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Mexican electoral officials Monday declared the preliminary results of a race for governor in Baja California invalid after the ruling party and the opposition both claimed victory in the politically pivotal state.
The election in Baja California, which borders the United States, was the biggest prize in regional polls held in 14 states on Sunday after one of the most violent campaign seasons in recent years. Analysts say the result in the border state could affect a national political reform pact.
The head of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Cesar Camacho, and the president of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), Gustavo Madero, both rushed to declare victory minutes after polling stations closed late Sunday.
With 97 percent of votes counted early Monday, the preliminary results showed PAN candidate Francisco "Kiko" Vega winning with 47.15 percent compared to 44.14 percent for PRI hopeful Francisco Trenti.
But the Baja California Electoral Institute scrapped the results, citing a technical problem, and called for a recount that will begin Wednesday and is expected to finish by Sunday.
With the result now unknown, Camacho reversed course, saying he would wait for the official result before declaring victory.
"I no longer say that we won. I'm not saying we lost. I prefer to be conservative for now," Camacho told MVS Radio.
The PAN, however, and their allies from the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) voiced confidence that their joint candidate would triumph.
"We are completely certain of our clear triumph," PAN elections secretary Arturo Garcia Portillo told AFP.
President Enrique Pena Nieto called for "civility and the recognition of results to prevail among candidates and their followers."
The state is significant in Mexican political history: the PAN has held the post since 1989, when it broke decades of dominance by the PRI, which ruled Mexico for most of the 20th century through rigged elections and repression.
Defeat for the PAN would be another hard knock for the conservatives, who made history in 2000 when they won the presidency, ending the PRI's 71-year dominance. The PAN has faced intra-party fighting since losing the presidency last year.
For the PRI, it would mark another big victory after President Enrique Pena Nieto ended the party's 12-year absence from the nation's highest office in July 2012.
Analysts say a Baja California defeat for the PAN could weaken Madero, who has faced dissent over his decision to sign a pact with the PRI and PRD to enact nationwide reforms.
"For now, we have not indicated a break but rather a deterioration of the conditions favoring the pact," Madero said, while Pena Nieto maintained that his government was willing to continue dialogue with opponents.
The country's three main political parties traded accusations of dirty tricks in Sunday's elections in 14 of 32 federal entities, with state legislatures and 931 of the country's 2,440 municipalities on the line. Thefts of ballot boxes were reported in some states.
A half-dozen candidates, politicians and relatives were killed in the run-up to the vote.