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After elections, will Mexico's drug war return opposition to power?

On July 4, Mexico holds elections for governorships in 12 states. Some polls show that the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) – which ruled Mexico for seven decades – could win every state. Could Mexico's drug war unseat President Felipe Calderón and put the PRI back in power?

By Nacha CattanCorrespondent / June 30, 2010

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, center, reacts as his security cabinet stands around him while giving a statement to the media at the Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, Monday. President Calderon is blaming drug cartels for the assassination of front-running gubernatorial candidate for the state of Tamaulipas, Rodolfo Torre.

Miguel Tovar/AP


Mexico City

Mexico’s main opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) appears poised for a major victory in upcoming gubernatorial elections as the president’s party takes the fall for a violent drug war.

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At least that’s what the party and some opinion makers are suggesting, heralding a “renaissance” of the PRI – which ruled the nation for over seven decades before losing the presidency in 2000. Some surveys forecast a clean sweep for the PRI in all 12 states holding elections for governor on July 4.

“The PRI reemerges, the PRI revives, the PRI resuscitates,” frets Denise Dresser, a prominent Mexican commentator, in a May 17 column in Reforma newspaper. In the column she portends the return of what she calls a corrupt political machine in Mexico.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

But even if the PRI picks up most states in the elections, analysts question the significance of the victory.

The tricolor – as the PRI is known for its red, white, and green logo that shares the same colors as the Mexican flag – already holds nine of the 12 governorships in dispute, and winning three more states may not have much impact, some observers say. Some polls even show close races in up to four states: Tlaxcala, Oaxaca, Sinaloa, and Puebla.

“The PRI’s voting levels haven’t gone down in the last few years, nor have they come up,” says Federico Estevez, political analyst at Mexico’s Autonomous Technological Institute. “What is favoring the PRI right now is nothing within the PRI, nor between the PRI and its electorate, but rather its two main rivals that have been hurting over the last two years.”

The PRI’s main opponent, President Felipe Calderón’s conservative National Action Party (PAN), has been losing votes in both state and congressional elections. Some analysts point to the escalation of drug violence and a deep economic recession in 2009. More than 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related attacks since December 2006 when Mr. Calderón threw the Mexican armed forces into an anti-drug cartel offensive. The latest and most notable victim was the leading PRI gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas.