Mexico's rulers scoop up opposition bastion ahead of presidency race

Mexico's rulers scoop up opposition bastion ahead of presidency race


Mexico's rulers scoop up opposition bastion ahead of presidency race

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's ruling party comfortably captured a major historic stronghold of the opposition in an election on Sunday, consolidating President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's hold on power ahead of the battle to succeed him next year.

Lopez Obrador's leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) won the State of Mexico gubernatorial contest by more than 8 percentage points, according to preliminary results published by the state's electoral institute.

The victory adds Mexico's most populous region to the 21 other states MORENA already controls, now more than two-thirds of the total.

Another state is governed by a group allied to MORENA, giving the party a huge power base heading into the presidential elections due to be held on June 2, 2024.

Sunday's result also dropped Mexico's erstwhile political powerhouse, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to a new low, marking another milestone in its replacement by MORENA as the establishment party in Latin America's no. 2 economy.

The centrist PRI has governed the State of Mexico since 1929, the date from which it began its long domination of Mexico. Defeated for the presidency in 2000, it bounced back in 2012 but was drubbed by Lopez Obrador six years later.

"We defeated corruption and neglect," MORENA's triumphant candidate Delfina Gomez told cheering supporters after the vote, hailing the PRI's ousting. "For the first time, we'll have a government serving those who are most vulnerable."

Gomez, who narrowly lost the previous state election, will be the State of Mexico's first female governor.

With 98% of returns in from polling stations, Gomez had 52.7% of the vote. Her rival, Alejandra del Moral, a PRI politician heading a coalition of opposition parties, had 44.3%.

There was, however, also a warning for MORENA on Sunday.

In a separate gubernatorial vote in the northern border state of Coahuila, the PRI crushed MORENA after the president's party descended into infighting, giving rise to rival candidates. The PRI has yet to be defeated in Coahuila.

The margin of victory in Coahuila, a state with less than one-fifth of the State of Mexico's population, meant that the two principal opposition candidates secured almost as many votes as MORENA did on Sunday.

Lopez Obrador has instructed his party to stay united going into the presidential campaign, turning on former colleagues who have broken with MORENA.

He has dominated Mexico's politics since taking office in December 2018, and his popularity, holding firm at around 60%, has helped make MORENA a redoubtable electoral machine. Under Mexican law, presidents may serve only one six-year term.

Still, his abrasive rhetoric, which has pitted the state against private enterprise, and fueled conflict with checks on his power such as the judiciary, has polarized voters.

Mexico City's mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, has had the edge in most polling for the race to be MORENA's presidential candidate, closely followed by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

Sheinbaum, like Gomez, is closely identified with Lopez Obrador and his policies, and some analysts say a clear MORENA win in the state augurs well for her hopes for the presidency.

Soon after voting ended, Sheinbaum posted a smiling picture of herself on Twitter with Gomez, celebrating her victory.