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In Selecting Pena Nieto, Mexico Reinstates Party That Ruled Most of Last Century

July 2, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mexicans voted for change yesterday by turning to the standard-bearer of the country’s oldest political party.

Ray Suarez explains.

RAY SUAREZ: There were plenty of satisfied revelers today in Mexico City after last night’s victory celebration for the man who promised to both reinvigorate a slow-growing economy and reduce drug-related violence.

Margaret Warner was there.

MARGARET WARNER: The party started early last night under the big top at the headquarters of the PRI, Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party. Thousands of the PRI-istas, the party faithful, danced and sang awaiting the arrival of Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s next president, and with him their return to power after being dumped by the voters 12 years ago.

Pena strode on stage, his soap opera star wife, Angelica Rivera, by his side, glad-handing and posing for pictures well after midnight. Minutes earlier, he delivered a more sober speech inside outlining his vision for the six-year term ahead and promising the PRI wouldn’t revert to the authoritarian style with which it had ruled Mexico for seven decades.

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO, Mexican President-Elect (through translator): Mexicans have given our party a second chance. We will honor it with results, with a new way of governing, accordingly to the demands of a 21st century Mexico. We are a new generation. We will not return to the past.

MARGARET WARNER: He also vowed to continue, but reorient the war against the drug cartels that has killed 55,000 President Felipe Calderon launched it in early 2007.

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (through translator): The fight against crime will continue, yes, with a new strategy to reduce the violence and to protect, before all, the life of Mexicans. In the face of organized crime, there will be neither negotiations nor troops.


MARGARET WARNER: Last night’s quick count by the election commission showed him handily beating his closest rival, leftist former Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, with Josefina Vazquez Mota of Calderon’s PAN party trailing far behind.

Vazquez Mota conceded early. But Lopez Obrador told supporters he would wait until full official results are reported Wednesday. After his narrow loss six years, he paralyzed the capital for weeks, charging fraud and demanding a recount.

ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR, Mexican Presidential Candidate (through translator): The facts are not there yet. There needs to be an official count. There needs to be a legal result of the electoral process. There is no final word yet.

MARGARET WARNER: Scattered reports of irregularities in yesterday’s vote mostly involve late starts and lack of ballots. University student voted Itzel Lavanderos voted in the capital’s Condesa neighborhood for Lopez Obrador. She said she believed Pena Nieto could only win by fraud and said Lopez Obrador’s supporters wouldn’t take a PRI win easily.

ITZEL LAVANDEROS, University Student: So, I think the people are going to stand up. And, I mean, I won’t say there’s going to be a revolution, but I think a lot of people are going to be in the streets.

MARGARET WARNER: Though Calderon won this polling place six years ago, one former PAN party supporter, governor worker Judith Cordova, went for Pena Nieto yesterday.

JUDITH CORDOVA, Government Worker (through translator): The insecurity is very bad, all the lack of control that I have seen. We even gave the PAN a second chance in 2006. And they didn’t do well.

MARGARET WARNER: The government’s inability to protect citizens from violence amid the brutal drug war was front and center for many voters, as was economic security. Yet this PAN voter, television station manager Fernando Morales, voiced concern about what a return by the PRI would mean.

FERNANDO MORALES, Television Station Manager: You cannot take the (INAUDIBLE) out of the PRI bubble. If he wins, it’s with the support of this huge machine. It’s very good machine. It works how it was designed. It wasn’t designed for democracy.

MARGARET WARNER: In the working class city of (INAUDIBLE) 40 minutes outside the capital, turnout was heavy. Cleaning lady Cata Peralta chose Lopez Obrador because she thought he would take care of families like hers. But she said Pena Nieto as governor of Mexico State delivered on his promises here too.

CATA PERALTA, Cleaning Lady (through translator): For example, we lacked water here. He sent trucks full of water to help the people.

MARGARET WARNER: Taxi driver Alfonso Diaz, a longtime PRI voter, longed for a return to the stability of its former era.

ALFONSO DIAZ, Taxi Driver (through translator): I remember 20 years ago the government was different. And it was a better way of living. In the past 12 years, the economy has gone downhill.

MARGARET WARNER: But Diaz said he will be judging Pena Nieto not just on promises, but results.

ALFONSO DIAZ (through translator): He’s made a commitment. And I hope he fulfills his commitment. If there’s going to be a change, let’s have it for the best.

MARGARET WARNER: A sentiment all Mexicans share.