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Mexico's Ruling Party Just Had a Very Bad Election Day

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI party lost seven of the dozen governorships at stake in Sunday’s election, including four that the party has controlled for 87 straight years.
Photo by José Luis González/Reuters

Mexico's governing party has suffered a major defeat in local elections in what looks like a backlash against a string of corruption scandals, frustration at continued violence, and concern about the country's plodding economy.

Preliminary results showed President Enrique Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, losing seven of the dozen governorships at stake in Sunday's polls — including four that the party has controlled for 87 straight years.


All seven of the PRI's defeats were inflicted by the conservative National Action Party, or PAN.

"We're back," Ricardo Anaya, the head of the PAN, told Radio Fórmula. "This is the first time in PAN's history that we have won seven governorships."

The PAN kicked the PRI out of the federal government for the first time in 71 years in 2000, though it handed power back 12 years later and has looked weak in opposition until now.

The results — which in many cases spectacularly contradict the PRI dominance or tight finishes predicted by opinion polls and even exit polls — give potential opposition candidates hope ahead of the 2018 presidential elections.

The PRI's most painful losses include the northern border states of Chihuahua and Tamaulipas, as well as the populous and resource rich, Gulf Coast state of Veracruz.

The electorates of all three appeared to be punishing incumbent governors from Peña Nieto's party for the deep drug war violence they have suffered in recent years, as well as rampant corruption.

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The PAN also notched up victories in the central states of Aguascalientes and Puebla, as well as in Durango in the north, and Quintana Roo in the far south. The PRI only managed to win the polls in the states of Sinaloa, Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, Zacatecas, and Oaxaca.

Mexican politicians can often appear allergic to accepting defeat, and it is common for candidates to claim they were actually cheated of victory. In this case, however, the PRI's national leader, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, both acknowledged the bad result with uncharacteristic frankness and promised the party would address the clamor for change in several interviews.


Hector Yunes, the PRI's candidate for governor of Veracruz, went even further in breaking the mould in his speech accepting his electoral failure.

"It is time to close this stage of backwardness and immorality" Yunes said, apparently referring to the outgoing PRI government of Javier Duarte. "There is a clear message for the PRI that we have to correct and improve."

The other big loser of the night was the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, which failed to win any of the governorships at all.

Traditionally the biggest party on the left, the PRD also saw its influence in Mexico City fade in the face of a surge of the more radical Morena party that is projected to be the biggest force in a special assembly charged with writing a new constitution for the capital.

The campaign leading up to Sunday's elections was marked by numerous accusations of links to drug cartels, and allegations of corruption. Election day itself included several reported incidents of dirty tricks, such as the arrest of a mayor who was allegedly caught buying votes for her husband in Veracruz, and an acid attack on a staff worker at a polling station in Durango.

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Follow Alan Hernández on Twitter: @alanpasten