Ex-ruling party wins violence-scarred Mexican race

With vote-counting almost done, Fausto Vallejo Figueroa was nearly 3 percentage points ahead of Luisa Maria Calderon in Michoacan.

Morelia: Mexico`s former ruling party won a major governor`s race on Monday after a campaign marred by drug-cartel threats and violence, defeating President Felipe Calderon`s sister and building momentum for its drive to take back the presidency next year.

With vote-counting almost complete, Fausto Vallejo Figueroa of the Institutional Revolutionary Party was nearly 3 percentage points ahead of Luisa Maria Calderon in the western state of Michoacan. The President`s sister complained that drug gangs had threatened voters and poll watchers for her party, known as the PAN.

The PAN was seeking a symbolic victory in Calderon`s home state, where he launched the assault against cartels in late 2006. The drug war has killed more than 40,000 people according to many estimates, although no official figures have been released in nearly a year.

The National Action mayor of the city of La Piedad was gunned down as he handed out campaign literature for Calderon and other candidates less than two weeks before Sunday`s election. On the day of the vote, a newspaper in the city published an unsigned note threatening supporters of the party known as the PAN and blaming it for deaths in the wake of its military-led offensive against drug cartels.

"Don`t wear T-shirts or PAN advertising because we don`t want to confuse you and have innocent people die," read the note, which was also circulated by email. News reports said the newspaper had been forced to publish the warning.

Yet the city`s voters shook off the threat and backed the PAN there. Its candidate got 53 percent of the vote.

The win for Vallejo`s party, known as the PRI, is a major step toward regaining the presidency it lost in 2000 after governing Mexico for 71 years. Most polls show the PRI`s Enrique Pena Nieto, former governor of Mexico State, leading the presidential race.

Vallejo had been mayor of Morelia, the state capital.

Michoacan has been a stronghold of the country`s other major political force, the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. But its candidate, Silvano Aureoles Conejo, trailed with 29 percent and the party lost control of the state legislature, where the PRI won 11 seats, Democratic Revolution eight and PAN five.

The state has suffered dozens of drug cartel-related attacks on local officials over the past two years and Luisa Maria Calderon told the Televisa television network on Monday that drug threats and violence had influenced the election.

She campaigned on a promise to advance her brother`s anti-drug campaign and led in most opinion polls going into the vote. The PAN has been hurt by a tepid economy and by voter fatigue over drug violence, a factor that weakened the PRD in its bid to hold on to Michoacan`s governorship.

Such violence has been a main concern in Michoacan.

Jesus Zambrano Grijalvo, president of Democratic Revolution, said organized crime gangs were pressuring sympathizers of his party not to vote in a mountainous zone plagued by drug violence. Zambrano did not go into details at a news conference on Sunday.

Residents of the rural city of Cheran refused to let poll workers into their town, demanding an election they said would respect their customs and traditions. The indigenous Purepecha people who live in Cheran have in recent months wielded rifles and mounted roadblocks to keep out illegal loggers and drug traffickers.

The Michoacan Electoral Institute said in a news release Sunday that officials were still unable to carry out elections in Cheran and were determining how the 16,000 residents there will elect their leaders.

Twitter users claiming to belong to the "Anonymous" hackers movement said they were behind an attack on the website of a party backing Luisa Maria Calderon. The tweets also said hackers attacked the Michoacan Electoral Institute`s website.

The PAN has yet to win a governorship in Michoacan, where Democratic Revolution has dominated since 2000.

As Michoacan`s governing party for a decade, the leftist party drew criticism for the state`s drug violence, and some of its legislative candidates were accused of having close ties to drug cartels.

Bureau Report

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