January 31, 2011 / 3:33 AM / 9 years ago

Mexico's left wins western state in setback for PRI

ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexico’s left appeared to hold onto a governorship in the country’s western hinterland on Sunday in a sign the main opposition party still needs to show voters it has modernized to win the presidency in 2012.

In the shadow of harrowing drug violence, voters in Guerrero gave the leftist Party of Democratic Revolution, or PRD, victory over the powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, one of six state elections ahead of next year’s presidential race.

Both parties claimed victory on Sunday night and accused the other of trying to rig the vote. But with 45 percent of the vote counted, the PRD’s candidate Angel Aguirre won 57 percent of the ballot, Guerrero State Electoral Institute said on its website. That compared with 42 percent for the PRI’s candidate Manuel Anorve. President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party, or PAN, which failed to garner support for its candidate and threw its backing behind the PRD, won the remainder.

“We’re tired of the PRI’s corruption and the power the party holds over the country’s unions,” said a waitress in Acapulco, Guerrero’s main city, who declined to give her name.

The PRI was kicked out by voters in 2000, putting an end to its 71-year rule in the oil exporting nation and top U.S. trade partner. But the party is making a comeback, capitalizing on a divided left and deep disappointment at a decade under the

PAN.

The center-left PRI won a majority in Congress in 2009 and has maintained a strong presence at the state level, holding more than half of Mexico’s governorships.

The loss in Guerrero is not seen as a major setback, but the party is looking for momentum to reach the presidency and it signals voters are wary of the party’s autocratic past, when party cronies ran the country based on a system of patronage.

“LAB TEST”

The PRI still controls large blocs of voters from unions and farmer groups and the Guerrero vote was marred by accusations that Anorve was on the payroll of drug gangs, which he strongly denied.

“This vote is a first lab test for the election in the State of Mexico,” analyst Raymundo Riva Palacio told local radio, referring to the populous state on the edge of Mexico City that could sway the balance of power in Mexico.

Voters in Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest states a few hours drive from the Mexican capital, were spared the kind of cartel attacks that have terrorized the region over the past few years, although rumors of violence dissuaded some.

Almost 3,000 people have died in drug war violence in Guerrero over the past four years as gangs fight over Acapulco’s port, its links to Mexico City and its marijuana and opium plantations hidden in lush valleys.

Calderon is under pressure to contain surging drug violence across the country after launching his army-backed crackdown in December 2006. More than 34,000 people have died in drug killings since then, and extortion, kidnapping and crime are rampant, worrying business leaders.

Additional reporting by Robin Emmott and Jean Luis Arce. Writing by Robin Emmott; editing by Christopher Wilson

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