TOLUCA, Mexico – In the all-important gubernatorial election in the State of Mexico, the most populous in the nation and often a harbinger of subsequent presidential election results, the candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party narrowly defeated the candidate of the socialdemocratic Morena amid accusations of fraud.

The State of Mexico, known locally by its abbreviation Edomex (from Estado de México), is the most populous of the nation’s 32 federal entities. Covering the capital Mexico City on three sides, Edomex has a politically and economically diverse population of over 16 million, making it traditional indicator of political trends.

Over the weekend, the gubernatorial election was held in Edomex and according to the preliminary results (97 percent of votes counted), the PRI’s Alfredo del Mazo emerged victorious with 33.7 percent of the vote.

In second place with 30.8 percent was Delfina Gómez of Morena, the socialdemocratic party founded by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican left’s most visible figure and former presidential candidate.

In September of 2012, López Obrador renounced his membership in the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the party he once led. Shortly after, he announced that he tranformed his Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena) or National Regeneration Movement civilian organization into a new political party, which was ratified to participate in elections in 2014.

López Obrador was angered and disillusioned, as were other members of the PRD, with the fact that the party had signed center-right President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Pact for Mexico, a political agreement aimed at reforming several aspects of Mexican politics, education and the economy through public policy changes.

López Obrador, who narrowly lost the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections amid allegations of widespread electoral fraud, said that Morena does not accept the results and is asking for a recount.

“We will not accept any electoral fraud. What the INE (National Electoral Institute) has done is a farce as their incredibly quick count does not correspond with reality. We do not accept this and we will not give up,” he said in a press conference with Gómez. “We will challenge this in any way we can, including in court.”

Indeed, several independent organizations and electoral observers said that the electoral season in Edomex was marked by widespread allegations of vote buying and intimidation that urged citizens not to vote; these methods were attributed almost exclusively to the PRI. In fact, 478 complaints were lodged with the INE just on the day of the vote in Edomex.

“Stop intervening in regional elections, especially in the State of Mexico. Stop operating from Los Pinos (presidential palace),” López Obrador said to Enrique Peña Nieto, who has served as President of Mexico on behalf of the PRI since 2012. Del Mazo is a cousin of Peña Nieto.

For his part, the tentatively victorious Del Mazo said that he understands the “discontent” that may be prevailing among those that voted for Morena but said that the “will expressed at the urns by the voters” must be respected and recognized. He did add, however, that he would be willing to participate in any “democratic” recount of the votes allowed by law.

While the PRI is set to retain one of the jewels in the Mexican electoral crown (unless a recount proves otherwise), the narrow margin of victory for its candidate represents a big change from the State’s previous gubernatorial election.

In 2011, the PRI’s Eruviel Ávila Villegas won the Edomex election with 65 percent of the vote compared to the PRD’s Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez (19 percent).

Given the importance of the Edomex election, the PRI has a cause for concern. López Obrador, Morena’s candidate for 2018, is looking like a strong choice again for the presidency given his socialdemocratic policies in a country with rampant inequality and a lagging economy and his strong anti-corruption rhetoric that has not been tainted with scandal, unlike many other Mexican politicians.

Morena has been on the rise and in its first election in June of 2015, it took a big bite out of the PRD’s hegemony in Mexico City, the latter’s birthplace and historical stronghold where the PRD had held an absolute majority in the legislative assembly since 1997 when the capital, formerly known as the Federal District, gained political autonomy from the federal government.

In those 2015 elections, Morena made quite an impact in Mexico City during its first appearance on ballots as the party won five municipalities (including several of the most important) to the PRD’s six. In the overall popular vote, the PRD won 19.8 percent while Morena established itself as the more popular choice with 23.5 percent of the popular vote.

While the PRD still outperformed Morena nationwide (10.8 percent to 8.4 percent), the newcomer’s performance in the all-important and influential capital and its solid showing nationally was the first signal of its ascendancy.

Given his reaction to the Edomex election, it is obvious that López Obrador is still energetically and fully committed to Morena and to winning the presidency. Just weeks ago, he said in an interview that he will work “with every ounce of his being” to achieve the goal of becoming the head of state.

For the PRI, however, despite the narrow victory in Edomex, the trajectory has been downward. A slowed economy, rampant corruption, impunity and rising violence during the presidency of Peña Nieto have all led to the steep fall in the approval ratings and popularity of the PRI.

With no indicators of a changing tide for the president and his PRI colleagues, the presidential election in July of 2018 looks set to usher in a non-PRI candidate. As past cases have shown, however, the PRI can and will employ many non-democratic ways of holding onto power as they did when the party held onto power for 71 uninterrupted years from 1929 to 2000 through brazen acts of corruption, fraud and graft that penetrated all sectors of government, business and society.