Longtime ruling party returns to power in Mexico

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MEXICO CITY -- The political party that ruled Mexico for seven straight decades is back, assuring Mexicans there's no chance of a return to what some called "the perfect dictatorship" that was marked by a mix of populist handouts, rigged votes and occasional bloodshed.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, reclaims the presidency today after 12 years out of power, and President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto calls it a crowning moment of an effort to modernize the party that ruled from 1929 to 2000.

He promises an agenda of free enterprise, efficiency and accountability.

PRI leaders acknowledge the party is returning to power in a Mexico radically different from what it was in the party's heyday. The nation has an open, market-oriented economy, a more aggressive press, an opposition that can communicate at the speed of the Internet and a population that knows the PRI can be kicked out of power.

"The skeptics say that the PRI will return to the past, as if such a thing were possible," PRI leader Pedro Joaquin Coldwell told party members last month. "It's not, because this is a different country."

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Yet critics already see hints of a yearning for the old days of an imperial presidency in some measures the PRI is pushing through Congress. One would gather the police and security apparatus under the control of the Interior Department, long used by the PRI to co-opt or pressure opponents and rig elections.

Political analyst Raymundo Riva Palacio says a return to the old ways is unlikely, noting there are now independent electoral authorities, judges and rights groups to help keep officials in line.

But Alejandro Sanchez, the assistant leader of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, warns of an attempt "to return to the authoritarian regime of the 1970s, when torture, contempt for opponents and impunity were the norm." -- AP


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