Mexico's Former Ruling Party Returns To Power

Preliminary results in Mexico's presidential race indicate the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as PRI, will return to the presidency after being out of office for 12 years.

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In Mexico, the party that ruled for more than 70 years is claiming victory in the presidential election. According to preliminary results, the P-R-I - or PRI candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, won the most votes, but the apparent runner-up is refusing to concede. NPR's Carrie Kahn has more on this, from Mexico City.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hundreds of supporters sporting red shirts, and waving white flags emblazoned with the PRI's logo, celebrated their candidate's apparent victory. Blaring norteno music filled the esplanade of the party's massive headquarters, in downtown Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAHN: The country's independent federal electoral commission said a preliminary count of the votes showed the PRI candidate had captured 38 percent of the vote. Trailing 6 percentage points behind was leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, took to the national airways to congratulate Pena Nieto. This is a stunning turn of events for Calderon and his PAN party, which just 12 years ago ousted the PRI from power, ending its 71-year reign.

Pena Nieto appears to have convinced voters that the old PRI - infamous for election rigging, widespread corruption, and making deals with drug traffickers - had changed. As Pena Nieto made his way to an indoor auditorium at campaign headquarters, hundreds more supporters shouted president, president.

UNIDENTIFIED SUPPORTERS: Presidente! Presidente! Presidente!

KAHN: On stage, the 45-year-old Pena Nieto smiled beside his wife, soap opera star Angelica Rivera, and thanked the crowd for their support.

PRESIDENT-ELECT ENRIQUE PENA NIETO: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: He said, "Mexicans have given our party a second chance."

PENA NIETO: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: "We will honor that with results." Pena Nieto pledged to continue Mexico's democratic march with honesty, transparency, and a full accounting of public funds. He made a special point of telling supporters that the fight against the narcos will continue, although with a different strategy than the outgoing administration's.

PENA NIETO: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: "It's very clear," he said, "in confronting organized crime, there will be no pacts and no truce." He has pledged to hire a famous Colombian anti-drug-trafficking cop who is popular in Washington, D.C., and focus more on the violence associated with the narcotics trade than going after cartel bosses. The six-year-long drug war, which has claimed the lives of more than 50,000 people, weighed heavily on the minds of voters. But it was Mexico's sluggish economy, and the current administration's inability to make good on promised democratic reforms, that led to the PAN's defeat.

The PAN's candidate, Josefina Vazquez Mota, finished in third place. She conceded just one hour after the polls closed. Vazquez Mota said just because she lost the election, doesn't mean she would stop fighting.

JOSEFINA VASQUEZ MOTA: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: Referring to the PRI party, she said she will fight against any return of authoritarianism, corrupt empires and impunity. While Vazquez Mota was quick to accept the results, the apparent second-place finisher, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, would not.

ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: Speaking to hundreds in the Mexico City hotel, Lopez Obrador said he would wait until a complete count was finished before announcing what his next step would be. Six years ago, he lost the presidential race by less than a percentage point. His supporters paralyzed the capital with huge protests, for weeks. Last night, his supporters said they were prepared to do it all again.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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