“The PRI comes back” shouted the front page headline of the daily newspaper El Universal on Monday, the day after the political party known as the PRI swept midterm elections.
Regresa el PRI
But the story was all in the photograph, a shot of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari as he left a voting booth. He was not running for any office, but the photograph seemed to ask why Mexicans were returning to power the party identified with Mr. Salinas, who left office 15 years ago amid political scandal and economic chaos.
Presidente Calderón's campaign to eradicate corruption and narcos has been violent, disruptive, and does not seem to have been effective (insofar as the results are not complete, and people generally wish they were now complete).
“Yes, I admit the PRI is corrupt,” said Luis Osorio, a juice vendor in Mexico City, on Monday as he discussed election news with customers stopping by his stand. “So we voted for the PAN, and they turned out to be just as corrupt. They turned everything into their personal business.”
Although Mr. Calderón is personally popular, his economic policies are not. Mexico has been buffeted especially hard by the global economic crisis, and the economy is expected to contract by as much as 8 percent this year.
So now PRI is demanding a Cabinet shuffle.
And the leader of the PAN, Germán Martínez, has resigned.
The image of the PRI outside the capital is very different from its reputation among the political and social elite in Mexico City. “If you say you’re a PRI-ista in Tamaulipas, it’s something to be proud of,” said Francisco Abundis Luna, a pollster with the firm Parametría, referring to the state of Tamaulipas, which is on the Gulf of Mexico and borders Texas.
Many voters think that PRI politicians are corrupt, Mr. Mercado said, but his polling found what he called a perverse nostalgia for the PRI’s style of corruption. The PRI tolerates a bending of the rules that allows working people, like illegal street vendors or unlicensed cabdrivers, to earn a living. [Lauro Mercado Gasca, a pollster who directs Mercaei]
“It’s perverse and antimodern, but it’s functional,” Mr. Mercado said.
The PRI will have de facto control over the lower house in an alliance with a smaller party. Mr. Calderón’s only leverage now is in the Senate, whose members were not up for election and where his party has a 40 percent plurality.
Still, many analysts warned against interpreting the election results as a broad shift of power in Mexico, noting that the PRI won only slightly more of the popular vote, about 37 percent on Sunday, than it did during the 2003 midterm elections.
The PRI also prospered from what appears to have been the near-collapse of the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution, or P.R.D., which was split by an internal feud. Once-solid P.R.D. territory went to the PRI.
That's interesting: PAN kept its vote percentage, and PRI picked up PRD support.
The PRI has successfully painted itself as more experienced than the PAN. Its new slogan says "Today's PRI: Proven Experience. New Attitude." But analysts said the party has done little soul-searching from its loss of the presidency, when it was widely viewed as corrupt.
Spin. It works.
"Among voters, they have credibility as a governing party that can be summed up like this: 'We might be corrupt, but we're more efficient than the other guys,'" Mr. Rubio said.
Perceptions might be summed up: everyone is corrupt, and PRI delivers.
Growing political clout from the PRI could hurt Mr. Calderón's war on drugs. Many PRI members have been ambivalent about the effort, worried about the army's growing presence in various cities. Some party insiders have also argued that cutting backroom deals with organized crime in Mexico is the best way to control violence.
Negotiate with narcocriminals; nice strategy.
Some analysts hold out hope that the PRI's victory will push it to be cooperative as it tries to convince voters that it can be trusted with the presidency. They said the PRI may even cooperate on thorny issues like tax reform to shore up the country's weakening finances.
That window, analysts say, will stay open for about a year and a half before the next election begins to pit the PAN and the PRI against each other again. Mr. Calderón won't have much time.
Two PRI candidates whose relatives or associates had links to the drugs trade, and who were the subjects of a Wall Street Journal article Friday, romped to easy victories at the polls.
Mario Anguiano Moreno won with about 53% of the vote in his race for governor in the state of Colima, while former Ciudad Juárez Mayor Héctor Murgía Lardizábal easily won his race for a seat in Mexico's national assembly -- beating his nearest rival by 30 percentage points.