Mex­ico rul­ing party routed in re­gional vote on graft, gang vi­o­lence


XALAPA, Mex­ico – Mex­ico’s rul­ing party lost sev­eral bas­tions in Sun­day’s re­gional elec­tions, deal­ing a heavy blow to Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto for fail­ing to crack down on cor­rup­tion and gang vi­o­lence.

The rout will help set the tone for the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2018, un­der­scor­ing deep dis­con­tent over graft scan­dals and a slug­gish econ­omy, and throw­ing the con­test open to con­tenders from both the Left and Right.

Early re­sults from gu­ber­na­to­rial races in 12 of Mex­ico’s 31 states on Mon­day showed Pena Ni­eto’s rul­ing In­sti­tu­tional Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party, or PRI, head­ing for de­feat in seven of them, a re­sult far worse than most polls had fore­cast.

Pro­jected losses in­cluded two oil-rich strongholds in the Gulf of Mex­ico, Ver­acruz and neigh­bor­ing Ta­mauli­pas, both of which have been plagued by gang vi­o­lence for years, as well as Quin­tana Roo, home to Mex­ico’s top tourist des­ti­na­tion Can­cun. All three have been run by the PRI for more than eight decades.

The op­po­si­tion cen­ter-right Na­tional Ac­tion Party (PAN) was poised to be the main ben­e­fi­ciary, tak­ing the lead in seven states, three of them in al­liance with the cen­ter-left Party of the Demo­cratic Rev­o­lu­tion (PRD).

“We’ve bro­ken the au­thor­i­tar­ian mo­nop­oly the PRI has held for more than 86 years,” a buoy­ant PAN leader Ri­cardo Anaya told cheer­ing sup­port­ers af­ter polls closed on Sun­day.

In a tele­vised de­bate, Anaya then chas­tised the PRI for a surge in kid­nap­pings in Ta­mauli­pas and noted that two of the party’s for­mer state gov­er­nors are wanted by US prose­cu­tors for al­leged ties to drug gangs. One of the men, Eu­ge­nio Hernandez, was pic­tured freely casting his vote on Sun­day.

“What we need to do is ob­serve this elec­tion, and take on board the elec­torate’s mes­sage to the PRI and its gov­ern­ments, that there are ac­tions and at­ti­tudes that we need to im­prove,” PRI party Pres­i­dent Man­lio Fabio Bel­trones said on lo­cal ra­dio.

The PRI held nine of the 12 states go­ing into the vote, of which the most pop­u­lous is Ver­acruz, a re­gion dom­i­nated by just a few fam­i­lies since the PRI took con­trol in the decades af­ter Mex­ico’s 1910 rev­o­lu­tion.

With half the vote counted, the PRI was well be­hind in Ver­acruz, with the PAN-PRD con­tender lead­ing the field ahead of the can­di­date of the party of two-time pres­i­den­tial run­ner-up An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

In­vestors have been wary of a win in Ver­acruz by Lopez Obrador’s new left­ist Na­tional Re­gen­er­a­tion Move­ment, or Morena, be­cause he has vowed to undo Pena Ni­eto’s his­toric open­ing of the oil in­dus­try to pri­vate in­vestors if he wins the pres­i­dency in 2018.

Ver­acruz be­came a li­a­bil­ity for Pena Ni­eto af­ter years of gang war­fare, mount­ing debts and al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion.

There were re­ports of vi­o­lence and fraud in the state on Sun­day, and both op­po­si­tion cam­paigns said the PRI had tried to in­tim­i­date their sup­port­ers and rig the vote.

Ac­cused by crit­ics of mis­us­ing pub­lic funds and fail­ing to tackle ram­pant im­punity, out­go­ing Ver­acruz Gov­er­nor Javier Duarte was such a light­ning rod for pub­lic anger that PRI can­di­date Hec­tor Yunes was “em­bar­rassed” to be in the same party.

Duarte, who could not seek re­elec­tion, has de­nied wrong­do­ing. But his six-year term be­came no­to­ri­ous for the killings of jour­nal­ists and vi­o­lent crime.

Few vot­ers in Ver­acruz state cap­i­tal Xalapa sought to de­fend him.

“There’s no money, there’s no jobs, there’s no se­cu­rity for our chil­dren,” said lo­cal teacher Ruth Mo­rales, 52. “This gov­ern­ment has only ben­e­fited a hand­ful of peo­ple.”

(Os­car Martinez/Reuters)

SUP­PORT­ERS OF Hec­tor Yunes, a can­di­date for gov­er­nor of Ver­acruz from In­sti­tu­tional Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party (PRI), re­act af­ter re­gional elec­tions at party head­quar­ters in Ver­acruz, Mex­ico, Sun­day.

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