Mexico's main leftist party took a beating in a governorship race widely viewed as a referendum on fiery former presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who campaigned for his party's candidate, according to a preliminary count.
Sunday's election for governor in the southern, swampy state of Tabasco was marred by shooting, street fights, arrests of supporters of both candidates and claims of vote-buying and voter intimidation.
Tabasco native and former presidential candidate Lopez Obrador campaigned hard for gubernatorial hopeful Cesar Raul Ojeda of his leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD. Many saw the vote as a key test for Lopez Obrador's political survival following his narrow loss in presidential elections and the street protests he led accusing the ruling party of vote fraud.
Prior to Sunday's vote, Lopez Obrador acknowledged the importance of the Tabasco race, saying if the PRI wins "our adversaries will laugh at us" for losing "in our own land."
With 90 percent of the vote counted, Andres Rafael Granier of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, had 53.1 percent compared to 42.8 percent for Ojeda making it statically impossible for Ojeda to win.
However, in line with Mexican electoral procedure, there will be a second count of the poll vote tallies tomorrow which could technically change the result.
Ojeda has also threatened to go to the courts to challenge the vote because of alleged electoral shenanigans.
"I've never seen things like this before," Ojeda said as he cast his vote in the steamy oil city of Villahermosa, the state capital. "There is mass vote-buying, political prisoners and aggression, trying to damage citizen confidence."
Several exit polls released shortly after voting finished predicted Granier's victory.
Granier supporters carried the candidate on their shoulders through the Villahermosa streets.
"I will unify Tabasco," Granier told reporters.
About 1,000 PRI supporters threw balloons in the air, danced to salsa music and waved banners proclaiming "Granier squashed Ojeda and Lopez Obrador."
Granier used his campaign to brand Ojeda as an extremist linked to the paralyzing street blockades his Democratic Revolution Party launched in Mexico City to protest alleged fraud in the July 2 presidential election, in which Lopez Obrador lost to Felipe Calderon.