July 3, 2005

Mexico’s PRI wins landslide in key state-exit polls

By Noel Randewich

TOLUCA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexico's main oppositionInstitutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, easily won electionsin the country's biggest state on Sunday, exit polls showed,lifting the party's hopes for the 2006 presidential election.

A poll for the Televisa television network gave PRIgovernorship candidate Enrique Pena 48 percent of the vote inthe State of Mexico, home to 14 million people next to thecapital.

President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, or PAN, andthe left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, weretied on 26 percent, it said.

"The tendency of the vote favors Enrique Pena," Televisasaid. Another exit poll, by the TV Azteca channel, gave Pena aneven larger victory, with 50 percent of the vote.

The PRI, which ruled Mexico for most of the 20th century,was kicked out of office nationally by Fox in 2000 but has keptcontrol of Congress and key fiefdoms like the State of Mexico.

Party bosses see a victory in Sunday's election as a vitalstepping stone to a comeback next year, but the PRI will facestiff opposition from the PRD's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador,the hugely popular mayor of Mexico City.

The PRI revved up its campaign machinery to back candidatePena who at 38 is too young to be associated with the darkestdays of the party, which governed Mexico with a mixture ofrepression, corruption and coercion.

"We should keep in mind that the state of Mexico is thestate with the largest electorate and without a doubt this animportant precedent for the 2006 election," Pena said as hecast his ballot in the PRI stronghold of Atlacomulco.

Strong organization and big spending pushed the PRI aheadof other parties in the state, analysts say.

Critics complain that Pena, whose youthful face smiles downfrom huge red posters throughout the state, has overspentbeyond legal limits, helped by the PRI-run state government.

Official results in the state capital Toluca were due outafter 8 p.m. EDT/midnight GMT.


The TV Azteca poll put Yeidckol Polevnsky of the PRD insecond place on 27 percent of the vote. Finishing so far behindis a blow to Lopez Obrador, who had helped the PRD campaign inthe state.

"(He) shares in her defeat," El Universal newspaper said inan editorial.

The mayor promises to lift millions out of poverty if hewins the presidency and is hugely popular in Mexico City. Buthis party lacks the cash and organization needed to win in manyparts of the country.

In contrast, witnesses said the PRI cranked up a well-oiledmachine, even handing out bags of cement and food parcels totry to buy votes.

Rival parties are expected to challenge the election resultin court.

"It was a campaign where the state gave everything so itscandidate could win. It's a dynasty," said voter JoseEstanislau, a federal government employee.

The PRI also was expected to win back the governorship ofthe small western state of Nayarit in another election onSunday. It lost the state to a coalition of anti-PRI parties in1999.

PRI leader Roberto Madrazo faces a challenge from half adozen other hopefuls to be the party's presidential candidatein the 2006 race.