Bulletproof vests for candidates on Mexican poll day after drug hits

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The Independent US

A dozen Mexican states held elections yesterday after a campaign marred by assassinations and scandals that displayed the power of drug cartels. The elections for governors, mayors and local posts are the biggest political challenge yet for the government of President Felipe Calderon, who is deploying troops and federal police to wrest back territory from drug-traffickers.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held on to power for seven decades through largesse and corruption in what many considered a quasi-dictatorship, has recovered popularity amid frustration with Mexico's surging drug gang violence. And it hopes that the local polls will help it gain momentum in its bid to retake the presidency in two years.

The party held up the assassination of its gubernatorial candidate in the northern state of Tamaulipas as evidence President Calderon has failed to bring security despite thousands of troops in drug-trafficking hot spots.

Rodolfo Torre, once widely expected to win in the PRI stronghold, was killed last Monday with four companions. The day before, he had pledged to make a security a priority in Tamaulipas, a state across the border from Texas torn by a cartel turf battle. The new candidate, his brother Egidio, arrived to vote in an elementary school wearing a bulletproof vest and escorted by heavily armed police in two trucks and a dozen bodyguards.

Mr Torre was the second candidate killed in Tamaulipas: a member of Mr Calderon's own conservative National Action Party was gunned down in May after ignoring warnings to drop his campaign for mayor.

The prospect of the PRI regaining the presidency in 2012 would add uncertainty to the future of Mexico's drug war, backed by millions of dollars in US aid and marked by an unprecedented increase during Mr Calderon's rule in the number of drug suspects extradited to the United States for prosecution.

The President urged Mexicans to vote and show they will not be intimidated. But turnout was thin in Tamaulipas. Dozens of poll workers quit in the past week, many because they were afraid to show up at the voting stations.