Mexicans on Sunday voted the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and its candidate Enrique Peña Nieto into power in a hotly contested presidential election that a defeated leftist coalition vowed to challenge. The result constituted a voter turn-around for the PRI after 12 years on the sidelines during two consecutive National Action Party (PAN) conservative governments.
Preliminary results show that the 45-year-old former governor of Mexico state obtained 38 percent of the votes while his nearest candidate, leftist leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador, received 31.7 percent. The outgoing ruling party PAN candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, won 25.4 percent of the vote.
The final vote tally is expected later in the week.
The PRI has also widened its gubernatorial power, now controlling 22 of Mexico's 32 states. Nevertheless, the party didn't get overall majorities in either of the chambers of Congress.
"We are a new generation; there will be no return to the past," Peña Nieto told his supporters as he stood alongside his second wife, the popular Mexican soap opera actress Angélica Rivera.
Weary from a long war with the powerful drug cartels that has claimed some 60,000 lives, and frustrated with eroding living standards, Mexican opted to bring back the PRI after its leaders successfully convinced a large enough portion of voters that the historic party is not the same organization as that of the past, plagued with cronyism and corruption. The PRI governed continuously from 1929 to 2000 before it was defeated by the PAN's Vicente Fox.
We are a new generation; there will be no return to the past"
"This is a second opportunity for the PRI," Peña Nieto said, promising "a democratic and modern presidency open to criticism and willing to listen."
But the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) announced Tuesday that it will recount some 50,000 electoral ballot packages - almost a third of the presidential vote - after López Obrador complained that there were widespread irregularities, including ballot rigging. "We're not asking for any favors; we're asking for the law to be respected," López Obrador said.
The scene is all too familiar for the 58-year-old candidate of the leftist Progressive Movement coalition. In 2006, he was defeated by Felipe Calderón by half a percentage point. He and his supporters claimed fraud and set up hundreds of protest camps in Mexico City's main square, where they would remain for weeks.
This time the candidate said his supporters had detected a series of irregularities in about 113,000 of the nation's 143,000 polling stations.
Calling the elections "a success," César Gaviria, the former Colombian president and head of an Organization of American States (OAS) observation team, said that he doubted there had been widespread fraud.
"Today, Mexico has a robust and trustworthy election system, equipped with a significant number of controls," Gaviria said in a statement.
We're not asking for any favors; we're asking for the law to be respected"
In an interview with PBS network in the United States, Peña Nieto said he has "no doubt" that he was legitimately elected on Sunday by an "overall majority."
As for the war on the criminal cartels, Peña Nieto said that he will implement a plan to seek "quick results" in stopping the violence, and proposed initiating a continent-wide debate on whether to legalize certain drugs, such as marijuana.
"I am not saying that we should legalize drugs, but we should debate this in Congress, in the hemisphere, and that the United States, in particular, should participate in this debate," he said.
At the PAN headquarters, President Calderón met on Tuesday with Vázquez Mota and other party leaders to discuss the direction the conservative group should take. By Mexican law, presidents can only serve one six-year term.
Vázquez Mota, 51, said she plans on turning the party into "a people's movement."
Some PAN members expressed their anger at former President Fox who declined to campaign for his party.