Mexico’s ruling party is ahead
The PRI appears set to hold on to power in the most populous state, preliminary numbers indicate.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s long-dominant ruling party appears to have narrowly held on to power in closely watched elections in the country’s most populous state, according to preliminary results released Monday.
With almost 98% of the votes counted in Sunday’s Mexico state elections, the gubernatorial candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, led by almost 3 percentage points over the candidate of the left-wing National Regeneration Movement, or Morena.
The heavily contested election in a state where the PRI has never lost was seen as a key test for the party in advance of next year’s crucial presidential balloting.
Still, analysts said Morena’s strong showing demonstrated considerable vigor for an upstart movement that has never held a governor’s seat. The PRI reportedly spent tens of millions of dollars to support its candidate in a bid to stave off what would have been a humiliating defeat.
“It’s almost a Pyrrhic victory” for the PRI, columnist Georgina Morett wrote Monday in Mexico’s El Financiero newspaper. “What was the cost per vote of a victory of only 2 points?”
In the northern state of Coahuila, the PRI hopeful was also slightly ahead in a contentious gubernatorial contest, preliminary results showed.
But officials cautioned that the race in Coahuila — where the two principal candidates were separated by less than 2% of the vote — was too tight to indicate a victory for either.
Like the state of Mexico, Coahuila has long been a PRI stronghold.
The ruling party appeared headed for a loss in the governor’s race in the small coastal state of Nayarit. Antonio Echevarria Garcia, representing an opposition coalition headed by the conservative National Action Party, held a commanding lead of more than 11% of the vote over the PRI hopeful.
The party’s image there took a hit in March when U.S. authorities arrested the state’s attorney general — a longtime PRI stalwart — on drug trafficking charges.
The preliminary numbers released early Monday are official results based on a raw count of votes. Final, certified results are expected Wednesday, after all parties have had a chance to challenge the counts from thousands of individual polling stations.
Electoral authorities reported receiving complaints of hundreds of voting irregularities on Sunday, including alleged intimidation of voters and efforts by ineligible voters to cast ballots. It was unclear Monday whether the complaints would affect the final vote tally.
The most significant contest was in the state of Mexico, which hugs the capital on three sides and is home to more than 11 million voters, the most in the country. The sprawling state is a historical bastion of the PRI, which has ruled the vast area since the party was founded in 1929 in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution.
Many analysts predicted that a PRI defeat there would spell doom for the ruling party in next year’s presidential election.
President Enrique Peña Nieto, the PRI standardbearer and a former governor of the state, is suffering from low approval ratings amid widespread concern about rising crime, corruption and a sluggish economy.
The results released Monday from Mexico state showed the PRI gubernatorial candidate, Alfredo Del Mazo Maza, having garnered 33.7% of the vote compared with 30.8% for Delfina Gomez of Morena.
Del Mazo, 41, scion of a PRI dynasty — and a distant cousin of Peña Nieto — declared victory late Sunday in a lively rally at his campaign headquarters.
Morena and its founder, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, disputed the preliminary results and vowed to challenge the count, but it was unclear whether the protest would gain any traction. Lopez Obrador has alleged that he was cheated out of two presidential victories, in 2006 and 2012, a charge dismissed by his rivals.
The preliminary results in the gubernatorial race demonstrated that a fracturing of the left vote was key to the success of the centrist PRI.
Running a strong third in the gubernatorial race, with almost 18% of the vote, was Juan Zepeda of the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party, the former party of Lopez Obrador, who rejected joining forces to present a unified left ticket against the ruling party.
An upset victory Sunday for Morena in Mexico state would have been a massive boost for Lopez Obrador’s presidential ambitions. He is regarded as an early presidential front-runner — though major parties have yet to name their candidates in national balloting scheduled for July 2018.
The president of the PRI, Enrique Ochoa Reza, hailed the party’s apparent victory in Mexico state as a blow to “populist authoritarianism,” a clear allusion to Lopez Obrador, a fiery leftwing populist.
“We will do the same in 2018,” the PRI leader vowed, referring to next year’s presidential balloting. “Mexico does not deserve to be Venezuela.”
Lopez Obrador has rejected as “lies and calumnies” the PRI’s frequent likening of his policies to those of the embattled leftist leadership in Venezuela, which is gripped by economic, social and political chaos.
MEXICO STATE’S PRI gubernatorial candidate Alfredo Del Mazo Maza, with wife Fernanda Castillo, greets supporters in Toluca, the state capital, on Sunday.