Mexico's governing party secured the presidential nomination

Former Energy Secretary Felipe Calderon secured the presidential nomination for the ruling National Action Party, all but finalizing the major-party lineup for next July's historic presidential election, party officials confirmed Sunday.

Mexican law prevents President Vicente Fox from seeking a second term, and a surprisingly bitter primary election developed as three former members of Fox's cabinet fought for the nomination of their center-right party.

Calderon coasted to victory Sunday, winning about 58 percent of the vote in the third of three regional votes. The win gave Calderon about 52 percent of the cumulative vote, enough to avoid a runoff.

Former Energy Secretary Santiago Creel publicly conceded defeat, having won about 33 percent of the cumulative vote. Alberto Cardenas, former environment secretary, captured about 15 percent overall.

The primary battle led to increasingly sharp confrontations in a center-right party more noted for genteel, back-room negotiations. Creel and Cardenas had accused Calderon supporters of violating election rules. Creel was especially suspicious of results showing Calderon winning 72 percent of the vote in Yucatan, a party stronghold.

Sunday's voting included at least six states in which National Action has elected governors, including the populous state of Jalisco, where Cardenas once served as governor. The nominations for Mexico's two other major parties are largely decided.

The poll leader, former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is unopposed for the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party, and former Tabasco state Gov. Roberto Madrazo holds a commanding position for the nomination of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which governed Mexico from 1929 until Fox's victory in 2000.

Internal disputes over the party's presidential primary election has been especially disquieting for National Action, which has promoted itself as a bastion of honesty since it was founded in 1939.

For decades, PRI governments twisted or stole elections and did not acknowledge a state-level victory by National Action until 1989 - a year after a disputed 1988 presidential election had sullied Mexico's image around the world.

Until recently, "you voted and it went straight to the trash. It was worthless," said 76-year-old Irma Ortiz, a lifelong National Action supporter. She voted at a party polling station in front of Mexico's Independence Monument, where Fox and his supporters celebrated victory in July 2000.

Small parties are still shopping for candidates and may form alliances with larger parties. None of the parties has formally declared its candidate because any spending after that point could count against federal spending limits.

As a result of Fox's victory, the 2006 vote election may be the most competitive since the 19th century and the first in at least 77 years to be held without the PRI in power. An estimated 1.1 million party members were eligible to vote in the three rounds.

Calderon's emergence surprised many Mexican analysts because Creel, widely believed to be Fox's favorite, had led polls for months. But Calderon had gained steadily, aided in part by his image as the candidate most identified with National Action. The son of one of the party's founders, Calderon had served as party president as well as a congressman.

Calderon resigned as energy secretary in May 2004 after Fox criticized him for an early jump into the presidential race. Creel had been a citizens' right activist before joining National Action to run unsuccessfully for Mexico City mayor against Lopez Obrador in 2000, AP reports.

A. A.

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