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In Mexico elections, PRI makes gains but appears to lose 3 key states

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Mexico’s political map shifted only slightly in Sunday’s gubernatorial elections, with the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, grabbing nine out of 12 contests. But a multiparty alliance across ideological lines appears to have beaten back the resurgent party in three contests, winning Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa.

In results (the front-page of Reforma.com is currently carrying updates), the PRI essentially swapped three states with the alliances consisting of the conservative PAN (National Action Party), leftist PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), and various smaller parties. The implication is that the new multiparty coalitions can be successful in fighting back the PRI, which is seeking to take back the presidency in the 2012 elections.

Sunday’s elections were marred by reports of violence, voter intimidation and the growing influence of drug traffickers. A week before, the PRI’s candidate for governor of Tamaulipas was shot and killed along with four others. Rodolfo Torres’ brother stepped into the candidacy after the attack, easily handing the state to the PRI. In Oaxaca, 39 people were detained Sunday after authorities discovered bomb-making materials in two hotels in Oaxaca City.

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The voting raises the stakes considerably for the next national election.

Voters booted the PRI from power 10 years ago after more than 70 years of one-party, authoritarian rule. In recent elections under the party’s president, Beatriz Paredes, the PRI has made strong gains, branding itself as reborn and reformed. The PRI has capitalized on Mexicans’ memories of relative stability under its rule. Mexico has faced spiraling drug violence and economic duress under two successive PAN presidents, Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon.

Here’s the breakdown from Sunday’s voting, based on tallies that are not yet official. PRI wins:

Aguascalientes,formerly PAN Chihuahua Durango Hidalgo Quintana Roo Tamaulipas Tlaxcala,formerly PAN Veracruz Zacatecas,formerly PRD

The PAN-PRD-led alliances win:

Oaxaca,formerly PRI Puebla,formerly PRI Sinaloa,formerly PRI

The race in Oaxaca had been closely watched. The PRI has governed Oaxaca for 80 years, but saw its hold on power challenged under Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who oversaw a violent repression against leftist resistance groups in the city of Oaxaca in 2006 and is linked to a paramilitary organization believed responsible for recent incidents of violence in rural areas (see here and here). Oaxacan voters on Sunday gave the most votes to the Peace and Progress Coalition led by Gabino Cue,pictured above (links in Spanish), a knockout loss for the PRI.

In other non-gubernatorial races, the PRI swept the PAN out of various significant municipal seats in one of its original strongholds, Baja California. PRI candidates swept all five city halls, in Tijuana, Mexicali, Ensenada, Tecate,and Rosarito, signaling a polar shift for the border state (link in Spanish). However, on the opposite end of Mexico, in Chiapas, the PAN-PRD alliances beat the PRI in major municipal contests, winning the capital Tuxtla Gutierrez,as well as San Cristobal de las Casas, Ocosingo, and Tapachula.

Sunday’s outcome raises questions about the future of politics in Mexico.

If the PRI recaptures the presidency in 2012, will it revert to past governing strategies of repression, patronage and corruption? If ideologically awkward alliances can defeat the PRI in regional races, is one possible for a national ticket? And can conservatives and leftists actually govern together?

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Image of gubernatorial election results courtesy of El Universal.


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