MEXICO CITY — President Felipe Calderon suffered a setback in midterm elections on Sunday when the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party unseated his party as the largest force in Mexico's fractured Congress in a vote that turned on the global economic crisis and the government's crackdown on drug traffickers.
The president is personally popular, and his conservative National Action Party tried to keep the campaign focused on the government's popular social programs and its attack on organized crime. But it was clearly not enough in a year when the economy is expected to contract by as much as 8 percent.
Although a majority of Mexicans still support Calderon's battle against drug cartels, the vote suggests a weariness with the increasing levels of violence the fight has spawned. Almost 800 people were killed in drug-related violence in June, a record.
The PAN, as the president's party is known, became the second largest party in Congress, its only consolation that voters did not hand an absolute majority to the opposition.
The elections marked a return to strength of the PRI, which governed Mexico for 71 years before losing the presidency in 2000. The PRI, a nominally centrist party, has not directly opposed Calderon's drug policies but campaigned on its experience and vague promises to improve security.
Without an absolute majority in Congress, it will still need to form alliances with other parties to pass legislation.
A recent nationwide telephone poll by Reforma found that 17 percent of voters planned to cast a blank vote.