CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico — Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s party appeared headed to a triumph Sunday in a longtime stronghold of the former ruling party and was in a tight race for the governorship of another key state, according to exit polls and preliminary official results.
A victory in the southern state of Oaxaca would be a much needed boost for Calderon after a campaign for local elections in more than a dozen states that was besieged by assassinations and scandals that displayed the power of drug cartels and faced his government with its most serious political challenge.
The vast majority of citizens didn’t show up to vote in the northern state of Tamaulipas, where the leading gubernatorial candidate was assasinated a week ago by suspected cartel gunmen.
Impoverished and volatile Oaxaca is one of several states in which Calderon’s conservative National Action Party formed alliances with leftist parties seeking to thwart a resurgence of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico for 71 years and still controls many state governments.
The PRI had hoped for significant gains in Sunday’s elections to pick up momentum for its bid to regain the presidency in 2012, trying to capitalize on growing frustration with surging drug gang violence. But exit polls released by TV Azteca and Televisa indicated the PRI would not significantly improve on the nine governorships it already held among the dozen seats up for grabs.
The polls and preliminary official results pointed to a PRI defeat in Oaxaca, a heavily indigenous state that it had ruled for 80 years. The PAN and its leftist allies were also in a tight race in the PRI bastion of Sinaloa, a violent northern state that is the birthplace of the powerful drug cartel of the same name.
Fear discouraged many people from voting in Tamaulipas, where extorsion and abductions are rampant and armed men openly drive on highways with the acronym of the Gulf cartel stamped on their SUVs.
Just 20 per cent of voters cast ballots, according to the state election institution — a dramatic drop from the 50 per cent turnout in the last state elections in 2007.
Dozens of poll workers quit in fear over the past week.
One man, an orange farmer, said his brother-in-law was kidnapped early Sunday before he was to preside over a voting station in a village outside Ciudad Victoria.