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Mexico analysts: PRI victories no assurance for 2012

By Arthur Brice, CNN
Eugenio Hernandez Floresand, governor of Tamaulipas state and member of PRI, casts his ballot in Ciudad Victoria on July 4. With him is his wife, Adriana Gonzalez.
Eugenio Hernandez Floresand, governor of Tamaulipas state and member of PRI, casts his ballot in Ciudad Victoria on July 4. With him is his wife, Adriana Gonzalez.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The PRI party won or led strongly in seven of 12 gubernatorial races
  • President Felipe Calderon's PAN party appeared to win three states
  • Recounts likely in two states where the PRI holds slim leads
  • Analyst: PRI, which ruled Mexico for 70 years, is "far from invincible"
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(CNN) -- Mexico's leading opposition party captured most of the 12 governorships at stake in Sunday's elections, but that doesn't mean the party is assured of victory in the 2012 presidential election, analysts said Tuesday.

Final or near-final results Tuesday show that candidates from coalitions led by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known by its Spanish acronym PRI, won or had seemingly insurmountable leads in seven of the 12 governor's races.

The PRI also led in two other states, though the results there remained in dispute Tuesday.

President Felipe Calderon's PAN party led comfortably in three races, according to results posted by the state-run Notimex news agency.

But despite the seeming PRI supremacy, the party failed to win any more seats than it already had before the election. And, if the results hold, the PAN will have picked up one seat. The third major party in the nation, the PRD, lost one seat.

"The election results have demonstrated that the PRI is far from invincible," said Andrew Selee, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.

Sunday's elections were watched closely as a possible indicator of the political winds two years before the presidential elections.

Calderon, who narrowly won the presidency in a disputed vote in 2006, has been mired in a controversial war on drug cartels in which more than 22,000 people have been killed since he came into office. The Mexican economy also has faltered due to the global economic downturn.

Calderon's PAN party did not fare well in midterm congressional elections last year, and many analysts expected a rout by the PRI this year.

"The results tell quite a different story," Selee said.

"The PRI learned you can't do politics as usual and think you're going to win," said Ana Maria Salazar, a television and radio political commentator in Mexico City.

The PRI, which ruled Mexico for most of 70 years, needs to be perceived as modern and more democratic, Salazar said.

Sunday's outcome was noteworthy too, analysts said, because six of the 12 governorships at stake could change from one party to another. That seems to show voter discontent regardless of which party is in power.

The PRI would pick up governorships from the PAN in Aguascalientes and from a PAN-led coalition in Tlaxcala, while in Zacatecas it would replace the third major party in the nation, the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution.

PRI victories by large margins in the three states would be significant, Selee said.

Zacatecas had been governed by the PRD for 12 years. Aguascalientes had been governed by the PAN for 12 years. And Tlaxcala had been governed by the PAN for six years and the PRD for six years before that.

But the PAN victories also carry weight, the analysts said.

PAN, which is the Spanish acronym for National Action Party, had seemingly unbeatable leads in the states of Oaxaca, Sinaloa and Puebla, Notimex said. PAN candidates in the three states led by between 5 and 11 percentage points with at least 90 percent of the votes counted.

Those would be strong PAN victories because the PRI had never lost a statewide election in the three states, Selee noted in a blog post.

"Today we wrote a new history for Puebla and the best is yet to come for Puebla," said apparent Gov.-elect Moreno Valle.

Still, the PRI racked up impressive victories.

With 100 percent of the votes counted, the PRI won the governorship in the states of Aguascalientes and Hidalgo, Notimex said.

In addition, with more than 90 percent of the votes counted, the PRI had insurmountable leads in Chihuahua, Quintana Roo, Zacatecas,Tamaulipas and Tlaxcala.

But recounts seemed likely in Durango and Veracruz, where PRI candidates held slight leads.

In Durango, the PRI candidate led by 1.7 percent with 98 percent of the votes counted. The PRI candidate's lead was less than 3 percent in Veracruz with more than 95 percent of ballots tallied.

In Tamaulipas, the brother of slain PRI gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre Cantu had a 31-point lead Tuesday with nearly 95 percent of the votes counted. The PRI picked Egidio Torre Cantu to take his brother's place after the candidate's assassination Monday. The slain Torre Cantu was the front-runner in the race before the ambush that killed him and three others.

In Oaxaca, the PAN candidate led by 8 percentage points with more than 95 percent of the ballots tallied. A PAN victory would end an 80-year-rule by the PRI.

In addition to the governorships, many municipal and state legislative seats were at stake Sunday.

The PRI seemed to fare well in those, winning the municipal elections in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, Selee said. The two large cities are important battlegrounds in Calderon's battle against organized crime.

"Indeed, the PRI won all five municipalities in Baja California, long a bastion of the PAN," said Selee.

Salazar and Selee also pointed out that victories by the conservative PAN seemed to be made possible by alliances with the leftist PRD and other parties.

"The only way the PAN and PRD could win was to go into these strange and awkward coalitions," Salazar said.

"PRI can take solace in that the other parties could only win by joining forces, something that is unlikely to be repeated very often and certainly not in the 2012 presidential elections," Selee said.

Both analysts also noted that the PAN-PRD coalition won with candidates who were not members of either party or were former PRI members.

The PRI held the Mexican presidency for 71 years until the PAN captured the top spot in 2000.

That type of institutional political machinery can make for a formidable opponent in the 2012 presidential election.

"The PRI was not a winner [Sunday] in the sense of the expectations," Salazar said. "But, clearly, the PRI is a force to contend with."

Salazar said it's too early to handicap the 2012 race "because you don't know who the candidates are yet."

But she said the party is "extremely well-positioned to take over in 2012."

Selee agrees with that assessment.

"Despite some gains for the other parties," he said, "the PRI remains by far the strongest party and the one to beat in the 2012 elections."

 
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