MEXICO CITY (CNS) — The Mexican bishops’ conference expressed satisfaction with “the exemplary participation of citizens” in the July 1 federal elections, which returned the once long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party to power.

“As pastors of the Catholic Church, we are pleased to notice that our call to go to the polls in a conscious and free manner was heard by the Catholic faithful and by men and women of good will in our country,” the bishops said in a statement released late July 1 and signed by conference president Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla and secretary-general Auxiliary Bishop Victor Rene Rodriguez Gomez of Texcoco.

“We are joyful witnesses to the civility and republican conviction demonstrated during the election process,” the statement continued.

“We’re pleased that democracy has been recognized as the privileged path for achieving the peace, justice and development that Mexicans long for.”

The bishops offered congratulations to the victors without mentioning names or parties.

Mexican voters opted for Enrique Pena Nieto, 45, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which showed anti-clerical tendencies in the last century and traces its founding to 1920s Cristero Rebellion.

The party developed a checkered reputation and was known for corruption throughout its history while presiding over economic calamities. But Pena Nieto has said that’s in the past that he wants to fight crime and begin structural reforms to promote good governance.

“I will lead a democratic presidency that understands the changes the country has experienced over the last decades … open to criticisms, always ready to listen and one that will take all Mexicans into account,” Pena Nieto told supporters after the election.

Bishops’ conference spokesman Father Manuel Corral has said the church enjoys good relations with the president-elect and his party and expected few frictions during Pena Nieto’s six-year administration, which begins Dec. 1. A constitutional amendment to guarantee religious freedom was approved prior to the campaign by a Congress packed with Pena Nieto loyalists.

Church officials traditionally do not speak out against candidates and parties in Mexico given the history of sour church-state relations. Catholic rights groups have not made pronouncements, but have blasted a 2006 crackdown ordered by Pena Nieto in the town of Atenco that was criticized as excessive.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party ruled Mexico for 71 straight years until losing the presidency to the Catholic-friendly National Action Party in 2000. That party performed poorly on July 1, claiming just 25 percent of the vote and trailing second-place candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor, led a coalition of three left-wing parties and gained ground throughout the three-month campaign, but drew attacks from rivals over his past protests and insistence the close 2006 election he contested and lost had been rigged.

The candidate on July 2 said he would lodge complaints with electoral officials over what he alleges was widespread vote-buying by the Pena Nieto campaign and irregularities.

Voting proceeded without major incidents, although some polling stations opened late and others for out-of-town voters ran out of ballots. Allegations of vote buying were rife, especially in poor and working-class areas.

Taxi driver Maria Eugenia Garcia says people in her Mexico City suburb were plied with giveaways such as bags of cement, food deliveries and even loaves of bread.

“They’re all the same,” she said cynically of the parties.

Mexico City school teacher Esteban Mendoza agreed.

“There’s a lot of promises in the campaign, but they forget them upon taking office,” Mendoza said.