In Mexico, The Old Is New Again

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is again back in power in Mexico after a 12-year hiatus. PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto claimed victory after exit polls showed a clear lead over his rivals in Sunday's election. The PRI ran Mexico for much of the 20th century with a mix of corruption and coercion until being ousted in an election in 2000. Pena Nieto called his victory a "fiesta of democracy."

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Mexico's former ruling party has retaken the presidency after 12 years out of power. More than three-quarters of yesterday's returns have been counted, and the country's electoral commission says the PRI Party got 38 percent of the vote. PRI ruled Mexico with an iron fist for most of the past century. The second-place candidate of the leftist PRD Party has refused to concede defeat.

As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the results have many in Mexico scratching their heads about what exactly the voters want.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It didn't take long for Mexico City vendors to start selling wares with the face of the new President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Today, Pena Nieto's face, with his gelled pompadour, is emblazoned on the sides of coffee mugs and tequila shot glasses. Newspaper headlines read: It's Pena Nieto and They're Back.

They are the PRI Party which, for the past 12 years, had been locked out of the presidency. At a press conference, this afternoon in Mexico City, Pena Nieto pledged to govern for all the Mexicans, even those who didn't vote for him.

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says - mine will be a modern presidency open to criticism and all political expression.

Ludwig Arranda, a self-employed architect in the central state of Mexico, voted for Pena Nieto.

LUDWIG ARRANDA: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He said when the PRI was in power, there was more work for everyone. Since then, he said, the economy has been in a nose dive.

Jobs were a big issue for voter Victor Ibarra, too. He voted for Pena Nieto, but said he isn't sure the PRI Party really has changed its old autocratic ways, so he split his votes, as not to give the PRI total control of the government.

VICTOR IBARRA: I vote for the PRI but I distribute my votes for the different positions.

KAHN: So, you split it up amongst the parties.

IBARRA: Exactly.

KAHN: Ibarra says he wanted to force all three major parties to negotiate and work together to solve Mexico's many problems

If the results are any indication, many other voters did the same thing. The PRI Party won the presidency by more than three million votes, but it did not gain a majority in either the lower House of Deputies or in the Senate. And the leftist PRD Party did much better than pollsters predicted.

At a press conference this evening in Mexico City, PRD presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said there were many irregularities in the election and he does not accept the preliminary results. According to the federal electoral commission's estimates, he trails in second place by as much as seven percentage points.

ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He said he can't accept the results until the full count is complete Wednesday and he is satisfied that the election was not stolen.

Former Foreign Minister and NYU professor Jorge Castaneda said Mexicans did not fully embrace a return of the PRI.

JORGE CASTANEDA: I think what's most important at this stage is that the voters were all over the place. There doesn't seem to be a clear signal.

KAHN: Except, he says, that voters did reject the outgoing administration. The Pan Party took a beating, coming in third in the presidential race and losing key governorships. Eric Olson at the Mexico Center in Washington, DC, says voters are tired of the six-year war on drug traffickers, which has claimed 50,000 lives. He says Pena Nieto will have to take on corruption and suspected collusion with drug traffickers, especially in his party, if he is to make progress in the fight against the criminal cartels.

ERIC OLSON: That's one of his biggest challenges, I think, on the drug war front, and I think what the U.S. is waiting to see - how he handles this.

KAHN: They'll have to wait a while. Pena Nieto doesn't take office until December 1st. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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