Source: The Guardian
The party that held power in Mexico for seven decades appears to have won a key state election before the country’s presidential race by transforming itself into the party of change.
Monday’s official vote count shows that the Institutional Revolutionary party, or PRI, surged to victory by winning back hundreds of thousands of votes from the leftist party that pushed it out of the governorship 10 years ago in a pattern that, according to polls, may be spreading across the country.
The PRI’s Fausto Vallejo Figueroa won by 35% to 33% over his closest competitor, Luisa Maria Calderón, who is the sister of President Felipe Calderón. Finishing a distant third, with 29%, was the party that has dominated the state in recent years, the Democratic Revolution party, or PRD.
The two losing parties immediately questioned the results and accused the PRI of aligning itself with organised crime to intimidate voters. PRD candidate Silvano Aureoles called for the election to be annulled.
But with local turnout higher than that seen in the last presidential election, there was more evidence that angry voters rather than armed men or threatening messages were behind the PRI’s win.
“It was a referendum on the PRD during the last 10 to 12 years. Violence has increased and economic issues that have led to migration have not changed,” said Shannon O’Neil, an expert on Mexican politics at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The PRI itself was long the giant of Mexican politics, a system more than a party imposed by a Mexican president in 1929 to impose his power at every level of authority throughout the nation. For the next 71 years, the PRI defeated its challengers while buying off voters with benefits that often depended on support for the party.
But the PRI lost the presidency to Calderón’s National Action party, or PAN, in 2000 and the state of Michoacan fell to the Democratic Revolution party a year later. The PRI can now blame growing drug violence and a tepid economy on the very parties that once argued the PRI was the source of Mexico’s ills.
“We haven’t forgotten that we were better off when the PRI was governing than the 10 terrible years we suffered under the PRD, and the 12 years under the PAN that hasn’t been good for anything,” said businessman Juan José Magana Torres, of Morelia in Michoacan.
“We’re sick of the PRD,” said Josefina Gonzalez Nieto, also of Morelia.
Polls show the PRI making a comeback across the nation, with its leading candidate, former Mexico state governor Enrique Peña Nieto, leading in all polls ahead of the July presidential vote.
Part of the PRI’s strong showing is due to weariness with the PAN after 12 years, and horror at the estimated 40,000 drug war deaths since Calderón ramped up the fight against cartels by sending troops into Michoacan, his home state.
At the same time, PRD, which came within one percentage point of beating Calderón for the presidency in 2006, has fallen apart even in its strongest states. Sunday’s election showed that voters disgruntled with the PRD are voting for the PRI.
The trend is evident in other PRD strongholds. Recent polls show the PRI even has a chance to win back the mayorship of Mexico City that it lost to the PRD by a 6-1 margin six years ago.
The final results will not be confirmed until later this week and the Democratic Revolution party has vowed to challenge them in electoral courts, accusing both the PRI and PAN of irregularities.
“On the one hand was the illegal use of federal resources and money, and on the other this new PRI, now protected and supported in its return to power with the help of organised crime,” the PRD national leader, Jesús Zambrano, told a news conference.
Luisa Maria Calderón, too, implied that the drug gangs were threatening her party’s voters and poll watchers on behalf of the PRI in retaliation for its aggressive stance against cartels. She said her team would carefully review vote tallies in parts of the state where they have received reports of armed men threatening people trying to vote.
Federal prosecutors said they have opened investigations into 42 alleged instances of voting irregularities, including threats purportedly used to force people to vote a certain way and people holding others’ voter ID cards, which is done to prevent people from voting or to allow others to vote for them.