PRI wins key Mexico state election in landslide

Associated Press
Eruviel Avila, the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) gubernatorial candidate in the state of Mexico, casts his vote in Ecatepec, Mexico, Sunday July 3, 2011. Avila heads into the closely watched race with a 30 percentage point. The PRI, which has never lost the governorship in more than 80 years, hopes for a commanding victory to create momentum going into the July 2012 national election, where it wants to regain the presidency it lost in 2000 after 71 years of uninterrupted rule. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
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Eruviel Avila, the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) gubernatorial candidate in the state of …

TOLUCA, Mexico (AP) — The decisive victory by Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party in voting for governor of the country's most populous state has given it momentum heading into national elections in 2012, when it will seek to retake the presidency.

The party, which governed Mexico for 71 uninterrupted years before being tossed out by voters in 2000, also scored wins in two other states on Sunday, but it was the vote in massive Mexico state with its 15 million inhabitants that observers were watching closely.

The state's current PRI governor, the telegenic Enrique Pena Nieto, is the early presidential front-runner and even though he didn't run in Sunday's vote many see the results as a barometer of his popularity. Sunday's strong showing is sure to strengthen his chances in presidential voting next year.

With 91 percent of ballot boxes scrutinized, PRI candidate Eruviel Avila had 62.4 percent support, while Alejandro Encinas of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, had 21.2 percent and Luis Felipe Bravo Mena of President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party had 12.5 percent.

Two private exit polls showed similar results.

Avila had a 30-percentage-point lead in the polls over Encinas heading into the vote, and his stunning 40-point win will be seen as a sign of the PRI's strength and political invincibility going forward.

Avila thanked voters for the victory and said he would seek consensus as governor.

"We are the party of the present and the future," said the PRI's national leader, Humberto Moreira, alluding to the party's expectations of returning to the presidency after more than a decade out of power.

Bravo Mena of the PAN conceded defeat, but Encinas refused to recognize the result and said he would legally protest the election. His party has filed complaints with the national elections tribunal over alleged PRI campaign violations.

In more than 80 years, the PRI has never lost the governorship of Mexico state, home to the sprawling, impoverished suburbs that ring Mexico's capital.

While the PAN and the PRD had forged alliances for previous state elections in Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa that helped them to defeat the PRI, they failed to strike such deals for Sunday's trio of ballots.

The parties, instead, warned that a vote for the PRI would be a vote for a return to the past, when the "dinosaurs" wielded power through coercion, corruption and intimidation.

Across Mexico, many voters are weary of the PAN, which after more than a decade in power has failed to make fundamental changes in Mexico apart from a trademark war on organized crime that has seen a spike in violence. Since Calderon took office in late 2006, more than 35,000 people have died in drug violence, according to the government. Other sources put the number at more than 40,000.

And internal fighting in the PRD has left the leftist party in disarray.

The PRI has sprung back in the vacuum.

Euralia Contreras, 66, who voted at the same station as Avila, said that she was sure the PRI would win because it has tackled local problems and helped residents.

"I've received many benefits from (Avila)," Contreras said, referring to free canned foods the Avila campaign gave her. "The handouts came through. He has fulfilled his promises."

Avila mounted one of the most expensive campaigns in Mexico's history.

The newspaper Reforma reported last month that his campaign spent nearly 4.4 million pesos a day ($376,000), more than the 3.4 million pesos ($290,000) Calderon spent to win the presidency. The campaign didn't respond to questions about spending from the AP.

For Fernando Pasillas Villarreal, there are no good candidates.

"I'll vote, but only to cancel my vote, because I think that although the governor may change, the one who takes his place does not offer substantial improvements, and I still think that the PRI only enriches itself and enriches its friends."

Election day had a bumpy start for some: Flooding caused by days of heavy rain forced officials to relocate more than 170 voting booths in two of the state's largest cities, said Fabiola Bueno, a spokeswoman for the state's electoral institute.

Accompanied by his two children, Avila cast his vote in Ecatepec, the most populous city in the state where he served as mayor before becoming a gubernatorial candidate.

"I'm confident that today will be a fiesta for democracy," he said.

Avila has not commented in recent days on the potential impact the Mexico state election could have on the PRI's efforts to retake the presidency.

Asked Sunday whether the elections could give the PRI a boost ahead of 2012, Avila responded: "I'll answer that when this election ends."

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Associated Press writer Gloria Perez in Toluca, Mexico, contributed to this report.

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