Mexican leftist opposition candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas won Mexico City’s mayoral election Sunday, bringing the biggest setback in nearly seven decades for the entrenched ruling party, according to voter exit polls.
But it was unclear from early official results and exit polls whether opposition parties would win a majority in the 500-seat lower house of Congress - a potentially more important race that could result in the end of monolithic rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
In exit polls, Cardenas and his leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, had a nearly 2-1 advantage over Alfredo Del Mazo, the candidate of the PRI.
The opposition victory for the first elected mayor in modern Mexico City history was a stinging rebuke to the ruling party and what voters see as its legacy of corruption and economic bungling.
It elevated Cardenas to the second most powerful political position in the country, creating a potentially formidable political foe for President Ernesto Zedillo.
Voting was relatively peaceful except in the southern state of Chiapas, where mobs of angry Indians burned or destroyed more than two dozen voting booths and dragged trees and other obstacles onto roadways to impede citizens attempting to reach the polls.
Irregularities were reported in several states and cities monitored by independent observers. In numerous locales, polling stations opened late, and many did not have ballot boxes, ballots or the indelible ink used to mark voters’ fingers to prevent people from voting more than once.
In Mexico City, Cardenas appeared to be the right man at the right time. A well-known politician whose father is one of Mexico’s most beloved ex-presidents, the candidate was seen by many voters as honest.
At 63, he campaigned as an outsider eager to change a stagnant and corrupt political system that has allowed the PRI to control the federal government and the capital for 68 years. His candidacy coincided with electoral reforms that helped invigorate opposition parties and discourage voting fraud, making this perhaps the cleanest and most competitive election in Mexican history.
Cardenas capitalized on widespread disenchantment with the economy, which was thrust into its deepest recession in 60 years after Zedillo devalued the Mexican peso.
The PRI also suffered from its legacy of corruption and its association with Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who was president from 1988 to 1994 and who fled Mexico a few months after leaving office amid charges that corruption had permeated his administration. Cardenas has said that combating corruption will be his top priority.
About 60 percent of the city’s population lives in poverty, and only 10 percent earn more than $210 a week. Partly because of the weak economy and high unemployment, there are 560 crimes a day and more than seven daily demonstrations. Environmentalists say Mexico City is the most polluted city on the planet. In 1995, there were 324 days when air quality was rated unsatisfactory.
In short, many voters in a city that often seems to barely function, in a country ruled by the same party for almost seven decades, said they simply felt it was time for a change.
“Do I look like I voted for the PRI?” asked an indignant Angelina Barragan, 66, a retired schoolteacher who voted in Mexico City.
“That’s the last thing I would do in my life. They are the oldest and most corrupt party in the world.”