July 4, 2005

Election win boosts Mexico’s former ruling party

By Noel Randewich

TOLUCA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexico's leading oppositionparty, which ruled for most of the 20th century, won a majorvictory in weekend state elections that boosts its chances ofreturning to power next year.

Party leaders said their wide margin of victory on Sundayin the State of Mexico, which rings most of the capital, showedthe Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, would win thepresidential elections in July 2006.

"This is how we are heading toward 2006 and I am sure theparty is heading for the presidency," Roberto Madrazo, thePRI's national leader, said late on Sunday night.

The PRI won almost 48 percent of the vote in the State ofMexico, the country's most populous state with almost 15million people.

It also held a narrow lead in the governor's election inthe small western state of Nayarit.

Until a few weeks ago, opinion polls had showed a closerace in the State of Mexico election, widely seen as a key testahead of next year's elections.

But President Vicente Fox's conservative National ActionParty (PAN) and the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution,or PRD, faded in the last weeks of the campaign and both wononly around 25 percent support.

The victory demonstrated the strength of the PRI'sgrass-roots network, developed over more than seven decades inpower.

Despite being ousted by Fox five years ago, it is still thebiggest party in Congress and wields considerable power intowns and villages across the country.


The other two main parties have stronghold states but bothlack the PRI's presence in all corners of the country.

"The PRI's territorial infrastructure is the most efficientof all the parties in Mexico, and that will be reflected in2006," said Juan Pablo Cordoba, a political analyst at the UNAMuniversity in Mexico.

Opinion polls for the presidential elections show MexicoCity's left-wing mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRDwith a wide lead, although it is expected to narrow in thecoming months, setting up a tight three-way race.

Analysts said the PRI victory on Sunday was a clear boost,even if it did not guarantee a triumphant return to power.

"The PRI would be mistaken to assume it. This is not enoughto believe it will win (the presidency) but in one of the mostimportant states in electoral terms, it has a significantpresence that could be decisive in 2006," said politicalanalyst Carlos Sirvent.

Lopez Obrador is hugely popular in the capital but analystssay he could struggle to build enough of a national structureto win the presidency. He had joined the PRD's candidate in theState of Mexico on the campaign trail but backed away in thefinal weeks as she seemed certain to lose.

Madrazo is running for the PRI's presidential nomination,although he faces tough opposition from some senior partymembers.

Santiago Creel, who served as Fox's interior minister untillast month, is expected to win the PAN's presidentialnomination.

Fox is barred under the constitution from seekingre-election. His historic victory in 2000 raised hopes of majorreforms and but he has failed to deliver on promises of rapideconomic growth and millions of new jobs.

Opposition parties have also blocked Fox's proposed tax,energy and labor reforms in Congress.