Mex­ico’s rul­ing party is ahead

The PRI ap­pears set to hold on to power in the most pop­u­lous state, pre­lim­i­nary num­bers in­di­cate.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Pa­trick J. Mc­Don­nell pa­trick.mc­don­nell @la­times.com Twit­ter: @mcd­neville Ce­cilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mex­ico City bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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.

Re­becca Blackwell As­so­ci­ated Press

MEX­ICO STATE’S PRI gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Al­fredo Del Mazo Maza, with wife Fer­nanda Castillo, greets sup­port­ers in Toluca, the state cap­i­tal, on Sun­day.

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