Mexico’s ruling party is set to win a gubernatorial election in the country’s most populous state, ending almost a century of one-party rule in the region and giving momentum to its bid to retain the presidency in polls next year.
Former schoolteacher Delfina Gómez Álvarez, the candidate for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party, was on track for about 52-54 per cent of the vote in the State of Mexico, according to preliminary results released on Sunday night.
That was ahead of about 43-45 per cent projected for Alejandra del Moral of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has held the state’s governorship for almost 100 years. The full results will be published in the coming days.
The election in the State of Mexico, which surrounds much of the capital Mexico City and has almost 17mn inhabitants across the socio-economic spectrum, has been seen as a critical test ahead of polls next June, when voters will choose a president, congress and leaders of nine states.
Pre-election polling had uniformly favoured Gómez Álvarez. While control of the state does not necessarily translate into a national victory, analysts said it indicated a clear advantage for López Obrador’s party.
“Morena is reshaping the political map of the country,” said Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, professor of political science at Tecnológico de Monterrey. “Territorial control is definitive for the prospects in next year’s election.”
For many voters, the state poll was a referendum on López Obrador, a leftist populist who has maintained high levels of support since his term began in December 2018. The president has called his government the “fourth transformation”, and his supporters cite social programs aimed at the elderly and rural populations as well as a corruption-free image.
“We are really happy with this new transformation . . . because our president has a vision, he is really looking out for Mexicans,” said university professor Margarita Ángel Esparra after casting her vote for Gómez Álvarez in Tlalnepantla de Baz. “The other side . . . is not looking after our interests.”
In another state election on Sunday in Coahuila, which borders Texas, the PRI and its allies were set to maintain power, with early counts projecting a more than 30 percentage-point lead. That would make Coahuila one of just two states still ruled by the once-hegemonic party, which held power at the national level for more than 70 years until 2000.
But the alliance between the PRI and centre-right National Action party has struggled to identify a clear presidential candidate to challenge Morena. López Obrador’s party, along with its allies, now commands two-thirds of the governorships and simple majorities in the senate and lower house.
“There will be renewed doubts over the viability of the alliance,” Silva-Herzog Márquez said.
The race to succeed López Obrador, who is limited by the constitution to a single six-year term, has been under way for months, with Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum extending her lead over foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard.
In recent months, the president has stepped up his criticism of the judiciary and the media, which he accuses of blocking his agenda, and warned his party that it should not “zigzag” from the path he has laid.
He also pushed a controversial package of laws this year that slashed the budget of the country’s electoral commission, drawing tens of thousands of protesters who feared for the institution’s integrity ahead of the national polls. The Supreme Court struck down part of the package.
Additional reporting by Karla Ruiz