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Mexico's Opposition May Win State Governments in Vote Marred by Violence
email this pageprint this pageemail usJens Erik Gould & Jonathan J. Levin - Bloomberg
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July 02, 2010

Felipe Calderon, Mexico's president stands during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
Mexico’s largest opposition party may broaden its control of state governments in this weekend’s election as mounting drug-related violence and the killing of a top candidate threatens to reduce turnout at the expense of President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled the country for 71 years until 2000, may win at least 10 of 12 governorships up for grabs July 4, according to polls by Consulta Mitofsky and newspaper Reforma. That would put the party known as the PRI at the helm of 20 of Mexico’s 31 states, up from 19 now.

“The PRI will have a good day,” said Daniel Lund, head of Mexico City-based consulting group Mund Americas.

Shootouts tied to drug traffickers, particularly the violence directed at candidates, may cause voter turnout to fall to as low as 33 percent from 44 percent to 60 percent in previous midterm elections, estimates Tony Payan, a political scientist at the University of Texas in El Paso. Lower turnout may bolster the PRI’s chances because the party is adept at using unions, farmer groups and other organizations to get its supporters to the polls, said Jose Antonio Crespo, an analyst at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City.

“Democratic processes are threatened by the very fact that security has deteriorated to this point,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who writes about Mexico’s drug war, said in an interview from Washington. “What lies at the heart of democracy - the ability of people to associate, the life on the street - all of that becomes eviscerated by violence.”

The cost of protecting Mexican debt against non-payment for five years with credit-default swaps has risen 12 basis points to 139.13 since PRI gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre Cantu was assassinated June 28, according to data compiled by CMA DataVision.

Two-to-One Favorite

Torre Cantu, who campaigned on an anti-violence platform, was a two-to-one favorite in Tamaulipas state before he was killed, according to a Mitofsky poll. Egidio Torre, the deceased candidate’s brother, is running in his place.

A shootout late last night between rival gangs left 21 people dead in a rural area of Sonora state about 12 miles from the Arizona border, the Associated Press reported. The Sonora governorship isn’t up for grabs this weekend.

The increasing violence also has hurt the popularity of Calderon and his party. The percentage of registered voters who approve of Calderon dropped to 53.3 percent in a May poll conducted by Mitofsky, the lowest level since the beginning of his administration.

The PRI currently governs 19 of Mexico’s 31 states, compared with seven for Calderon’s PAN. Mexican governors are limited to just one term in office.

Government Control

Should the PRI increase its control over state governments, the new governors may help rally their constituents to allow the PRI to win back the presidency, according to Jorge Chabat, a political science professor at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City.

“The governors are key in mobilizing votes in the 2012 elections,” he said.

State of Mexico Governor Enrique Pena Nieto, a PRI member, is the leading candidate for the presidency ahead of the July 2012 vote, according to a poll released June 14 by Mitofsky. Pena Nieto has 25 percent support of those surveyed compared with 6 percent for former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, his closest rival.

Mexicans will also choose dozens of mayors in this weekend’s vote, after the bloodiest election campaign since 1994. In addition to Torre Cantu’s assassination last month, a mayoral candidate was shot dead. This week, a headless body was found outside the home of another mayoral hopeful.

Gangs’ Influence

Drug gangs are seeking more influence over local politics as they battle troops deployed by Calderon and fight each other for routes to ship cocaine, marijuana and heroin to the U.S., said Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution. That imperils civil liberties in a country that ended one-party rule 10 years ago, she said.

Carlos Borruel, the National Action Party candidate for governor in Chihuahua state, which includes Juarez, said electoral officials told candidates to stay away from at least five municipalities known for attacks by organized crime.

“I know what I face,” Borruel, 46, said in a telephone interview. “Chihuahua is a paradise for delinquents. The organized crime situation has generated a climate of impunity.”

The violence sweeping parts of Mexico, especially the border states, may increase the risk for short-term investors in the currency or credit-default swaps, said Jimena Zuniga, an economist at Barclays Capital in New York. Still, the lawlessness doesn’t threaten economic stability, she said.

‘Cautious’ Investors

“The problem is becoming more visible of late and the news flow is worsening,” Zuniga said in a telephone interview. “Shorter-term investors ahead of Sunday are a little more cautious in their positions.”

Mexican Economy Minister Gerardo Ruiz Mateos said the killing of Torre Cantu won’t stop foreign direct investment from growing. Torre Cantu was the highest-level politician to be assassinated since presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was killed in 1994.

“Investors are watching a country with a very important future and they’re investing in the country,” Ruiz Mateos said in a June 29 interview at Bloomberg’s Mexico City offices.

Mexico’s economy, the second biggest in Latin America, is forecast by the central bank to grow 4 percent to 5 percent this year after a 6.5 percent contraction in 2009.

Mexico has turned increasingly violent since Calderon came to office in December 2006 vowing to fight traffickers. More than 22,000 people have been killed in Mexico by organized crime since the crackdown began, according to the U.S. State Department.

In Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas, PAN mayoral candidate Jose Mario Guajardo was murdered last month. The party couldn’t find anyone willing to risk running for mayor in the cities of Mier and Nuevo Progreso, and the candidate in Camargo quit the race after threats, said Francisco Javier Garza, the state PAN president.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jens Erik Gould in Mexico City at jgould9(at); Jonathan Levin in Mexico City at jlevin20(at)

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
the included information for research and educational purposes • m3 © 2009 BanderasNews ® all rights reserved • carpe aestus