MEXICO CITY -- Millions of Mexicans voted Sunday to restore to power a once-authoritarian party they dumped 12 years ago, according to preliminary results, while also delivering a harsh rebuke to a government that advanced democratic rule but saw the country plunge into grisly violence.
In an initial, partial count released just before midnight, the federal election commission said Enrique Pena Nieto, the telegenic candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was winning about 38% of the vote. He was leading his nearest competitor, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, by about 6 percentage points.
The election commission figures are meant to be a representative sample of the nationwide vote. Shortly after they were released, Pena Nieto appeared on television to claim victory.
"This Sunday, Mexico won," he said, promising change. He thanked voters and said he would run a presidency that was "responsible and open to criticism."
Pena Nieto was ahead by an even larger margin, as much as 11 percentage points, in exit surveys conducted by pollsters and Mexican news media. And the current president, Felipe Calderon, welcomed Pena Nieto as his successor. But Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City and leader of a coalition of leftist parties, refused to concede.
-- Ken Ellingwood and Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto and his wife, Angelica Rivera, celebrate at the party's headquarters in Mexico City. Credit: Alfredo Estrella / AFP/GettyImages