July 4, 2005

Mexico opposition PRI wins landslide in state vote

By Noel Randewich

TOLUCA, Mexico (Reuters) - The party that ruled Mexico formost of the 20th century scored a landslide victory atelections in the country's biggest state on Sunday, lifting itschances of a comeback at the 2006 presidential election.

Official results showed Enrique Pena, candidate for theInstitutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, won 47 percent ofthe vote in the State of Mexico, a U-shaped chunk of suburbs,poverty-belt towns and rural land around Mexico City.

With votes from 24 percent of balloting stations counted,Pena's nearest rival, Ruben Mendoza of President Vicente Fox'sNational Action Party, or PAN, was behind on 26 percent.

"The tendency shows a wide distance (between us) and ourrivals," Pena told journalists in Toluca, capital of the stateof 14 million people.

The PRI, the main opposition party, was kicked out ofoffice nationally by Fox in 2000 but has kept control ofCongress and key fiefdoms like the State of Mexico.

The party sees Sunday's victory as a vital stepping stoneback to the presidential residence, called Los Pinos.

The result was a cold shower for the left-wing Party of theDemocratic Revolution, or PRD, which trailed on 24 percent.

The left has long been favored in opinion polls to win nextyear's race but the latest result highlighted its weaknessoutside the capital, where mayor and PRD presidential hopefulAndres Manuel Lopez Obrador is hugely popular.

The left took a glimmer of hope from exit polls in the small western state of Nayarit, were the PRD was neck-and-neckwith the PRI in another governorship election on Sunday.


Strong organization and big spending pushed the incumbentPRI ahead of other parties in the State of Mexico.

It revved up its electoral machinery to back Pena who at 38is too young to be associated with the dark past of the party,which governed Mexico for 71 years 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 town of Atlacomulco.

Critics say Pena, whose youthful face smiles down from hugecampaign posters throughout the state, has overspent beyondlegal limits, helped by the PRI-run state government.

The left's candidate, Yeidckol Polevnsky, has complained ofa lack of resources and party support. Her poor showingreflects badly on Lopez Obrador, who had helped the PRDcampaign in the 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 but his party struggles in many parts ofthe country, especially in the north.

In contrast, the PRI kicked its well-oiled campaign engineinto gear in the State of Mexico, even handing out bags ofcement and food parcels to try to buy votes.

Rival parties are expected to challenge the election resultin court because of the PRI's spending.

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

Most opinion polls put Fox's party in third place for nextyear's presidential polls, partly due to the president'slukewarm performance in office.

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