Mexican old guard leads, ruling party concedes
MEXICO CITY (AP) - July 1, 2012 (WPVI) -- Presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto led Mexico's elections with about 40 percent of the vote, exit polls showed Sunday, signaling a return of his long-ruling party to power after a 12-year hiatus.
Conservative National Action Party candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota conceded almost immediately, saying none of the exit polls favored her, the first woman candidate for a major party in Mexico. Her party held the presidency for a dozen years after kicking out Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in 2000.
But she garnered little more than 23 percent in exit polls released by Milenio and TV Azteca networks. Former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had about 30 percent of the vote.
"We won't permit the new government to surrender to organized crime," Vazquez Mota told supporters as some yelled "the corrupt one won."
New Alliance candidate Gabriel Quadri, who trailed in single digits, also conceded, leaving Lopez Obrador as the single holdout as the Federal Elections Institute prepared to release an official representative quick count at 11:45 p.m. local time.
At the PRI headquarters in Mexico City, a party atmosphere was building as sound technicians, waiters and an army of reporters waited in a large white tent in the party complex patio. A norteno band broke out playing with Vazquez Mota's concession. Pena Nieto had yet to arrive or declare victory.
The party also appeared likely to retake at least a plurality in the two houses of Congress and some governorship.
Critics say the party's 71-year rule was characterized by authoritarian and corrupt practices. But the PRI has sought to portray itself as a group that has been modernized and does not seek to a return to the old way, and held a strong lead throughout the campaign.
"Enrique Pena Nieto appears to be accomplishing what many thought would never happen again: the return of a strong and dynamic PRI," said Eric Olson of the Washington-based Mexico Institute. "The question: How will they govern?"
The party has been bolstered by voter fatigue due to a sluggish economy and the sharp escalation of a drug war that has killed roughly 50,000 Mexicans over the past six years.
Hugo Rubio, 33, a municipal employee in Nezalhualcoyotl, says what he expects "more jobs, more tranquility in terms of security" under Pena Nieto.
"He has demonstrated that (the party) had changed, that he cares about the people who are most in need," Rubio said at a red-clad crowd of supporters gathered with banner and balloons.
There were very few reports of problems during the vote, though some polling stations ran out of ballots and at least nine people were arrested in the southern state of Chiapas for trying to pass ballots pre-marked the PRI.
Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire said that across the country federal security forces were working closely with local and state authorities, as well as electoral officials, to guard the peace during the vote.
Sergio Ortega, a 31 year old businessman from the city of Guadalajara, said he would vote against Pena Nieto to try to prevent return of the PRI.
"He had too much favoritism. They played many tricks," Ortega said.
Pena Nieto has cast himself as a pragmatic economic moderate in the tradition of the last three PRI presidents. He has called for greater private investment in Mexico's state-controlled oil industry, and has said he will try to reduce violence by attacking crimes that hurt ordinary citizens while deemphasizing the pursuit of drug kingpins.
The 45-year-old Pena Nieto, who is married to a soap opera star, also has been dogged by allegations that he overspent his $330 million campaign funding limit and has received favorable coverage from Mexico's television giant, Televisa.
University students launched a series of anti-Pena Nieto marches in the final weeks of the campaign, arguing that his party hasn't changed since its days in power.
Pena Nieto says his party has abandoned the heavy-handed ways of the past and will govern in an open and pluralistic manner, and many say the PRI would not be able to re-impose its once near-total control even if it wanted to because of changes in society, the judiciary and Congress.
"The context has changed dramatically," said Rodrigo Salazar, a professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Mexico City. "Society isn't the same. It's a very critical society, a very demanding society, with a strong division of powers."
All of the parties were accusing rivals of emulating the traditional PRI tactic of offering voters money, food or benefits in return for votes. Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party says Pena Nieto's campaign has handed supporters prepaid money cards worth nearly $5.2 million (71 million pesos).
"Where do they get so many resources to conduct the PRI campaign, so many billboards?" asked voter Marilu Carrasco, a 57-year-old actress who was lined up to cast her vote for Lopez Obrador in southern Mexico City's Copilco neighborhood. The PRI's return to the presidency "could be the worst thing that could happen to us," Carrasco said.
PRI activists, meanwhile, had published photographs of truckloads of handouts they say were given out by Democratic Revolution backers.
But electoral officials have repeatedly insisted that outright fraud is almost impossible under the country's elaborate, costly electoral machinery.
Lopez Obrador, 58, was a center-leftist as Mexico City mayor and pioneered some programs that Pena Nieto emulated in the neighboring State of Mexico, such as local pensions for the elderly. But he alienated many voters with his refusal to recognize the narrow victory of National Action's Felipe Calderon in 2006, declaring himself "legitimate president" and mounting protests that gridlocked much of the capital for weeks.
He remained confident Sunday. "We are going to win the election," Lopez Obrador said before voting in southern Mexico City. "Tonight, there will be a national civic celebration."
"Mexico is no longer for moving backward," he said. "People want a real change."
Lopez Obrador says he wants to keep state control over the national oil company, make Mexico self-sufficient in energy and food production, and fund new social spending and jobs programs by cutting waste and corruption, not by raising taxes.
Vazquez Mota, 51, is a former secretary of education and social development in the conservative administrations of President Vicente Fox and his successor, Calderon. She campaigned on the slogan, "different," but has struggled to distinguish herself from Calderon while maintaining the support of the party's power structure.
She has pledged to continue Calderon's war on drug cartels, increase penalties for public corruption and ease rules on hiring and firing employees in order to spur economic growth. On the last day of campaigning, she even promised to make Calderon her attorney-general if elected.
Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson, Adriana Gomez Licon, and Carlos Rodriguez contributed to this report from Mexico City, Gloria Perez from Atlacomulco, Mexico, Gustavo Ruiz from Morelia, Mexico, and Manuel de la Cruz in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico.
mexico, election, national/world
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