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Mexico's PRI party 'dinosaurs' roar back to life

Sunday's gubernatorial victory for PRI, which ran Mexico for 71 years with a heavy hand before being ousted in 2000, makes it a clear favorite ahead of 2012 presidential polls.

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Cesar Camacho, the PRI candidate's electoral authority representative, says: "The criticism is absolutely unfounded. Those who make the claim are trying to hide their own deficiencies, and not admit their errors."

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Mr. Camacho said the other candidates were not from Mexico state, putting them at a disadvantage to Avila, who was born there and knows its political and social landscape.

Capitalizing on drug war failures

For those who suffered through some of the lowest points of PRI rule, Sunday’s crushing victory is a warning that opponents must get their act together.

“People must not forget the authoritarianism of the PRI,” says Felix Hernandez Gamundi, a former student leader who witnessed the 1968 state-led massacre at Tlatelolco. Hernandez Gamundi acknowledged that Mexican society has advanced greatly since then and that such an event would not occur again under any government.

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With a batch of new young leadership and capitalizing on the government’s flailing drug war, the PRI has managed to convince voters that it has reformed, or at least that it is the only option around. More than 35,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderón began his offensive against drug traffickers in 2006. Internal bickering in the left-leaning PRD has only expanded the void that the PRI hopes to fill.

Mexico state resident Rogaciano Bravo voted PRI Sunday and will do so again next July, even after having voted against the party in 2000 and 2006. “I wanted to see change,” said the chauffeur. “But I think things have only gotten worse.”

Weathering a tropical storm

PRI opponents see hope, however, in Sunday’s low turnout of 43 percent, a sign that swing voters could still be lured out to polling stations.

Absenteeism, which usually favors the PRI, was aided by Tropical Storm Arlene, which caused a river of sewage to overflow and flood Mexico state residents’ homes days before the election.

Anything can happen in Mexican politics in one year, analysts say, noting that the PRI took Mexico state in 2005, only to place third in the presidential race.

But something would have to change quickly to kick presidential frontrunner Pena Nieto off his 30-point advantage.

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