MEXICO CITY -- Concluding a violent campaign season, Mexicans were voting Sunday in 15 states for local officials in an election seen as a test of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s ability to consolidate power nationwide.
The most important race is in Baja California, the state that borders California and encompasses Tijuana. Voters there were choosing a governor, a post that has deep symbolic importance for two of Mexico's main political parties.
In 1989, after six decades of uninterrupted rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, the party lost a state for the first time in its history as Baja California voters chose as governor a member of the opposition the National Action Party, or PAN. Baja thus became the launching pad for the PAN to unseat the PRI from the presidency in 2000.
The PAN has held on to Baja ever since. But the PRI, which regained the presidency last year, is determined to take the governorship back. The Baja contest there is being fought bitterly, with ugly accusations launched by both sides. Polls conducted before Sunday showed a close race.
Only Baja California is electing a governor Sunday. Voting for mayors and local legislatures, more than 1,300 posts in all, is taking place in 13 other states, and a special election is being held in a 15th state, Sonora, to replace a federal congressman who was murdered, allegedly by a political rival.
About a third of Mexico's electorate is involved.
In the weeks leading up to Sunday's vote, about a dozen candidates, relatives or campaign officials were killed and scores others threatened. Although the violence has been as bad as in past election seasons, when candidates for governor and even president were assassinated, the incidents cast a pall over Sunday's vote and may have discouraged turnout.
The campaign was also plagued by corruption scandals, with PRI operatives shown to be resorting to old-school vote-buying tactics.