The ruling party of Mexican President Felipe Calderon has suffered defeat in legislative elections and was poised to lose its majority status in the Chamber of Deputies, exit polls and partial official returns showed.
“We recognize the election results and congratulate the Institutional Revolutionary Party with becoming the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies,” National Action Party (PAN) Chairman German Martinez told reporters.
Beatriz Paredes, chairwoman of the opposition centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said the outcome confirms that Mexico — shaken by a major economic downturn, drug violence and the swine flu outbreak — “is a country that wants new proposals and new solutions.”
Sunday’s balloting gave the PRI 40 percent of the vote, compared with 29 percent gained by Calderon’s PAN, according to an exit poll made public by the Televisa network.
The leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) was running third with about 15 percent of the vote, the survey showed.
The trend was largely borne out by partial official returns. With more than a third of precincts reporting, the PRI ran far ahead with 35.2 percent of the ballot, followed by the PAN with 26.8 percent. The PRD was a distant third with just slightly over 12 percent of the vote.
As a result, the ruling PAN stood to cede to the PRI its status as the largest party represented in the Chamber of Deputies.
The PAN controls 206 seats in the current legislature, while the PRD has 123 and PRI 104. The new distribution of seats was expected to be announced later.
The PRI, which ran Mexico for much of the last century, now has a chance to regain a hold on the electorate.
Polls closed at 6pm in most areas, while voting ended at 8pm in the northwestern states for the midterm elections, which were dominated by the explosion of violence linked to cocaine trafficking and the recession.
Some 77 million Mexicans were eligible to vote in the elections to choose who will hold 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, six governorships and 568 mayoralties around the country, but early exit polling showed a high abstention rate.
Worries about the violence were partially eclipsed by concerns over swine flu, which first emerged at the end of April in Mexico.
In a grim reminder that drug-linked violence has not abated, six men were killed overnight on Saturday in the northern state of Chihuahua, which saw 325 deaths from organized crime just last month.
Four bodies were found in the state’s capital, also called Chihuahua, including two in the trunk of a car.
Another body was riddled with at least 16 large-caliber bullet holes and found in a car registered just across the border in the US state of Texas.
The elections proceeded without major incidents, though on Saturday a PRI gubernatorial candidate in San Luis Potosi state said his vehicle had been shot at, allegedly by militants.
Meanwhile, PAN leaders said a Molotov cocktail was thrown on Sunday at a house where some of its supporters were gathered in Toluca, capital of central Mexico state, but no casualties were reported.
The PAN, a right-leaning Catholic party, has run on the president’s high-profile security initiatives, but the country’s disastrous economic outlook may have proven decisive in swaying voters.