MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s old guard sailed back into power after a 12-year hiatus Sunday as the official preliminary vote count handed a victory to Enrique Pena Nieto, whose party was long accused of ruling the country through corruption and patronage.
The second-place candidate, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, refused to concede, saying he would wait for a full count.
According to the Federal Electoral Institute’s representative count, Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, won about 38 percent of the vote, prompting wild cheers from a party that was voted out in 2000 after 71 years in power when Mexicans became weary of what critics called autocratic and corrupt rule.
Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party had 31 percent and Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party had about 25 percent, according to the institute.
Lopez Obrador took hundreds of thousands of supporters to the streets in protest when he narrowly lost in 2006.
Pena Nieto called his victory “a fiesta of democracy.”
“There is no return to the past,” said the youthful 45-year-old, who is married to a soap opera star. “You have given our party a second chance and we will deliver results.”
He promised a government that would be democratic, modern and open to criticism. He pledged to fight organized crime and said there would be no pacts with criminals.
“My gratitude tonight is for the millions of Mexican who voted for me,” he said. “I will work for all of Mexico … I will govern for everyone.”
Despite a clear victory, more than 60 percent of voters did not support him, and it was not the mandate the PRI had anticipated based on the pre-election polls.
Vazquez Mota, 51, was the first to concede, followed by New Alliance candidate Gabriel Quadri, who had only single-digit support.
At the PRI headquarters in Mexico City, a party atmosphere broke out with supporters in red dancing to norteno music.
There were plenty of reasons to celebrate. The party also appeared likely to retake at least at least one of the two houses of Congress and some governorships.
Pena Nieto appears to be accomplishing what many thought would never happen again: the return of a strong and dynamic PRI, said Eric Olson of the Washington-based Mexico Institute. “The question: How will they govern?”
Vazquez Mota garnered little more than 23 percent in exit polls released by Milenio and TV Azteca networks and quick count by Mitofsky. Lopez Obrador had about 30 percent of the vote.
The PRI has been bolstered by voter fatigue due to a sluggish economy and the sharp escalation of a drug war that has killed roughly 50,000 Mexicans over the past six years.
Hugo Rubio, 33, a municipal employee in Nezalhualcoyotl, said what he expects is “more jobs, more tranquility in terms of security” under Pena Nieto.
“He has demonstrated that (the party) had changed, that he cares about the people who are most in need,” Rubio said at a red-clad crowd of supporters gathered with banners and balloons.
There were very few reports of problems during the vote, though some polling stations ran out of ballots and at least nine people were arrested in the southern state of Chiapas for trying to pass ballots pre-marked for the PRI.
Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire said that across the country federal security forces were working closely with local and state authorities, as well as electoral officials, to guard the peace during the vote.
Pena Nieto has cast himself as a pragmatic economic moderate in the tradition of the last three PRI presidents. He has called for greater private investment in Mexico’s state-controlled oil industry, and has said he will try to reduce violence by attacking crimes that hurt ordinary citizens while de-emphasizing the pursuit of drug kingpins.