CIUDAD VICTORIA, MEXICO // The Mexican president Felipe Calderon's allies appear to be heading for a triumph in three longtime strongholds of the former ruling party, according to exit polls and preliminary official results. The victories would be much needed boost for the president after a campaign besieged by assassinations and scandals that displayed the power of drug cartels.
The vast majority of citizens did not show up to vote in the northern state of Tamaulipas, where the leading gubernatorial candidate was killed a week ago by suspected cartel gunmen. The opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico for seven decades, had hoped for significant gains to pick up momentum for its bid to regain the presidency in 2012, trying to capitalise 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 official results pointed to a PRI defeat in three of its bastions: Oaxaca, a heavily indigenous state that it had ruled for 80 years, the populous central state of Puebla, and Sinaloa, a violent northern state that is the birthplace of the powerful drug cartel of the same name. Calderon's conservative National Action Party formed alliances with leftist parties in a bid to oust the PRI from those three states.
The PRI gubernatorial candidate in Sinaloa, Jesus Vizcarra, had long faced allegations of ties to the cartel led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Mexico's most-wanted drug lord. The newspaper Reforma recently published a photograph of Vizcarra attending a party many years ago with El Chapo's second-in-command, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. Mr Vizcarra, the mayor of state capital Culiacan and a distant relative of slain drug trafficker Ines Calderon, dodged questions about whether Zambada is the godfather of one of his children, saying only that he had never committed a crime.
With about 20 per cent of the vote counted, preliminary official results showed alliance candidate Mario Lopez with 52 per cent of the vote, compared to 46 per cent for Vizcarra. The Televisa exit poll had similar numbers. * AP