Voters in a dozen Mexican states chose mayors and governors Sunday in elections that have been marred by drug violence, scandal and assassinations, and which are seen as a test for President Felipe Calderon's ruling PAN party.
REUTERS - Mexicans voted for new governors and mayors across a third of the country on Sunday in an election soured by drug gang murders and intimidation and expected to hand the main opposition party sweeping gains.
With the ruling conservatives dogged by a feeble economy and raging drug violence, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is pegged to win most of the 12 gubernatorial polls, keeping many of the nine states it controls and pushing out rivals in some of the other three.
Surging violence, including the murders of two candidates and a string of threats, has blighted the election campaign.
A big PRI victory could set the stage for a 2012 presidential bid by the party's rising star Enrique Pena Nieto, governor of the State of Mexico, next to Mexico City.
With Mexico's left divided and President Felipe Calderon sinking in opinion polls, the PRI is pushing for a comeback after a 2000 election win by the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, ended its 71-year rule.
Calderon's popularity has slumped in recent months as the economy limps back from a recession. And an army-led campaign to curb the power of drug cartels has sparked more violence.
More than 26,000 people have been killed during Calderon's 3 1/2 years in office, mostly traffickers and police but also civilian bystanders. Human heads and mutilated bodies are often dumped in public as gangs fight over turf.
Drug gangs fighting over routes into the United States have turned Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, into one of the world's most dangerous cities with an average of 10 drug-related killings a day in June.
"I voted for the PRI because Calderon got us into this war where innocent people are paying the price," said Jorge Lopez, a 46-year-old unemployed builder in a Ciudad Juarez shantytown full of unpaved streets, brothels and drug dens.
Investors sold off Mexico's peso at the start of the week after Rodolfo Torre, the PRI front-runner for governor in the border state of Tamaulipas, and four aides were ambushed and killed by gunmen as they went to a campaign event, Mexico's highest-profile political murder in 16 years.
A mayoral candidate in Tamaulipas, where the Gulf cartel is battling a split-off gang of former enforcers called the Zetas, was also murdered by suspected drug hitmen likely trying to influence the political process.
Egidio Torre replaced his murdered brother as candidate and voted in Tamaulipas on Sunday protected by bodyguards. Long lines formed at polling stations in the state where some 40 percent of election volunteers quit fearing attacks by drug gangs. As well as being angry at Calderon, some blamed local PRI politicians for not doing more to stop the drug violence.
"The insecurity we are living in here is because of bad PRI governments. I can't say anything more because it might cost me my life," said a 55-year-old businessman in Reynosa, a major manufacturing city in Tamaulipas across from McAllen, Texas.
Mexico grapples with endemic corruption within state-level politics and a number of candidates have been accused by rivals of being on drug cartel payrolls. Mexican media have reported that the sitting PRI governor of Tamaulipas has a bodyguard wanted by the United States on drug charges.
Also this week, a severed head was dumped outside the house of the front-runner in the Ciudad Juarez mayoral election, a PRI politician who is accused by rivals and rights groups of working for the Juarez drug cartel.
In May, the leftist mayor of resort Cancun was captured for laundering cartel money and is in jail awaiting trial.
Date created : 2010-07-04