Mexico votes in local polls under shadow of violence

MEXICO CITY: Mexico held local elections in 14 states Sunday with one key governorship at stake, as voting was marred by ballot theft claims, a Molotov cocktail attack and a ruling party militant’s slaying.

The governor’s seat in Baja California state, held by the conservative National Action Party (PAN) opposition for the past 24 years, was the biggest prize in the regional polls and
its result could affect a national reforms pact.

Some 32 million voters were eligible to cast ballots in 931 of the country’s 2,440 municipalities as well as for candidates in state legislatures.

It is the first election since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December with a pledge to reduce the drug violence that killed 70,000 during the six years of his PAN
predecessor, Felipe Calderon.

He has also promised to break with the old ways of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had lost the presidency in 2000 after holding power uninterrupted for 71 years with a mix of vote rigging and repression.

In these regional elections, the country’s three main parties trade accusations of intimidation and corruption in various states during what turned out to be one of the most
violent campaign seasons in recent years.

A PRI member died of gunshot wounds in the eastern Veracruz state town of Coxquihui after a “possible partisan clash,” a state government spokesman told AFP.

The daily Reforma, citing a PRI source, said the man died when PAN militants shot at the campaign headquarters of the PRI’s mayoral candidate in Coxquihui.

But a PAN official told AFP that the party’s militants had spotted a warehouse where the PRI was giving “handouts” to voters and that they were shot at from that building. A stray bullet killed the PRI member, the official said.

In Baja California, which borders the United States, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the house of a candidate from the Social Meeting Party. The politician escaped unscathed.

A smooth election could be key to keeping together a Pact for Mexico that Pena Nieto struck with the PAN and the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) that led to major
education and telecommunication reforms.