Estevez, a political-science professor at the Autonomous Institute of Technology of Mexico.

“The voters are saying ‘throw the bums out,’ and that’s based mostly on corruption and malfeasance and incompetence in local government,” Estevez said by telephone from Mexico City. “We’re going to see gridlock” in the legislature, he said.

The peso traded little changed at 18.6760 per dollar at 4:22 p.m in Mexico City from 18.6688 on Friday.

Big Winner

The big winner in Sunday’s race was the National Action Party, which amassed as many as seven states together with allied parties, including Veracruz. The party, known as PAN, had ruled Mexico from 2000 to 2012 before being ousted by Pena Nieto amid a protracted drug war that left tens of thousands dead.

The PAN’s large presence in the north of the country, where its more affluent constituency resides, helped the party defeat states that had faced accusations of fund mismanagement or where voter fatigue ran strong against PRI leadership that has lasted over eight decades, said Jorge Chabat, a political scientist at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching.

In Veracruz, the failure of two-time presidential contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to vault his party’s pick to the governorship could dim his prospects for a third try for the job as chief executive in 2018. His anti-graft platform failed to attract enough voters to Cuitlahuac Garcia, a teacher, in a state where his rivals for governor were mired in corruption scandals. The showing was weak in part because his two-year-old Morena Party doesn’t have the manpower or political machinery to get out the vote, said Alejandro Schtulmann, president of Mexico City-based political risk consulting firm Empra.

‘The Message’

Nowhere in Mexico is anger with crooked politicians more acute than in Veracruz, where the PRI-affiliated government is accused by federal auditors of misdirecting funds and then faking the return of $260 million of that money. Veracruz’s governor, Javier Duarte, has denied any wrongdoing.

PRI President Manlio Fabio Beltrones said Sunday’s results will force his party to revise how it chooses its candidates. He denied the elections were a bellwether for the 2018 race, and pointed out that more state races will take place in 2017.

"We need to accept the message that the electorate has sent to the PRI and its governments, that there are actions and attitudes that have to be improved or changed in order to reconnect with citizens," Beltrones said in an interview on Radio Formula.

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