by Regina Cantu @ Matt.org
Today, millions of Mexicans will be voting to elect governors in three states, but the real focus is on Mexico’s presidential race next year.
The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) , which ruled Mexico for 70 years, hopes victories will help cement its steady march to retake the presidency. The PRI was toppled from the nation’s top office in 2000 and has been attempting a comeback ever since.
In voting expected to shape the 2012 presidential contest, the largest number of ballots was being cast in the state of Mexico, a region with 15 million people and Mexico’s most populous state. This key ballot is also a popularity test for the outgoing governor, Enrique Pena Nieto, an early favorite to win back the presidency for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Eruviel Avila, the PRI candidate for governor, led pre-election opinion polls by a large margin, and he was widely expected to win. “Democracy wins today,” Avila said as he cast his ballot on an overcast morning.
Despite his advantages, Avila campaigned hard and reportedly spent millions of dollars to woo voters. The PRI clearly hopes that a landslide will enhance the image that the party is unstoppable ahead of 2012.
Avila’s opponents, Alejandro Encinas of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and Luis Felipe Bravo Mena of the conservative National Action Party’s (PAN), have trailed in opinion surveys and been hurt by infighting in their respective political camps. Their negotiations aimed at forming electoral alliances between the PRD and the PAN have collapsed in their efforts to stand up to the PRI.
But the PRI has also had to confront its own legacy. Its decades of rule, when the party controlled governments, unions and media across the nation, were marked by corruption and heavy-handedness. Its opponents warn that PRI’s claims that it has reformed and modernized are bogus.
Coahuila and Nayarit will also be electing governors today. These two states have seen a dramatic rise in drug killings over the past year, a critical liability for Calderon who has staked his legacy on fighting powerful cartels since taking office in late 2006. With drug violence surging over the past four years and more than 40,000 deaths to date, some voters are fed up.