Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto suffered a severe political blow on Sunday when his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was defeated at the polls in Baja California by a coalition including the country’s two leading opposition parties.
Following a dirty gubernatorial campaign, Francisco “Kiko” Vega, a former mayor of Tijuana, narrowly defeated Fernando Castro Trenti, who was backed by the PRI, by three points.
The conservative National Action Party (PAN), which had governed Baja California since 1989, and the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) formed a coalition with the New Alliance Party to back Vega for governor.
Baja California is an important political stronghold. Located in the country’s northwest, the state was where the PRI first tasted electoral defeat, in 1989 – the beginning of the end of its nearly 71-year rule until 2000. With Peña Nieto’s election last year, the PRI completed its return to power.
The opposition’s win in Baja California was the first major defeat of the PRI since January 2011, when it lost another political stronghold, Guerrero state.
Still, the PRI didn’t recognize the defeat in Baja California late Sunday. César Camacho Quiroz, the party’s national president, said there was no doubt that Castro Trenti had been victorious.
Gustavo Madero, the president of PAN, claimed that PRI had been involved in unethical practices across the state, and the PRD president Jesús Zambrano also declared Vega the winner.
The PRI said that it would wait for a full vote recount, which will take place on Wednesday, before conceding defeat.
Zambrano, a former guerrilla, and Madero, a well-known businessman and nephew of a hero of the 1910 Revolution, have discovered that their national alliance with the PRI government doesn’t give them much electoral power. Both counted on this election to buoy their leaderships in their respective parties. The alliance formed in December with Peña Nieto — the so-called Pact of Mexico – spawned bitter criticism within important sectors of PAN and PRD. One of the biggest complaints was that any support given to the federal government would leave their parties unable to win elections. According to that logic, Peña Nieto would be given entire credit for his reform agenda, which the PRI has been pushing in recent campaigns.