Mexico’s ruling party lost several bastions in regional elections Sunday June 5, dealing a heavy blow to President Enrique Peña Nieto for failing to crack down on corruption and gang violence, Reuters reported.
There was no race for governor of Yucatan this year, but in Quintana Roo, the ruling party’s gubernatorial candidate looked to be upset by an opposition challenger.
The rout will help set the tone for the next presidential election in 2018, underscoring deep discontent over graft scandals and a sluggish economy, and throwing the contest open to contenders from both the left and right.
Early results from gubernatorial races in 12 of Mexico’s 31 states on Monday showed Pena Nieto’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, heading for defeat in seven of them, a result far worse than most polls had forecast.
Projected losses included two oil-rich strongholds in the Gulf of Mexico, Veracruz and neighboring Tamaulipas, both of which have been plagued by gang violence for years, as well as Quintana Roo, home to Mexico’s top tourist destination Cancun. All three have been run by the PRI for over eight decades.
The opposition center-right National Action Party (PAN) was poised to be the main beneficiary, taking the lead in seven states, three of them in alliance with the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
“We’ve broken the authoritarian monopoly the PRI has held for more than 86 years,” a buoyant PAN leader Ricardo Anaya told cheering supporters after polls closed on Sunday.
In a televised debate, Anaya then chastised the PRI for a surge in kidnappings in Tamaulipas and noted that two of the party’s former state governors are wanted by U.S. prosecutors for alleged ties to drug gangs. One of the men, Eugenio Hernandez, was pictured freely casting his vote on Sunday.
“What we need to do is observe this election, and take on board the electorate’s message to the PRI and its governments, that there are actions and attitudes that we need to improve,” PRI party President Manlio Fabio Beltrones said on local radio.
The PRI held nine of the 12 states going into the vote, of which the most populous is Veracruz, a region dominated by just a few families since the PRI took control in the decades after Mexico’s 1910 revolution.
With half the vote counted, the PRI was well behind in Veracruz, with the PAN-PRD contender leading the field ahead of the candidate of the party of two-time presidential runner-up Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Investors have been wary of a win in Veracruz by Lopez Obrador’s new leftist National Regeneration Movement, or Morena, because he has vowed to undo Pena Nieto’s historic opening of the oil industry to private investors if he wins the presidency in 2018.
Veracruz became a liability for Pena Nieto after years of gang warfare, mounting debts and allegations of corruption.
There were reports of violence and fraud in the state on Sunday, and both opposition campaigns said the PRI had tried to intimidate their supporters and rig the vote.
Accused by critics of misusing public funds and failing to tackle rampant impunity, outgoing Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte was such a lightning rod for public anger that PRI candidate Hector Yunes was “embarrassed” to be in the same party.
Duarte, who could not seek re-election, has denied wrongdoing. But his six-year term became notorious for the killings of journalists and violent crime.
Few voters in Veracruz state capital Xalapa sought to defend him.
“There’s no money, there’s no jobs, there’s no security for our children,” said local teacher Ruth Morales, 52. “This government has only benefited a handful of people.”
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