President Felipe Calderon's sister appears to have lost her bid for governor of Michoacan during violent state elections, and she alleged Monday that drug traffickers helped tip the race in favor of one of her opponents.
Preliminary results gave the lead in the race for governor of the western state to Fausto Vallejo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
"The intervention by organized crime during the entire election process and especially yesterday is alarming, not just for Michoacan but for the entire country," Luisa Maria Calderon said in a radio interview a day after Sunday's vote. "They threatened our candidates, our poll workers.... They seized ballot boxes, set up roadblocks … and ordered people to vote" for the PRI.
The PRI ruled Mexico for seven decades until losing the presidency in 2000. But it is staging a comeback, and victory in Michoacan is an important step in that effort. The PRI is hoping to win the presidential election in July.
Vallejo appears to have only narrowly edged out Calderon, who had led polls before election day. Calderon, a candidate for her brother's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, refused to recognize Vallejo as the winner.
Silvano Aureoles, the candidate for the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, which currently holds the governorship, came in third, a bad defeat for the divided and hapless left ahead of the 2012 presidential vote. Aureoles also refused to recognize the preliminary results.
The head of the PRD, Jesus Zambrano, echoed Calderon, saying: "Organized crime worked yesterday on behalf of the PRI candidate.... This is very dangerous, and if we permit it, narco-politics will have begun in Michoacan, and next we will see it in 2012."
Vallejo, former mayor of the state capital of Morelia, denied ties to drug traffickers and urged the other candidates to accept the results.
Michoacan has long been dominated by drug cartels specializing in marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines. It is President Calderon's home state, and he chose Michoacan to launch a military-led offensive against traffickers in December 2006. Yet violence has persisted.
A PAN mayor was assassinated a week before the election as he campaigned for Luisa Maria Calderon, and numerous candidates quit local races out of fear.
For the PRI, though, however nasty the Michoacan election looks, a win will help the party's momentum.
The man expected to represent the PRI in the presidential race, Enrique Pena Nieto, speaking from Washington, congratulated Vallejo and said, "I think this victory should be very encouraging, looking ahead to next year."
Sanchez is a news assistant in The Times' Mexico City bureau.