Mexico's old ruling party looks set for comeback

Mon, Jul 2, 2012, 01:00

THE PARTY that ruled Mexico for most of the past century looked set for a comeback yesterday as voters chose a new president, seeking an end to a brutal drug war and weak economic growth that have worn down the ruling conservatives.

Twelve years after the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost power, opinion polls showed its candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, heading into the vote with a double-digit lead over his opponents despite lingering doubts about the party.

Tainted by corruption, electoral fraud and occasional bouts of brutal authoritarianism during its 71 years in power, the PRI was voted out in 2000. It has bounced back, helped by the economic malaise and a tide of lawlessness that have plagued Mexico under the conservative National Action Party (Pan).

Mr Peña Nieto, a youthful-looking former governor of the state of Mexico, has established himself as the new face of the PRI with the aid of favourable media coverage led by Mexico’s most powerful broadcaster, Televisa.

Long queues of voters snaked around city blocks in the capital. “It’s time for the PRI to return.

They’re the only ones who know how to govern,” said Candelaria Puc (70), preparing to vote in Cancún with the help of a friend because she cannot read or write.

“The PRI is tough, but they won’t let the drug violence get out of control,” she added, speaking in a mix of Mayan and Spanish.

After ending the PRI’s rule in 2000, the Pan raised hopes high. But years of weak growth and the deaths of more than 55,000 people in drug-related killings since 2007 have eroded its popularity.

Violence continued in the days before yesterday’s vote. On Saturday, in the Pacific beach resort of Acapulco, one of the cities most affected by the drug war, four people were killed, two of them tortured and beheaded, a hallmark of drug-related killings, Guerrero state police said.

The PRI mayoral candidate in the city of Marquelia, about 70km (40 miles) from Acapulco, was kidnapped by an armed group, prompting a protest of his supporters that closed a highway for five hours, a party leader said.

Bidding to become the country’s first female president, Pan candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota was third in the polls.

Mr Peña Nieto’s closest challenger in pre-election polling was former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuél López Obrador, the front-runner for much of the 2006 race. Mr López Obrador ultimately lost by half a point to Mexican president Felipe Calderón of Pan and refused to accept defeat. Claiming fraud, he led massive protests in the capital for weeks, bringing much of Mexico City to a standstill and alienating even some of his supporters.

Though his bid in this campaign surged late on when a wave of student-led opposition to the PRI boosted his ratings, polls suggest Mr López Obrador will fall short of the 35 per cent of votes he won in 2006. “This is no time for the country to go in reverse,” a relaxed Mr López Obrador said of the PRI before voting.

Final polls showed Mr Peña Nieto winning 40 per cent to 45 per cent of the vote, Mr López Obrador close to 30 per cent with Ms Vázquez Mota not far behind. Gabriel Quadri, a fourth candidate competing for a smaller party, is expected to pick up a few per cent.

The one with the most votes wins, with no need for a second round.

Mr Peña Nieto has seized on Mr Calderón’s failure to tame cartels with a military-led offensive, arguing the PRI’s experience in power means it best understands how to restore peace to Mexico and reinvigorate the economy.

Mr López Obrador has in recent weeks sounded alarms about possible vote fraud, raising concerns he might call new street protests if he loses again. – (Reuters)